Indiana schools will have more than $881 million available starting next month to help pay for the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the latest round of emergency federal funding.
The package provides schools with a direct line to roughly four times the amount of money than the original CARES Act. Many plan to use the funding to address learning loss and other ongoing needs exacerbated by the pandemic.
Fort Wayne Community Schools spokesperson Krista Stockman said the increased amount is significant, because addressing various levels of student learning loss during a pandemic takes a lot more money than just responding to one.
"It's a lot more complex – it's certainly going to involve staff, which is a lot more expensive than buying face masks," she said.
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According to the state's initial allocation determination, FWCS is slated to receive more than $42 million in new emergency funding, compared to the just over $10 million it first received through CARES.
Schools will be able to use the funding for purchases starting next month for the next two years. Local leaders are in the beginning stages of figuring how best to use the new round of funding, but are focusing on one-time purchases or more immediate needs to avoid a fiscal cliff when the funding eligibility expires in Sept. 2023.
Brian Tomamichel, Westfield Washington Schools chief financial officer, said the limited timeframe means the emergency dollars aren't for addressing long-standing issues schools are facing, like increasing teacher pay.
"It's helping us address some of those factors over the next year or two that will be there, but these are not long term solutions to any of the problems we had before COVID came," he said.
State lawmakers are also working to provide schools with more funding to better address learning loss spurred by the pandemic. A piece of legislation making its way through the Statehouse would create a $150 million Student Learning Recovery Grant Program for Indiana schools.
An additional $115 million in federal K-12 emergency funding will be available for the state to allocate as it sees fit. A spokesperson from the Indiana Department of Education said discussions about how best to use those dollars are ongoing, and are focusing on how to get the best "return on investment" for those funds.