Schools sitting on large pot of federal aid, Peyser says

Massachusetts

On Thursday, February 4, Gov. Baker, Secretary Peyser, Commissioner Riley, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and Salem Superintendent Stephen Zrike toured Bentley Academy Innovation School, where some students are learning in person and others are learning from home.
(doe.mass.edu)

BOSTON (SHNS) – While lawmakers weigh how to carve up a massive pot of COVID-19 relief funding, Massachusetts K-12 school districts have only used a fraction of the federal dollars they received, the state’s education secretary said Friday.

K-12 schools received more than $2.9 billion across the three major stimulus packages approved so far, most of which flowed through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, fund and then to districts according to a formula, Education Secretary James Peyser told lawmakers. “As of now, less than 10 percent of these formula funds have actually been drawn down by school districts, so much of those resources remain and can be used certainly during this school year and beyond,” Peyser said.

His comments came at a legislative hearing Friday to consider how to spend the roughly $4.8 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding state government still has. Any additional money the Legislature opts to steer toward K-12 schools will supplement an already robust pot. One emerging point of focus is school infrastructure, with many advocates and lawmakers calling Friday to use state ARPA funding to modernize school buildings and early education facilities.

“Investing in building infrastructure is a one-time investment that does not add to the state’s operating budget, is directly responsive to the pandemic, and can have an immediate, transformative impact on our school and college buildings, especially if those funds can prioritize Gateway Cities, low-income, and Black and brown communities and universities,” said Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy.

Peyser said some expenses related to the virus, such as ventilation improvements, might be eligible to receive ARPA dollars from the state, but “building an entire new building” may not qualify.

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