BOSTON (State House News Service) — Of roughly $2.6 billion in federal pandemic relief money that has been set aside for Massachusetts school districts, only about $431 million has been "claimed" and spent by school systems, a figure that Sen. Jason Lewis on Tuesday called "concerning."
The accounting of remaining federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) money came during a Joint Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday on Gov. Charlie Baker's $48.5 billion fiscal 2023 state budget, which calls for $5.989 billion in Chapter 70 aid to local schools. Some lawmakers and advocates have called for greater investments in education.
"Just to note, again, in total, Massachusetts schools districts have received $2.6 billion in federal pandemic relief funding ... As of the end of February, people may be surprised to learn, that only $431 million of that has actually been claimed by school districts and presumably spent. So that's 17 percent. So 17 percent has been spent as of the end of last month, so there's a lot of money -- over $2 billion -- that's still available," Lewis said during the hours-long hearing. "I think somewhat surprising and concerning that we aren't seeing our districts utilize more of those funds for the urgent recovery needs that we've all recognized in the course of the last hour and a half -- academic learning loss, literacy, social, emotional and mental health needs, many interventions for students who are disadvantaged and struggling."
Lewis noted that districts have three more school years to spend money from the third and final round of ESSER. He also asked Education Secretary James Peyser and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley how the state could "support and encourage our districts to use these resources."
"We have been very clear with the districts that they have to use this money, it is time-bound. I worry that some of them thought there might be an extension from the federal government on how to use the money. And while I don't think that would be a bad thing to have a several-year extension, I'm not sure it's coming," Riley said. "I had an opportunity to meet with [U.S. Education] Secretary [Miguel] Cardona, and he was pretty clear that he thought that the deadlines were going to hold." - Colin A. Young/SHNS | 3/15/22 5:14 PM
Written by Colin A. Young / SHNS