Pennsylvania schools will soon see a $2.2 billion infusion of stimulus funds to help weather pandemic-related operational and budget challenges.
The state Department of Education said Friday the money prioritizes schools with higher percentages of low-income students. Congress authorized the money through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) Fund last month.
“All schools have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; and I commend school communities for rising to the challenge to combat the toll it has taken,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “This extra funding is critical to help schools meet the unique needs of educating students at this time while keeping school buildings safe when students return to the classroom.”
Each district will make its own decisions about how to spend the money, Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega told reporters.
Teachers maintain priority status in the state’s vaccination plan, currently scheduled for the upcoming Phase 1B. COVID-19 immunizations are y not yet available for children, however. That means schools will still need to follow social distancing protocols when in-person classes resume..
Districts have until Sept. 30, 2023, to spend the money. The funding could include support for things such as food services; technology purchases; mental health supports; sanitization products and after school programs, Ortega said.
“We continue to emphasize that we want to make sure that schools invest these funds and use them in a way that makes sure that they can begin to provide students with learning opportunities including in-person, as they move forward,” he said. “And then also invest them in ways that address some of the concerns that are emerging to make sure they can help students catch up in terms of things like learning loss and other disruptions that have occurred because of the pandemic.”
Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts face steep financial challenges as strained tax revenues and a mass exodus of students to cyber charter schools stretch their annual budgets. Schools must also pay for personal protective equipment and other unexpected costs arising out of the pandemic restrictions.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.