As they shell out on childcare and remote learning expenses they hadn’t budgeted, Washington state school districts will be getting some $270 million in federal aid to help them respond to coronavirus disruptions.
But with no clear end-date for the closures, and unofficial projections that Washington state — the biggest source of K-12 money – will see a $7 billion loss in revenue over three years, the relief likely won’t make a dent.
“It’s hard to know how far [the money] will go to offset future unexpected expenditures,” said T.J. Kelly, chief financial officer for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
Part of the mystery: School districts haven’t yet reported their spending to the state, and won’t do so until June.
State officials are now deciding how best to spend the money this summer, part of a $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Congress approved last month.
The money for schools, which hasn’t yet arrived in Washington, comes in two pots for each state.
The first pot, $216 million, comes with strings from the federal government on how to spend it: Ninety percent of the money should be allocated through a complex federal formula that prioritizes funding to schools that enroll high numbers of low-income students. The formula has come under scrutiny for its tendency to reward large school districts that are wealthy overall, but whose size means they still have more students living in poverty than smaller districts where most students are poor.
The other 10% would be at OSPI’s discretion to spend freely. The agency hasn’t yet decided how, but Kelly said it will likely spend it on expenses related to remote learning, such as training for teachers or more equipment.
Divided across all of Washington’s 1.1 million public school students, that first pot of funds works out to about $196 per student. California, by comparison, gets about $275 per student — but there are wide variances in how the money will be distributed because of the formula, according to EdSource, a California-based online education news outlet.
The second pot of funds will include $56.7 million. Gov. Jay Inslee will be able to spend it as he chooses on K-12, early childhood education and higher education. A spokeswoman said Inslee had not yet decided how he would spend the money.
As for the possibility of state funding cuts, Kelly said it would be hard to predict before June, when the state is slated to make more concrete predictions about revenue loss due to the coronavirus.
After seeing the those numbers, state lawmakers may have to call an emergency session and trim the budget before next January, the regular start to the Legislative calendar. Early last month, Inslee slashed about $116 million in new money through 2023 for school counselors in high-poverty school districts.