Newark school district to get massive injection of $ 177 million in federal stimulus funds



June 03, 2021

Newark school district set to receive $ 177 million in federal stimulus funds, says figures published Monday – a historic windfall that has the potential to reshape New Jersey’s largest school system for years to come.

When combined with the $ 84 million in pandemic relief funds already allocated to Newark schools, the district owes about $ 262 million in new federal aid, or nearly $ 7,300 more per student. Funding is equivalent to about 25% of the total district budget, but unlike other income which must cover salaries and other fixed costs, the district has a great deal of latitude in how it can spend relief money.

The massive influx of funding could fuel radical change. Ten years ago, a $ 200 million injection from private donors, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, funded an overhaul of Newark’s school system – including school closures, new charter schools, and a revamped teachers’ contract – which keep ringing today. This private money pool was 30% smaller than the funding wave now heading to Newark.

“We are delighted to receive much needed funds to help and support students, staff and families in our district,” Superintendent Roger León said in a statement. “And after the year we’ve all had, the timing is perfect and they deserve no less.”

The latest round of relief money is part of the massive stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year, which included nearly $ 130 billion for K-12 education. Very poor districts receive a larger share of aid, which is why Newark’s per student amount is about double the national average.

Fair two years ago, the Newark School District had to cut positions and postpone building repairs in order to balance its budget. Now, incredibly, he’s on the verge of coming out of the pandemic with cash. In addition to the new federal aid, the district also obtained a 10% increase in state funding for the next school year.

Local authorities have a lot of freedom in how they spend federal money. It can go into technology, mental health services, some building repairs, services for English learners and students with disabilities, and hiring new employees, among other uses.

Districts must spend at least 20% of their allocation, or about $ 35.5 million in Newark’s case, to meet loss of student learning caused by the pandemic. Possible strategies suggested by the stimulus bill include summer learning, after-school programs and longer school days or years.

While cash-strapped schools are sure to welcome federal aid, it comes with big limits, said Bruce Baker, a school finance expert at Rutgers University.

Districts only have until October 2024, just over three years, to spend the stimulus money. If schools are spending it on recurring expenses, such as salaries for employees or tutors, they will have to find some other way to cover those costs – or get rid of them – when the aid money runs out, a. Baker said.

One of the best uses of the money is to improve buildings, such as new heating and cooling systems, which will last beyond three years and could end up lowering utility costs, he said. he adds. Other uses, such as reducing the size of classrooms, could face constraints of space or personnel.

“It’s good, it’s necessary, it’s going to stop some bleeding,” Baker said of the stimulus money. “But I’m not convinced this is a game-changer unless the federal money continues to flow and the state gets to the point of fully funding” schools.

Newark’s bounty comes from a $ 2.76 billion pot of stimulus money set aside for New Jersey schools. While 90% of aid is to go to districts, the state will keep $ 276 million.

The New Jersey Department of Education recently released a draft expenditure plan. The plan includes technical assistance to help schools tackle learning loss, grants for summer and after-school programs, and expert teams to provide districts with coaching and training.

One of the conditions for assistance is that districts must develop plans to bring students back to classrooms. The public should be given the opportunity to comment on the “safe return” plans, which are expected on June 24.

Newark’s charter schools will also get a big boost from the relaunch. For example, the North Star Academy, which has 14 campuses in Newark, will receive $ 30 million. KIPP, with 11 Newark schools, owes about $ 25 million.

This story was originally posted by Chalk beat, a non-profit news organization covering public education. Subscribe to their newsletters here.


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