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How federal COVID aid can support Kansas students and schools

Posted Date: 04/01/2021

How federal COVID aid can support Kansas students and schools

Kansas public schools are expected to receive a total of $1.35 billion in federal funding to address the COVID pandemic. For $1.394 billion, Kansas school districts can safely reopen for in-person instruction ($215.3 million), provide summer school for 200,000 Kansas students for the next four summers ($661.6 million) and provide extended services for 200,000 students during the next three school years ($516.9 million.)

State education leaders say that is a reasonable amount of expense and time to make up for the disruption caused by the pandemic. Diverting federal funds for other purposes, as the Kansas Legislature is considering, would reduce Kansas educators’ ability to alleviate the damage to student learning caused by COVID. 

An important fact is that districts do not receive the same amount of this federal aid per pupil. These funds are distributed using a formula that provides more aid to districts with high poverty levels. 

Students will need extra time and support to make up for time and support lost during the pandemic. 

Kansas schools were closed for most in-person learning from last March through the summer. The return to in-person learning this year varied across Kansas, based on local school district conditions. Beginning last Spring, all districts provided students with remote learning services or a hybrid mix of in-person and remote. Although some parents have preferred remote learning and some students have done well in different learning environments, school leaders expect many students to have fallen behind in academics and experienced other social and emotional issues. 

The pandemic created gaps for students that experts believe will take time to recover. Many students will experience learning delays and loss due to the lack of consistency, whether they attended school in-person or remotely. The 2020-2021 school year required students, teachers, and families to change routines, create new habits and find new comforts. Students and families faced stress and concern never experienced before. Many students lost family members or had family members spend time in the hospital, and they were unable to connect or say goodbye to loved ones. 

Addressing learning loss and trauma will take supports many schools currently don't have in place, and it will take time to get those students back to the comfort they had before the pandemic. In most Kansas communities, schools will play a key role in helping families rebuild and find support. 

Federal COVID-19 aid is provided exclusively to help schools mitigate the risks of COVID-19 and help students and families recover, not for regular operations.

To assist in safe and healthy school operations and address student needs, Kansas schools received approximately $85 million in Elementary and Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) funds through the CARES Act, which was passed in March 2020.  Additionally, districts received $69 million in COVID-related assistance from COVID aid distributed by counties. Districts are also receiving another $370 million approved by Congress in December (ESSER II), and an estimated $831 million approved earlier this month (ESSER III).  

The Legislature is considering proposals to use at least a portion of this $1.355 billion to supplant State General Fund spending for K-12 state aid or direct these coronavirus relief funds for other purposes. The state budget bill passed by the Kansas Senate, SB 267, reduces state aid by $570 million over two years with the idea of replacing those state funds with school district ESSER funds. 

It appears highly unlikely that these proposals would qualify as an allowable use of these funds because federal law both directs how much funding individual school districts are to receive and requires funds be used for purposes specifically tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, federal law prohibits the State from directing school districts how to spend their ESSER funds. However, the purpose of this study is to consider what school districts would be UNABLE to do if federal COVID relief funds were diverted in an attempt to reduce SGF expenditures. 

A portion of federal funding has helped and will help pay for back to school expenditures.

The American Association of School Superintendents has estimated an average added cost of $458 per student to provide safe learning environments in order to reopen during the pandemic. With approximately 470,000 FTE students in public schools, this equals $215.3 million for Kansas. 

This total is $61 million higher than the combined $85 million in the first round of ESSER, which must be obligated by September 30, 2022, and the $69.4 million in county funds which had to be spent by December of 2020. 

As the remaining Kansas school districts move to full in-person learning and continue to address safety protocols, there will be continuing expenditures in this area to ensure Kansas schools remain safe for students and staff. As a result, funds beyond the ESSER I awards and county relief funds will be needed to safely reopen Kansas schools. 

Most of the funding will help schools address learning needs and other student and family support needs caused by the pandemic. 

What Kansas students lost during the past year was in-person, face-to-face time with teachers, support programs like counseling and mental health, and the social-emotional benefits of being around their peers. How much loss occurred depended on when individual districts resumed in-person learning, when parents wanted children to return to school, and individual circumstances like quarantines. These federal funds will allow districts to replace that lost time. The biggest cost for school districts will be paying staff, other service providers and other institutions for that increased instructional time. 

Based on current operating costs, it is estimated that federal COVID aid to schools would allow districts to provide summer learning programs and additional learning and support time during the school year for a target of 200,000 students who have experienced learning loss or other challenges related to the pandemic this year. This equals 42.5 percent of Kansas students. 

 It is expected that some Kansas students will not need any additional support, some may need less support than this estimate provides, and some will likely need more support. Some families may welcome summer programs, others may want their children to have their usual summer break. The total number of students receiving services may be greater than 200,000, but this is presented as an average for estimating purposes. 

Summer programs and services 

To provide 200,000 students with 20 days of learning and other services during the summer at a cost of $31.45 per day would require $165.4 million each year. Providing these services over four years, beginning this summer of 2021 through the summer of 2024, the last year ESSER funds are expected to be available, would require $661.6 million. 

Extending services during the school year 

To provide 200,000 students with 125 hours of extended learning time during the regular school year (an average of 4 hours per week), would require $172.3 million per year. Over the next three school years, this would require a total of $516 million. 

It is important to stress these costs are broad averages. These funds will likely cover a wide variety of programs and services. These may include extended class time, individual tutoring, dual enrollment with postsecondary education, additional career and postsecondary counseling, additional mental health and social work services from both district staff and other providers, group activities and community service outreach and many other programs. 

All uses for these funds must be linked to the COVID pandemic and will be reviewed by a special task force created by the Commissioner of Education to ensure compliance with federal requirements. 

How the cost of extended learning time and services was estimated. 

To estimate the cost of extended learning time, this report begins with total school district general fund, local option budget and special education state aid amounts to provide a baseline of school district operating costs of $4.82 billion this year. (This excludes the cost of capital construction bonds and capital outlay revenue, student fees for meals and other purposes, on-going federal aid programs and KPERS contributions.) 

Based on an average of 186 school days, this equals average operating costs of $25.9 million per day. (Most students attend fewer than the state minimum of 186 days by using an hourly equivalent, but this estimate used more days to account for teacher workdays, parent conference and current summer programs in districts.) 

This amount was divided by 470,000 students to determine an average cost per student per day, then reduced by 25 percent because the cost of additional student time will not likely require full current operating costs per day or hour. For example, summer school and after school programs would not require a proportionate increase in utility and maintenance costs because buildings are at least partially already used in the summer and after school. 

With this adjustment, the additional cost per day (for summer programs) would be $41.35 per student, or $6.89 per hour (daily cost divided by six hours).