By Quinn Townsend and Josiah Davidson – Alaska 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 June 26, 2023, they have spent 64% of funds received. Almost $194 million – 36% – 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: Pelican City School District has 86% remaining; Aleutian Region School District has 75% remaining; and Hydaburg City School District has 71% remaining.
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 June 26, 2023.
Josiah Davidson is Alaska Policy Forum’s Summer 2023 Policy Intern. He is currently a student at Hillsdale College and is from Palmer.