Amy Carney: Parents must hold their public schools accountable for COVID-19 relief funds

Money should be to help students recover years lost in the classroom

By Amy Carney

While parents are distracted and divided over issues of what’s being taught in the classroom, excessive funding has flown under the radar in local school districts, going largely unnoticed by parents and stakeholders in the education system. But parents and taxpayers should be asking: How are these funds being spent?

The federal government’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Rescue Plan has covertly dumped $190 billion into America’s public schools in response to COVID-19. The United States Department of Education states that the ESSER I, II and III grants must be used to prevent, prepare for or respond to the pandemic, including its impact on the social, emotional, mental health-related and academic needs of students.

But the reality is that there is very little guidance for or oversight into how schools can choose to spend the millions of dollars they have been given. If coded correctly, many questionable programs or projects can be ushered into schools without parents even realizing or consenting to them.

It is up to local education agencies to decide how and when to expend the ESSER Funds. Only 20% of the ESSER III grant money has to be spent on learning loss due to COVID-19. None of the earlier funding received by school districts from the ESSER I or II grants stipulates spending on learning loss recovery specifically. 

With so many schools opening and dropping COVID-19 restrictions across the country, there is the danger that these funds will get spent on programs that have nothing to do with catching children up to speed and helping them recover all the lost time in the classroom.