So about that Coronavirus Money . . .
The three coronavirus relief bills Congress passed funneled just under $200 billion into America’s K-12 public schools. This is a huge sum of money, several multiples of what the federal government spends on K-12 schools each year.
As more than a year has passed since the first bill’s passage, and almost nine months have passed since the second, we can start to figure out how the money is being spent. A new report from the American Enterprise Institute crunches the numbers and tells us the answer: it isn’t.
The first relief bill—the CARES Act passed in March of 2020—allocated $13.2 billion for K-12 schools. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), the second bill, was signed into law in December of 2020 and allocated another $54.3 billion. The third bill, the American Rescue Plan (ARP), was passed in March of 2021 and allocated $122 billion.
According to the AEI report, to date only 70 percent of CARES Act dollars have been spent, and a mere 7 percent of CRRSA dollars have been spent. (Not enough time has passed to know how the ARP dollars have been spent.)
Missouri has spent 84 percent of its CARES Act dollars but 0 percent of its CRRSAA dollars. If we combine the total dollars, it means that Missouri has only spent 16 percent of the money it received in the first two relief bills.
As it turns out, reopening schools was not nearly as expensive as some school advocates said it would be. State and local tax coffers were not hurt nearly as much as some had predicted. Some money was necessary, but it was a fraction of what Congress allocated.
And here comes the kicker: The real money is in the ARP, and it is just starting to show up. If schools haven’t spent down the funds from the first two bills, and schools start back up without the need for any additional pandemic-mitigation measures, the money from the ARP is just going to start piling up. Ultimately, the report estimates that between $78 and $123 billion of the coronavirus education funds will be spent on non-pandemic related expenses. And it isn’t just AEI making these predictions—the Congressional Budget Office (quoted in the report) predicted that only $6.4 billion of ARP dollars will be spent in 2021, and the rest will be spent over the next seven years.
The bottom line: If we hear from K-12 school leaders about underfunding at any time in the near future, we should know that they are misrepresenting reality.