Credit: Rod Lamkey/CNP/Polaris
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky) walks to the Senate chamber at the US Capitol for a vote in Washington, DC, on Dec. 21, 2020.
Updated Dec. 28 after President Trump signed the legislation he had threatened to veto.

The Covid-19 relief package Congress approved before Christmas will provide at least $6.8 billion to California’s school districts and charter schools. That equals about an eighth of the $54.9 billion that Congress will award to K-12 schools.

President Trump signed the bill Dec. 27 after threatening to veto it. He had objected that checks for individuals, a cornerstone of the $900 billion in aid, should be triple what’s in the bill. He backed down amid warnings a veto would create hardship for Americans desperate for immediate assistance.

For K-12 schools, the new federal funding is about four times as much as the $13.5 billion in aid for schools under the CARES Act that Congress passed in March. But the combination of the two — about $70 billion — is substantially less than the $98 billion that Congress provided K-12 under the economic recovery act that Congress funded in the midst of the Great Recession a decade ago, said Michael Griffith, a national expert on school finance who is currently a senior researcher and policy analyst at the Palo Alto-based Learning Policy Institute.

The latest round should be “really helpful to meet the short-term costs of Covid and some of the budget shortfalls facing states,” Griffith said. But it won’t be enough to address the extra funding needed to address the lost learning that a substantial number of students are experiencing. Those extra costs distinguish the current pandemic-precipitated recession from the Great Recession, Griffifth said.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to return to Congress early next year for more money for schools.

The $6.8 billion in new funding for districts and charter schools in California will vary widely per student, because it will be tied to how much districts received last year in federal Title I funding — a complex formula determined by the poverty rate and other factors.

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, alone will receive $1.2 billion — $2,756 per student, while Capistrano Unified in Orange County, with a low rate of poverty, will receive $15.4 million – $331 per student, according to EdSource calculations.

Although the money is distributed by Title I funding, the legislation allows districts to spend the money for students districtwide on a wide range of Covid-related purposes. Districts will have until Sept. 30, 2022 to spend it.

Districts that receive negligible Title I funding are likely to complain that they face some of the same health and safety costs, in personal protective equipment, ventilation improvements, teacher training and sanitizing expenses, as high-poverty districts. Receiving no Title I funding, and therefore no federal Covid assistance this round are 253 charter schools and 89 school districts. Although most are tiny, rural districts, 10 have more than 1,000 students, including the 11,000-student Fremont Union High School District in Sunnyvale; while it had some income-eligible families, the district did not apply for Title I funding.

Last spring, Gov. Gavin Newsom augmented funding for K-12 schools with an additional $5.3 billion in “learning loss” funding, much of it in CARES Act dollars he had at his discretion. But in the latest round, Congress funded no new money for county and city governments. Funding for them was a bargaining chip in failed negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over giving businesses and school districts liability protection from being sued by employees and parents, in the case of school districts, who contract the coronavirus. They’ll argue that they should now be Newsom’s priority.

The total funding for education is $82 billion in the latest round of federal aid. This includes the $54.9 billion for K-12, $23 billion for higher education and $4 billion that governors can decide how to spend on education. However, $2.75 billion of that discretionary money must be given to private schools, targeting those serving low-income children.

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  1. Tim Taylor 2 months ago2 months ago

    John. Always respect your writing but glossing over how Covid funding is allocated is frustrating. Many of those small schools and charters have way over the 40 per cent threshold of free reduced lunch. Fort Ross 72; Little Shasta 67; (now 91 percent because families lost their jobs); Liberty 51 percent. If this is about poverty, then use current free reduced lunch not Title data from 18-19. Covid has wiped … Read More

    John. Always respect your writing but glossing over how Covid funding is allocated is frustrating. Many of those small schools and charters have way over the 40 per cent threshold of free reduced lunch. Fort Ross 72; Little Shasta 67; (now 91 percent because families lost their jobs); Liberty 51 percent. If this is about poverty, then use current free reduced lunch not Title data from 18-19.

