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Q&A How Akron Public Schools Plan To Spend $150M In Federal Relief Funds

The pandemic-related federal relief is the "single biggest infusion in public education ever," according to APS treasurer Ryan Pendleton
Akron Public Schools building

The coronavirus pandemic has changed just about everything for school districts in the last year – including funding. Districts across Ohio and the country have received millions of dollars in federal aid – first, as many switched to virtual instruction and now, as they bring kids back to the classroom and recover from a year of disruptions.

Ideastream education reporter Jenny Hamel spoke with Ryan Pendleton, the treasurer of Akron Public Schools, about how the district will spend the funds, including the latest influx of assistance from this year’s stimulus bill.

How much funding is the district receiving in total through the three pandemic-related federal bills?

Our first round, soon after the pandemic hit, was about $10.5 million. Our second round was more substantial and that was still yet in 2020, that was... almost $43 million. And then our third round, after the new administration took place in 2021, our third round was $96 million. So all told, Akron Public Schools will be allocated around $150 million.

That does not include some of the other pass-through and infrastructure dollars that are coming and yet to come through counties and municipalities. And to put it into perspective – so, remember post-global economic recession in 2008, there was a stimulus plan called our American Recovery Reinvestment Act. To put this into perspective, Akron's allocation [then] was just north of $10 million. So this is the single biggest infusion in public education ever.

It's an incredibly large sum of money. What will the school district put it towards?

So what we are spending the money on right now is, the 2020-21 school year was almost all virtual for us. So many of the expenses and the increased PPE, the delivery of food, the food preparation, the additional transportation we had as a result of that, a lot of those expenses in that first round of ESSER [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] dollars is going to that. 

All three parts of these federal legislation allows for the district to recoup loss of revenue. It's important because when the global pandemic hit the Ohio administration, the governor, cut school budgets by an aggregate 3.7 percent. Well, for some districts, that doesn't mean a lot because they may not get a lot of state funds. For other districts like Akron Public Schools, that's millions and millions of dollars and that bridged two school years.

So, we're able to take those federal dollars and reimburse ourselves so that we don't have future budget reductions or deficits and those kind of things. So, those revenue losses are really important for us to recover.

So that's looking through the rearview mirror. How will Akron Public Schools apply the federal relief funds going forward?

School districts around Ohio, and Akron especially, are investing heavily in robust before- and after-school care, intensive tutoring, larger scope of summer school. And we've broken the areas of investment down in kind of the following areas, if you will.

One of them is engagement: So, family resource centers, the whole-wrap around process of engaging families and students from this post-COVID is really important.

Equity. There's components of these federal dollars that there's a maintenance of equity, meaning make sure school districts and governmental agencies are spending dollars in equitable ways so disadvantaged students should be receiving more aid and in intensive ways.

Technology. That's obviously self-explanatory, from the investment in infrastructure to student devices.

And then on the teaching and learning side, extended learning so that before- and after-school programing, different types of learning with preschool expansion.

And then finally operations, that’s the HVAC equipment, air quality, PPE supplies. Depending on if we return back to larger social distance requirements, some of these dollars could be used to add additional bus routes. It could be used to add additional classrooms or trailers. I don't think we will do that – maybe the additional buses in the future – but those are the general parameters that we're investing in.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”