How Michigan school districts are planning for the loss of federal COVID-19 aid

Posted at 5:46 AM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 10:21:04-05

Michigan's public schools have until September 2024 to spend what's left of nearly $6 billion in emergency COVID-19 aid from the federal government.

A recent report from the Citizen's Research Council shows districts still need to spend around $3.5 billion.

Aliya Moore, whose daughter goes to an after-school debate program at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, and is afraid that program could be a casualty of lost federal COVID-19 aid.

“The money came as one-time resources spread over about three and half years," Craig Thiel, the research director at Citizen's Research Council (CRC), said.

The clock is ticking for districts to use it while trying to avoid program cuts once that funding goes away.

Thiel has tracked how districts in our state have spent $5.6 billion in federal aid since early 2020.

“Some districts got $20-$30,000 per kid to spend and some got a couple thousand dollars," he said.

In metro Detroit as of October 2022, Detroit Public Schools Community District, Hamtramck and Pontiac school districts have large amounts of unspent federal aid, surpassing what they get per student from the state each year.

“We were very practical and realistic, that this was one-time money," DPSCD Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said.

I asked if there were any extra programs that might be on the chopping block. He said tutoring and academic help stays put, along with mental health support.

“There may have been an art program or a robotics program that was funded out of COVID money through contracted services that may not be provided at one school or another, but overall academic support would be provided after school at all schools," Vitti said.

Federal COVID-19 dollars also helped keep staff in the district when enrollment numbers dropped. With that money going, staff cuts are a realty.

“Approximately how many employees might be facing that?” I asked.

“We’re looking at maybe 100 central office employees and school-based administrators when you combine the two," he said.

That includes positions like deans and assistant principals, which does worry Moore, who pushed the district not only to save debate, but an after-school leaership program.

“I want those to keep going. Not just for my daughter but for the entire district," Moore said.

One of those capital improvement projects, funded with a chunk of that $700 million in federal aid, is a new building here at Malcolm X Academy. Vitti says there are hundreds of individual projects, all on track, expected to start late this spring.