Ed Dept proposes 18-month extension requests for ARP expenses

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Diving brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Education will consider requests from school districts for an 18-month extension of COVID-19 emergency fund spending under the U.S. bailout beyond the September 30 obligation deadline. 2024, according to a May 13 letter from the department to AASA, the association of school principals.
  • The two-page letter says that if the obligation deadline — when a district commits to use certain funds — is based on legal and regulatory requirements, the department may approve requests for spending extensions for properly committed funds. . Approvals would be based on specific facts and circumstances, and longer extensions could be considered for “extraordinary circumstances”.
  • School system officials and education advocacy groups, such as AASA, have raised concerns that a tight spending schedule for the ARP—along with other circumstances such as supply chain challengesinflation and labor shortages – make it harder for districts to use ARP funds for needed facility upgrades.

Overview of the dive:

Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, said in a statement that the organization is “delighted” with the clarity the department has provided on the timeline that school systems must complete “desperately needed” school facility projects. ” and HVAC upgrades.

“Given inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages, we know districts want to invest those funds wisely, and knowing they have 18 months additional funds to liquidate funding will hopefully provide them with the assurance needed to move forward with the use of ARP funds for these contracts and obligations,” Domenech said.

Spending extension requests will be filed by state education agencies on behalf of the districts. A blog post on the AASA website said the organization is confident that state education agencies “will not hesitate to apply for this additional expense track and that the process for doing so is familiar and simple”.

In January, AASA and 31 other education, health, environmental, labor and industry organizations asked the ministry flexibility with spending time. In a letter, they said it would be “almost impossible” for districts to meet the deadline given the logistical and personnel challenges.

Some school districts spend large amounts of their ESSER funds on facility upgrades, such as new HVAC systems, repairs and renovations. These facility upgrades often address needs that existed in school systems long before the pandemic, district officials said in talks about spending priorities for emergency funding.

A 2021 report from the 21st Century School Fund, the International Well Building Institute, and the National Council on School Facilities found that the United States was underinvestment in school buildings and land $85 billion each year.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2020 said that 41% of districts HVAC system upgrades or replacements required in at least half of their schools. The GAO study also found that of 55 schools visited in six states, half described HVAC issues in their buildings, including older systems that were leaking and damaging floors or ceiling tiles.

According to an analysis from FutureEd at Georgetown UniversityUsing information collected manually by data firm Burbio through April 19, a sample of spending plans from 4,155 school districts shows that more than half planned to use ESSER funds for HVAC systems.

These expenses can range from purchasing upgraded air filters for existing units to replacing systems that fail to heat or cool schools, FutureEd wrote on its website.

The impossibility of meeting spending deadlines was one of the biggest challenges school district finance officials face in managing federal relief funding, according to a survey by the Association of School Business Officials International, released this week.

ASBO survey results included responses from financial officers of 154 school districts in 35 states.

When asked how districts had spent ESSER money on facilities, the most popular expenditures in this category were investments to repair, replace or upgrade HVAC systems (47%) and to provide safer drinking water for students (28%). ASBO noted that 30% of districts said they spent no ESSER funds on installations, which was the second highest response after HVAC repairs, replacements and upgrades.

Tight deadlines are especially worrisome for small, rural school districts that may not have as many choices in contractors or materials or flexibility with revenue, or who are limited in the staff time needed to manage improvement projects. Competition between surrounding school systems in research and contracting with project managers or contractors is another concern, as many school systems may be planning to upgrade their facilities at the same time.

Friday’s letter from the Education Department, addressed to Domenech and written by Roberto Rodriguez, assistant secretary of the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, said the department discourages districts from use emergency funds for new construction as this may limit a district’s ability to spend on “other more pressing needs related to the impact of the pandemic”, such as learning and emotional health and children’s minds.

Rodriguez wrote that school infrastructure projects related to addressing the impacts of the pandemic are generally permitted uses of funds. He said the department is pleased that many districts are using ARP money to improve indoor air quality.

In his statement, Domenech said AASA will continue to advocate with Congress for an extension of the September 30, 2024 obligation deadline for ARP funding.

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