How Niles Community Schools spent $4 million in COVID funds

(The Center Square) – Michigan’s more than 800 school districts received about $6 billion of federal taxpayer money to recover from COVID. However, some digging revealed some of the largest school expenditures so far are categorized as “other” and don’t necessarily address COVID issues.

The Michigan Department of Education COVID relief budget, obtained by the Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan, shows the following spending breakdown for $3.5 billion of approved statewide school spending:

  • $1.3 billion (39%): other.
  • $1.2 billion (35%): academic intervention.
  • $641 million (18%): capital outlay.
  • $151 million (4%): student health and nutrition.
  • $136 million (4%): COVID response and remediation.

Some schools have delayed answering public data requests for up to 10 business days, and other schools didn’t respond at all to how they spent millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

However, Niles Community Schools in Berrien County responded immediately with the spending amounts listed below.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief I program: $725,760.

  • $380,440 on cleaning supplies, masks, bottle refilling stations, and public relations assistance, among other items.
  • $250,742 on 835 Chromebooks and hot spots for remote learning.
  • $66,640 on a COVID-19 liaison.
  • $27,937 for software for remote learning platforms, such as high school math or elementary platforms.

ESSER II program: $3 million.

  • $1.56 million to compensate for losing 188 students between 2019 and the fall of 2020; 600 students going virtual, and choosing not to reduce staff to ensure low class sizes.
  • $1.5 million to upgrade the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units in the high school gym and auditorium.

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief: $237,272.

  • $216,450 on learning platform licenses (Lincoln Learning) for about 600 students in grades K-5 to provide five courses for each student.
  • $14,872 on 50 Chromebooks.
  • $5,950 to teach 15 teachers about virtual learning platforms.

The billions in federal funding preceded a record $21 billion state education budget for 2023, roughly 27.6% of the total $77 billion budget.

Despite record funding with a declining number of students statewide, many school districts are seeking additional money via millages for operations funding, sinking funds, and other spending priorities.

The state’s 2023 budget includes a record high $9,150 per-pupil funding for every public-school student and the following:

  • $214 per-pupil mental health and school safety funding for every student in every public school district.
  • Additional funding to meet students’ individual needs for each of the state’s estimated 200,000 special education students and 710,000 at-risk students.
  • 1,300 more free preschool slots in the Great Start Readiness Program.
  • Expands advanced placement and honors programs.
  • $475 million for school infrastructure.

Schools have until 2024 to spend the last round of federal funding.