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School system: all but $12M in federal stimulus money has been spent

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Nearly all but about $12 million of the $82 million that the Alamance-Burlington school system received in federal Covid-19 stimulus relief funding has been spent, school board members were told at their latest meeting.

Dr. Ilana Dixon, director of federal programs for ABSS, updated the board last Monday night about how the Covid-19 stimulus funding has been spent so far and how much money is left.

ABSS received a total of $82.7 million in federal Covid-19 stimulus funding, and $70.5 million has been spent to date, based on figures that Dixon presented (see accompanying chart).
“We are focused on addressing learning loss that was experienced as a result of the pandemic,” Dixon told the board last week.

An audit of the school system’s federal programs was conducted in September 2022, Dixon said, telling the board, “We had zero findings, and we were found to be spending the way we should be spending. We were also praised for the way we were documenting [our spending].”

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There are myriad federal regulations that govern how the federal Covid-19 funding can be spent. Mainly, there are 18 allowable categories for which the money can be spent, and any change requires an amendment to be filed, Dixon said. “You cannot deviate from it,” she told the board last week. “It’s very easy for me to tell you what the money is going to be spent on.”

Dixon emphasized, in response to a question from school board member Dr. Charles Parker, that the stimulus money had to be used for specific purposes related to Covid-19, such as learning recovery and an extended summer school session in 2021.

“There were items you could check,” Dixon explained. “There were parameters; we did have some say in what we selected, but it was within the confines of the programs.”

School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves asked whether unexpended funds originally earmarked for cyberbullying and suicide funding would be spent before the deadline.

“That title is a little misleading and tricky,” Dixon explained. She said ABSS had funded Go Guardian, a software program that enables teachers to monitor activity on devices such as Chromebooks that ABSS began loaning students in April 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. “Most districts did that,” she said. “It also filters out for cyberbullying [and] has a parent app where you can monitor student devices as well. Many districts across the state did what we did. I think it was because we had this imminent need for students to have devices at home. You can go back through the history and see what’s actually happening on the devices.”

The first round of stimulus funding that ABSS received, through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March 2020, expired at the end of December 2022, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

ABSS also received three subsequent allocations (through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief programs, or ESSER I, II, and II) as a result of subsequent federal Covid-19 stimulus packages passed by Congress in late 2020 and the spring of 2021. ESSER I expired September 30, 2022; the deadline to spend the two remaining allocations (ESSER II and ESSER III) is September 30, 2023 and September 30, 2024, respectively, Dixon told the board last week.

It was unclear, however, how much ABSS received from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) or the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER), or when that funding expires.

 

Dixon’s presentation later garnered a rare compliment from Patsy Simpson, who along with several other school board members had pressed the school system’s administrators for an updated accounting of the stimulus money.

“I want to commend you,” Simpson told Dixon last week. “I had no idea we were recognized in the audit for the work of you, your staff, [and] our leadership. I find the presentations to be very informative [and] you to be very well-prepared.”

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