States Can Get More Time to Spend School COVID Relief Funds on Building Upgrades
The announcement comes after school leaders voiced concerns that inflation and supply chain challenges could affect timelines.
States can now apply for more time to spend federal COVID relief funding on school building renovations.
The U.S. Department of Education wrote in a letter Friday that it has extended the deadline from Sept. 2024 to April 2026 for infrastructure improvements using funds from the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Plan, reports Chalkbeat.
“The Department does understand the need for schools to address urgent and pressing projects, including school infrastructure projects, intended to safeguard the health and safety of students, educators, and staff during this pandemic,” Assistant Education Secretary Roberto Rodríguez wrote in the letter.
The announcement comes after school district leaders voiced concerns over inflation and supply chain challenges impeding their building improvement timelines. Many schools and districts are using the relief money for facilities projects, including HVAC upgrades.
“We are grateful for the flexibility and clarity that Secretary Cardona is providing around school construction timelines and in particular, HVAC upgrades,” said Daniel Domenech, executive director of The School Superintendents Association (AASA), which pushed for an extension.
AASA told members that they can count on waivers being approved, according to Chalkbeat.
“We feel confident that [states] will not hesitate to apply for this additional spending runway,” the group wrote on its website. “Superintendents should feel confident that you have more time to complete and draw down funding for these projects.”
Schools that receive extensions would still have to commit the funds to specific projects by Sept. 2024 but would have another 18 months to spend the money. Rodriguez said requests for longer may be considered in extraordinary circumstances.
Some parents and advocates have criticized spending emergency funds on construction since it does not prioritize the needs of current students. One parent condemned Detroit’s decision to spend $700 million of COVID relief funds on a facilities plan which includes new building construction.
“I really was hoping instead of just seeing the facility plan and the new blueprint and updated blueprint that we would really get an overhaul of staff within our buildings to really supplement the learning,” the parent said at a recent school board meeting.
Although the department has given approval for upgrading existing buildings, it is discouraging schools from using the funding for new construction.