For months now, the state’s Department of Education has reported very little to the public on the billions of federal dollars that were supposed to go to COVID-related programs for public schools.
On Wednesday, lawmakers finally found out at least something about the stock – they saw allocations of federal dollars sent to school districts during the pandemic and how much those districts used.
Lawmakers found that some districts used specific allocations from COVID relief funds, while others left dollars on the table. And it is clear that there is still a lot of federal money left to help schools recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
The issue was raised at a meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, when lawmakers traveled to Capitol Hill for precursor meetings leading up to the January 2022 legislative session.
“We have heard discussions about ‘I cannot access this part of the federal funds’ or ‘I cannot access this part of the federal funds,'” Representative Randy Fine said at Wednesday’s meeting. Fine is a Republican who represents part of Brevard County and chairs the PreK-12 House Supply Subcommittee.
“Part of the reason I put this (COVID relief fund data) so we all know is that those districts that say that, they have funds that they haven’t spent and to which they can access at this time. “
However, Representative Robin Bartleman, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, said school districts must go through the Florida Department of Education to access these funds.
“To access those dollars, they (the districts) have to submit a plan to the DOE. The DOE needs to approve it, ”Bartleman said at the subcommittee meeting. “There were situations where he was knocked back and forth. “
Some districts have advocated for Florida to provide a larger portion of federal COVID relief funds to local school boards, including the state teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, and the Broward County School Board.
Overall, Florida has earmarked some $ 15 billion for school recovery through three COVID relief efforts – two from the Trump administration and one from the Biden administration. Florida has used about $ 2.8 billion of those funds in total, according to the US Department of Education, although that figure has not been updated since July 31.
According to a slideshow presentation at the subcommittee meeting, the data on COVID relief funds has different categories and is from the Trump administration.
The Phoenix provides a few examples of how money has played out.
The first effort is called ESSER 1, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Aid.
For Florida, data shows that school districts received $ 693,223,066. In total, they spent $ 575,718,230. Thus, districts in this category used 83% of federal dollars.
There is also an ESSER, 2, which involves 2020-2021 funds and is part of the full ESSER 2 category. These data show that the districts received $ 847,774,548. They spent $ 546,802,767. This means they spent 64 percent of the dollars.
“Don’t complain about not having access to the third round, when you didn’t get through the entire first round,” Fine said at the meeting. It was a reference to ESSER 3 from the Biden administration.
Fine told the meeting that the district’s expenditure data is updated weekly, and one of Fine’s staff told the Phoenix that the expenditure information came from the Department of Education in Florida. However, it is not clear how long the ministry has had this data or whether it has been made available to the public.
The Phoenix has contacted the Department of Education several times to find answers to questions about COVID relief funds. But there was little response.