Millions in federal money coming to local schools

Low-income communities will get larger share from COVID relief bills

Dayton-area schools are eligible for more than $140 million in federal aid from the second COVID relief bill, and it appears that roughly double that amount will be available in the third stimulus, creating an opportunity for huge projects for some schools.

All schools will get some funding, but those in poorer communities will get larger shares, as the formula is tied to Title 1 funding for low-income areas. That means while Centerville and Northmont get just over $2 million each, Dayton Public Schools’ allocation from the second stimulus bill is $40.4 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money (ESSER 2).

Ohio Department of Education officials say their best estimate is that public districts, charter and STEM schools should multiply their second stimulus amount by 2.2 to figure their future third stimulus allocation. That means Dayton Public could be eligible for another $89 million from the third federal stimulus bill (the American Rescue Plan).

Dayton Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said she won’t count on the later $89 million until it’s official, but she’s grateful for the $40 million that’s confirmed. The district already has plans for how to spend some of it, Lolli said, being careful to make sure they stay within the federal limitations on the money.

“It is a huge deal for us,” Lolli said. “When did you ever see a windfall of $40 million come at you?”

Along with efforts in other grades, Lolli said DPS has begun a huge recruiting/hiring push for first-, second- and third-grade teachers, aiming to put two teachers instead of one in every classroom in those grades, in an effort to close achievement gaps in the traditionally low-scoring district.

“Two teachers will be in each classroom with 25 kids. One teacher will focus on literacy and the other on math (with smaller groups),” Lolli said. “Then, when they do independent work and practice, they can pull even smaller groups of students as needed, maybe three or four kids who haven’t picked up elements they need.”

Federal funding amounts vary widely by district. Looking only at the ESSER 2 money that’s confirmed, Trotwood-Madison’s one-time allocation is $7 million, Huber Heights and Kettering are due about $5 million, and Vandalia-Butler and Beavercreek will see about $1.5 million. Several smaller or wealthier districts will get closer to $500,000 — Oakwood, Tipp City, Brookville, Sugarcreek and Springboro.

Barring a change from ODE’s guidance, each of those schools will be eligible for more than double those allocations for the third stimulus.

But context matters with these dollar amounts. Kettering’s $4.97 million ESSER 2 allocation is less than 5% of a year’s general fund spending, given its $105 million budget. Meanwhile Northridge’s similar $4.77 million is the equivalent of 20% of its annual $24 million general fund spending.

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

The money can be used in a wide range of ways, including efforts to address learning loss, reopening costs and school building improvements, especially those related to air quality. Eligible expenses will be reimbursed.

“Schools (were told their) ESSER 2 allocations on Feb. 18 and have started to apply and claim reimbursement for expenses,” Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Mandy Minick said. “Because of the appropriation issue … there is a delay in reimbursements.”

A March 3 note from ODE to Ohio school officials said initial requests for reimbursements “temporarily exhausted the available appropriation.” Ohio House Bill 170, which would release the next $683 million to public schools and $155 million to private schools, is awaiting legislative approval.

ODE has instructed schools to: “Please continue to spend against your approved ESSER budgets and submit Project Cash Requests as you normally would.”

Allocations for charter schools from the second stimulus range from $2.97 million for DECA Prep, to $1.1 million for Richard Allen Prep, to $341,310 for Miami Valley Academies.

Local private schools have also been allocated federal funds from the second stimulus bill. Amounts range from $832,158 for Chaminade-Julienne High School, to $488,226 for Alter High School, to anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 for several Catholic elementary schools and smaller private schools.

ODE officials said money will be included for private schools in the third stimulus bill, too, but rather than doubling, as it does for public and charter schools, the funding amount is a repeat of Ohio’s same $154.9 million from the second stimulus.

It has been a complicated 12-month period for school funding — local schools lost some state funding both late in the ’19-’20 school year and for the ’20-’21 year, due to COVID-related state cut. But Ohio House Bill 164 helped lessen losses for a few local suburban schools, and then part of the ’20-’21 state cuts were reversed for all.

The three rounds of federal relief funding will more than make up for the state losses. They give wealthier districts a small excess, and low-income districts a huge surge in funding.

Dayton Public Schools has several other plans for the money — hiring one math specialist per school for grades 4-6, hiring one instructional aide for every two kindergarten teachers and hiring content specialists/teacher-leaders for the high school level. They’re tentatively looking at the possibility of adding wings onto the school buildings that are in high demand.

The school board has been briefed on the academic steps, Lolli said, and is on board.

“They’re excited about it. They’re hopeful that we can (hire) the people to do it,” she said. “The board has really supported the reading literacy focus because they know what has to happen to get our (academic) gap closed.”

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