N.H. Schools To Get $350M In Latest Relief Package; Districts Eye Priorities, Pinch Points
New Hampshire schools are slated to get over $350 million in the latest federal COVID relief package, a significant boost to what has already been a major increase in federal education aid during the pandemic.
The $350.5 million is more than twice what the federal government promised to K-12 schools in New Hampshire in December’s COVID relief package and roughly eight times what schools here were allocated in the CARES Act a year ago.
The new package also sets aside $6.6 million for private schools and $162 for colleges and universities.
School funds from the Biden administration’s "American Rescue Plan" can go to a variety of COVID-related expenses over the next two and a half years, from air ventilation systems to addressing learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.
The issue of federal relief for schools has been at the center of the reopening debate in New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu has cited the availability of federal funds and low transmission rates of COVID-19 in school buildings in his push for districts to reopen more fully.
According to the New Hampshire Department of Education, schools have drawn down about 25 percent from the first round of federal COVID relief (ESSER I) and budgeted for nearly all of it. That money must be spent by September 2021, but some schools say it’s taking them longer to seek reimbursement for their approved expenses, because materials like Chromebooks and air ventilation units are delayed due to high demand.
The second round of federal COVID relief (ESSER II) – roughly $150 million – did not arrive until this week, state officials say, and will be available to schools soon.
But speaking on NHPR’s The Exchange last week, Sununu lambasted the small number of schools that had not reopened until recently and expressed frustration over the pace at which school districts have used the funds.
“There are over $150 million that the federal government has given to our schools that our schools have yet to even draw down,” he said. “And I'm begging schools to take the money because it's the feds giving it to us. They can spend it this year, they can spend it next year. Take the money.”
Sununu’s office did not clarify what money he was referring to.
Lisa Witte, superintendent of the Monadnock Regional School District, says school districts are eager to begin budgeting and applying for their portion of the $150 million in federal COVID relief, but they’re still awaiting guidance for how to access the money.
“We’re not refusing to use [the money],” she says. “We can’t start spending what we haven’t applied for."