School Districts in Hardin County will receive more than $370,000 from the federal government as part of the $71.6 million released to Iowa by the CARES Act's Elementary and Secondary Emergency School Relief Fund.
The funding was announced by Gov. Kim Reynolds during a press conference Tuesday morning. Iowa Department of Education Director Dr. Ann Lebo said 90 percent of the $71.6 million is going directly to school districts. The other 10 percent will go to a state fund set up to help address urgent issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allocations per school district are listed here. Hardin County districts' allocations are as follows:
- AGWSR: $60,545
- Alden: $31,778
- Eldora-New Providence: $115,669
- Hubbard-Radcliffe: $29,031
- Iowa Falls: $133,701
"Every one of Iowa's 327 school districts will receive an allocation of these funds to address COVID-19 related needs at their schools, including online learning support, professional development, educational technology, mental health services and services to support students with disabilities," Lebo said.
Districts are limited in how they can spend the funds. For the most part, it must be spend on past, present or future costs related to COVID-19. Districts can use the money for expenses dating back to March 13 and must spend the money by Sept. 30, 2022.
AGWSR Superintendent Erik Smith said the district wasn't desperate for the relief funds right now because it hasn't incurred any expenses that it normally wouldn't have. He said the money will be helpful moving into next fall.
"That’s where we feel this money will be used for us is to help us provide professional development, to help better our online learning environment for our students, and then what’s it going to take to ensure that we have the proper cleaning procedures and cleaning equipment available,” Smith said.
Districts have until 5 p.m. on May 11 to apply for the funding. The amount of money given to each district is based on the same formula that decides how much Title I funding districts receive yearly from the federal government. Funding will be dispersed May 13.
Iowa Falls and Alden superintendent Tony Neumann said both districts are fortunate to be in good financial standing, but the funding is still appreciated because of an uncertain future. He said he didn't know until Tuesday or Wednesday that the funding would be available, so he's not sure specifically where it might ultimately be spent.
"We’re trying to look and identify our needs for our districts right now," Neumann said. "Are we talking protective equipment? Are we talking technology? Are we talking some other things in case there are extended closures that would be pretty tight out of a budget?"
Neumann said he expects the districts to take a conservative approach with the relief funds until there's more clarity about what will happen next school year.
“If we have extended closures in the fall and this is the money that’s supposed to help get us through that as well . . . We’re just trying to be very intentional and plan out our needs and see what we can help and provide families with,” he said.
Dr. Adam Zellmer, superintendent at Eldora-New Providence and Hubbard-Radcliffe, said those districts also have not yet had to spend more than normal due to COVID-19. He said when it comes to the General Fund, in some cases the districts have actually saved money this spring.
“We’ve saved some money in that when you don’t have buses running a hundred miles a day there’s not as much wear-and-tear," he said. "You’re not paying for as much fuel. We’re not heating and cooling the buildings at the same rate we would have if people were in them.”
Last month the Iowa Department of Education announced that districts would be required to submit a Return to Learn plan to the state by July 1. Zellmer said he still hasn't been given guidelines on what that plan needs to include, which makes it difficult to know how the relief money may be spent.
“For us, we’re kind of in a wait-and-see pattern for how that money is going to be used," Zellmer said. "One of the things we’re going to want to make sure we do is hold back a contingency. There’s no guarantee of what school is going to look like next fall."
Zellmer's other concern is the impact COVID-19 is having on Iowa's economy as a whole. He said the lack of state revenue due to lost earnings may impact school funding. He said the State may need to dip into the Rainy Day Fund,which consists of two pots of money: The Cash Reserve Fund and the Economic Emergency Fund. At the close of fiscal year 2019, these two had a combined balance of just more than $757 million.
"We know those reserve funds are going to have to be eaten into to help the state overcome (COVID-19)," Zellmer said. "We know that future years when we can get back to the new normal in education, that the funding we’ve been talking about - getting 2 percent or 3 percent - probably in the next few future years we’ll be wishing that it was 2 percent."
Nationally, the CARES Act allocated approximately $30.75 billion to states for PK-12 and higher education.