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California Schools Mostly on Track with COVID Relief Spending

According to the California School Boards Association, 89 percent of districts have spent almost all of the first round of federal funding, including for staff training and purchasing educational technology.

A pile of books in front of an abacus in front of a chalkboard with a bar graph showing different percentage levels.
(TNS) — Editor's note: This is the second part of a series dealing with COVID relief spending in education. Part one published in Friday's edition of the Record-Bee and can also be read online.

A new analysis by the California School Boards Association, released earlier this month, revealed that California school districts so far have collectively spent little of record funding in COVID relief on efforts to address learning setbacks caused by the pandemic, despite data that indicates that learning slowed, especially among the youngest students, and gaps in achievement between minority students and their white and Asian peers widened during distance learning in 2020-21.

The analysis reveals whether districts are on track to meet spending deadlines. For the most part, they are; 89 percent of districts have spent almost all of the first round of federal funding, whose spending deadline is Feb. 1, 2023.

The nonprofit's report is the first of three it plans to release. The second will report how districts have spent $6.6 billion in state Covid funding approved in March 2021. The final report will be the results of a survey of about 200 superintendents and business officers.

Lake County's school districts appear to have utilized the various pots of federal and state funding on resources needed to address learning loss and have also allocated funds to develop activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, according to data obtained by the Record-Bee through a public records request.

In addition to these expenditures, the Kelseyville Unified School District used federal and state monies as part of the ESSER 1, 2 and 3 (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief), GEER 1 and 2, the Governor's Emergency Education Relief funds, and various other relief funds to address learning loss including expenditures on summer learning or summer enrichment programs, evidenced-based high dosage tutoring, mental health services and supports and other evidence-based interventions, according to data provided by the district.

Superintendent Dave McQueen said one of the biggest challenges the district experienced during the pandemic was having to pivot to online instruction. He said that was a big challenge, not having students on campus while having to deal with the constant changes on COVID guidelines and mandates. "The staff and the community did a fantastic job," he said, adding on one had been trained on how to navigate a two-year or three-year pandemic. McQueen said he was optimistic for this year 2022-23.

KVUSD Business Manager Christopher Perry provided COVID-19 federal and state revenue and expenditures records for the past two fiscal years which show that in addition to resources allocated to address learning loss, funds were used for staff training and professional development, purchasing educational technology, and developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities to "effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff."

Dr. Giovanni Annous, superintendent at Upper Lake Unified Schools, along with Michael Kauble, chief business official, prepared a report detailing the district's Coronavirus funding and expenditures.

"As federal and state COVID-19 monies began flowing into the district, we began to plan on how we could use it to best benefit students," they noted in the document, adding, "We knew the pandemic would persist into the relatively near future, and that we could most likely shift into an extended Independent Study model."

District officials added that although Upper Lake USD was prepared for such a shift in methodologies, they were also bolstered by the fact that keeping the District closed was an option, not a requirement. On the recommendation of their leadership team and with a consensus among staff, the school board determined that the district open on schedule for the 2021-22 school year but would offer a hybrid model where those who felt unsafe or were quarantined due to infection would work for home, keeping in contact with staff and their peers and continue their learning.

Among funding received including ESSER 1 and 2 monies, were over $270,000 used to increase instruction, cleaning supplies, educational technologies, and school facilities repairs. The district also utilized ESSER 2 monies (receiving $1,121,924 and spending $259,628) in activities related to assisting homeless students, addressing learning loss, and the inspection, testing, replacement and upgrading indoor air quality equipment. State general funds totaling over $13,000 were spent on technical supports like Chromebook licenses and cleaning and social distance supplies.

"During the summer of 2020, knowing that we would need systems for the delivery of Distance Learning material, we devised a method to utilize incoming COVID money to equip all classrooms with large touch screen computers, complete with video and sound capabilities. This allowed teachers to Zoom with students during class times, sharing the lessons and community with those who attended on campus," noted Kauble in the district's report.

Other expenditures included academic zoom licenses for the digital classroom, a HIPAA compliant system used for signing documents, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff. "PPE was more than simply something you wear or do, we needed safe spaces in the classrooms and work areas, both for students and staff alike," officials noted. After the purchase was made, Annous began building dividers and teaching stations for classrooms. Maintenance and Operations deployed desk shields to school offices and common areas to cutdown COVID transmission when the schools were conducting business. Air purifiers were purchased, and existing HVAC systems were refit with filters so that the air in the classroom would have an additional layer of protection.

"Upper Lake Unified School District is extremely proud of not only our operations during the COVID Pandemic, but we're also proud of our fiscal stewardship of the monies provided to us by the State and Federal Governments," wrote Kauble.

He added, "Both the availability of the monies, plus our determination, ingenuity, and quick response to the situation allowed us to continue to operate and bring education into the classrooms and homes of Upper Lake students. Upper Lake USD has a very dedicated staff that has seamlessly adapted to an ever-changing landscape of rules and regulations governing instruction, fiscal accountability, programmatic plans, and more. The fluidness of the transitions we have been required to make has been noted positively by many in the local community and around Lake County."

©2022 Lake County Record-Bee, Lakeport, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.