    Covid has wiped out small towns and schools. Why in the hell are we using pre covid data to find covid issues? I bet the majority of those unfunded schools have taught children face to face and large districts are profiting billions by having closed schools.

    Sorry for the rant but when or if you visited these schools in rural areas like I have it is extremely maddening for people to shrug their shoulders and say….”these are tiny rural schools.” As if it doesn’t matter. I am going to write an Op Ed on this. My members deserve at least that. Thanks for listening.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Tim, some blaming the messenger here, but I understand your frustration and wondered the same thing. I need a short course on the Title I formula, which is convoluted (any volunteers?). I've not understood why, for example, Santa Ana, with a larger percentage of kids qualifying for free and reduced meals than LA Unified, gets substantially less per student than LA Unified in Title I. My guess is Congress was looking for a quick, standard … Read More

      Tim, some blaming the messenger here, but I understand your frustration and wondered the same thing. I need a short course on the Title I formula, which is convoluted (any volunteers?). I’ve not understood why, for example, Santa Ana, with a larger percentage of kids qualifying for free and reduced meals than LA Unified, gets substantially less per student than LA Unified in Title I.

      My guess is Congress was looking for a quick, standard formula to give out money and chose Title I. Districts can use the funding for all students, not just Title I schools.

      I’d welcome your thoughts on Covid’s impact on rural communities. But don’t forget that Newsom will have discretion over more than $700 million (10% of the state’s $6.8 billion for K-12, plus $94 million under a separate pot of money, GEER, to spend for education as he choose. Make your case for small, rural districts for the money with the Administration.

      • Eric Premack 2 months ago2 months ago

        John: The Title I allocation formulas are a Byzantine and opaque mess. The big bucks are in the so-called "Title I Part A" component. There's no such thing as a quick lesson. Much of the funding is driven by census poverty counts, but there are extensive and long-lasting "hold harmless" components that give districts like LA Unified, where enrollment has been plummeting for years, very high per-pupil funding from Title I … Read More

        John: The Title I allocation formulas are a Byzantine and opaque mess. The big bucks are in the so-called “Title I Part A” component. There’s no such thing as a quick lesson. Much of the funding is driven by census poverty counts, but there are extensive and long-lasting “hold harmless” components that give districts like LA Unified, where enrollment has been plummeting for years, very high per-pupil funding from Title I Part A. Growing districts, in contrast, are “fed” from the relatively small remaining pot.

        The poverty data in the formula are drawn from US Census data and can also lag by many years. Since charter schools don’t follow census tract boundaries, family income data is used as a proxy and growth funding for them also lags growth in underlying eligibility due to the hold-harmless factors and other factors. The end result is the obvious inequity you see when you compare districts/schools based on more objective measures of “need.”

        Many smaller districts and charter schools opt not to apply for Title I funds in the first instance due to the nightmarish complexity of the program. It has a complex, two-part annual application cycle, extensive planning and stakeholder involvement mandates, sharp restrictions on how the funds may be spent, extensive and complex accounting and payroll tracking requirements, and a very burdensome Federal Programs Monitoring inspection and review process. If your school or district doesn’t generate at least $100 thousand/year in funds from the formula, conventional wisdom is that it’s not even worth considering applying. Larger districts can afford to hire full-time staff who manage federal programs and use the funds effectively notwithstanding the red tape hairball. Many middle and smaller-sized districts/schools cannot.

        The lobbying interests in Washington DC, not surprisingly, are dominated by large district interests. Hence, all the funding is riding piggyback on Title I without regard to need. Advocates for small and rural schools have made modest inroads on this problem (e.g., rural schools can more readily consolidate their funding from multiple federal programs), but for every step forward there is one step back. Newsom had discretion over a large pot of GEER and other funds previously and he opted to allocate it without regard to these inequities. Hopefully he’ll see things differently this time ’round.

        • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

          Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to explain. This is what I had suspected and worth our following up — the politicking behind the numbers, the outdated hold-harmless provisions, paperwork for charter schools and small districts. Bottom line: inequities in ability to deal with the pandemic. Much appreciated.