Santa Cruz High School
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

California school districts, charter schools to get $6.8 billion, in varying amounts, of federal aid

Title I funding formula will determine big differences in federal aid. In Santa Cruz County, for instance, Pajaro Valley Unified will get nearly double per student what Santa Cruz City Schools gets.

The COVID-19 relief package Congress approved before Christmas will provide at least $6.8 billion to California’s school districts and charter schools. That equals about an eighth of the $54.9 billion that Congress will award to K-12 schools.

President Trump signed the bill Dec. 27 after threatening to veto it. He had objected that checks for individuals, a cornerstone of the $900 billion in aid, should be triple what’s in the bill. He backed down amid warnings a veto would create hardship for Americans desperate for immediate assistance.

For K-12 schools, the new federal funding is about four times as much as the $13.5 billion in aid for schools under the CARES Act that Congress passed in March. But the combination of the two — about $70 billion — is substantially less than the $98 billion that Congress provided K-12 under the economic recovery act that Congress funded in the midst of the Great Recession a decade ago, said Michael Griffith, a national expert on school finance who is currently a senior researcher and policy analyst at the Palo Alto-based Learning Policy Institute.

The latest round should be “really helpful to meet the short-term costs of Covid and some of the budget shortfalls facing states,” Griffith said. But it won’t be enough to address the extra funding needed to address the lost learning that a substantial number of students are experiencing. Those extra costs distinguish the current pandemic-precipitated recession from the Great Recession, Griffifth said.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to return to Congress early next year for more money for schools.

The $6.8 billion in new funding for districts and charter schools in California will vary widely per student, because it will be tied to how much districts received last year in federal Title I funding — a complex formula determined by the poverty rate and other factors.

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, alone will receive $1.2 billion — $2,756 per student, while Capistrano Unified in Orange County, with a low rate of poverty, will receive $15.4 million – $331 per student, according to EdSource calculations.

EdSource calculations show that Santa Cruz City Schools has a daily attendance of 6,428 students and will receive $3,645,731 in aid for an average of $567 per student. In comparison, Pajaro Valley Unified has a daily attendance of 17,590 and will receive $16,475,142 for a per-student average of $936.

Although the money is distributed by Title I funding, the legislation allows districts to spend the money for students districtwide on a wide range of COVID-related purposes. Districts will have until Sept. 30, 2022 to spend it.

Districts that receive negligible Title I funding are likely to complain that they face some of the same health and safety costs, in personal protective equipment, ventilation improvements, teacher training and sanitizing expenses, as high-poverty districts. Receiving no Title I funding, and therefore no federal COVID assistance this round are 253 charter schools and 89 school districts.

Although most are tiny, rural districts, 10 have more than 1,000 students, including the 11,000-student Fremont Union High School District in Sunnyvale; while it had some income-eligible families, the district did not apply for Title I funding.

Last spring, Gov. Gavin Newsom augmented funding for K-12 schools with an additional $5.3 billion in “learning loss” funding, much of it in CARES Act dollars he had at his discretion. But in the latest round, Congress funded no new money for county and city governments.

Funding for them was a bargaining chip in failed negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over giving businesses and school districts liability protection from being sued by employees and parents, in the case of school districts, who contract the coronavirus. They’ll argue that they should now be Newsom’s priority.

The total funding for education is $82 billion in the latest round of federal aid. This includes the $54.9 billion for K-12, $23 billion for higher education and $4 billion that governors can decide how to spend on education. However, $2.75 billion of that discretionary money must be given to private schools, targeting those serving low-income children.

This article originally appeared on EdSource.