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Michigan NewsMackinac Center Study: Michigan schools allocate half of COVID relief funds to...

Mackinac Center Study: Michigan schools allocate half of COVID relief funds to employee pay and benefits

Michigan – A recent study revealed that Michigan school districts used their COVID-19 relief funds in ways that mirror their usual spending habits, dedicating about half of these funds to pay and benefits for employees. This analysis was part of a Mackinac Center for Public Policy examination of how $2.5 billion from a $6 billion total federal aid package was allocated by schools during the 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22 academic years.

The U.S. Congress allocated significant funding to public schools nationwide from March 2020 to March 2021 to help them cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Michigan schools got a total of $6 billion, with the amount each district received varying widely – from an additional $500 per student up to $50,000 per student. Districts with higher numbers of low-income students got more money.

The report indicates that over the three school years, about 47% of the pandemic relief money was used for staff salaries and benefits. Since employee costs are usually the biggest item in school budgets, it’s not surprising that they continued to dominate spending. Despite allocating $1.2 billion of the COVID-19 funds to staff, the number of employees grew by only 3%. The report suggests that many districts likely used the funds to increase salaries for existing staff rather than to expand their workforce.

Additionally, one-third of the relief money was spent on services and supplies, with 20% going to external service providers like cleaning, transportation, or tutoring services. Normally, districts spend about 11% of their budgets on these types of services.

“It’s been four years since the pandemic began and Michigan students are still trying to catch up,” Cassidy Syftestad Klutts, author of the report and doctoral fellow at the University of Arkansas, said in a statement. “School districts have one school year left to spend the remaining $3.5 billion. It will be interesting to see how well they use these resources to overcome learning loss and stabilize the classroom.”

The report showed that 16% of the COVID relief funds were used for various supplies, ranging from energy expenses to testing supplies. The rest of the money was allocated to capital expenses and other miscellaneous items.

Additionally, the analysis compared the spending habits of charter schools and traditional public schools. It found that charter schools allocated a higher percentage of their funds to instructional services aimed at mitigating learning losses.

Interestingly, some traditional public school districts had unique plans for their COVID-19 funds, including purchasing support dogs, massage chairs, and even constructing a $460,000 amphitheater.