By Sarah MontalbanoAlaska Policy Forum

The state of Alaska published the Alaska K–12 Education COVID-19 Federal Relief Funding Dashboard to make transparent how much federal COVID-19 relief funding school districts received and how the funds are being spent. In total, Alaska public school districts have been awarded over $538 million and as of March 27, 2023, they have spent 55% of funds received. Almost $242 million – 45% – of federal COVID-19 relief funds are sitting in the coffers of these districts. This special funding is above and beyond districts’ regularly allocated state and federal funds.

This state dashboard shows the total received by each district and lists each district’s expenditures of these funds. Table 1 shows each school district, how much it received in federal funds beyond normal funding, how much each district has spent to date, the balance remaining, and how much each district received per student. As examples, the districts that have the largest balance still remaining: Mount Edgecumbe High School has 97% remaining; Pelican City School District has 86% remaining; and Yupiit School District has 76% remaining. This table is indistinguishable from the November 2022 update except that Saint Mary’s school district appears to have corrected a data entry error ($79,081 in spending in November is now $790,081) and Mount Edgecumbe High School decreased its spending slightly.

Because these federal grants are likely to be one-time-only, responsible spending entails one-time expenditures instead of ongoing expenditures such as salaries and benefits. Yet according to the district dashboards, many have chosen to use the funds for ongoing expenses, including salaries and benefits. While official guidelines suggest that spending the federal funds on hiring new school counselors or new staff is appropriate, extreme caution should be made as to the necessity of new positions in the long-term, as new positions require recurring costs.

As the DEED dashboards reveal, school districts are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars yet are asking the state and their communities to dish out even more. And after these one-time funds expire, we can expect further claims of “drastic cuts.” Instead, parents, administrators, and policymakers should be asking: how can we spend these additional one-time funds in a manner that best serves our students? Better examples of how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds – outside of immediate COVID-19 response such as PPE equipment and online learning facilitation – include activities to address learning loss, afterschool reading programs, and summer school programs. The success of Alaska’s students is paramount, and the COVID-19 federal relief funding should be used to serve them.

Note: The dashboards are updated by the state regularly. All numbers referenced in this post are up to date as of March 27, 2023.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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Alaska school districts are sitting on $242 million in unspent Covid funds

Sarah Montalbano
Sarah Montalbano is the Education Policy Analyst at Alaska Policy Forum and a contributor and Northwest Regional Leader with Young Voices. Raised in Wasilla, she graduated from Montana State University with a B.S. in computer science and minors in economics and data science. Her writing can be found in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, and Townhall.