Connecticut is receiving $1.1B in COVID-19 stimulus for K-12 schools. Here’s how the state plans to distribute it.

Amanda Blanco, Hartford Courant
·5 min read

Connecticut expects to receive more than $1.1 billion in funding for K-12 schools from the American Rescue Plan, by far the largest amount of coronavirus relief money allocated to the state’s schools by the federal government so far. But unlike previous funding rounds, the plan also contains specific rules about how the stimulus funds can be used, the state Department of Education said during a state Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

Here are the rules state government — and school districts — must follow when spending the funds.

How much money is Connecticut receiving for K-12 schools?

The federal plan allocates $1,105,919,847, or about $1.1 billion, toward K-12 education in the state. But unlike the two previous relief funding rounds, the American Rescue Plan includes regulations that reserve specific portions of funding for certain activities, Kathy Demsey, chief financial officer of the state education department, explained.

Connecticut can withhold up to 10% of the total funding amount, or about $110 million, for state-level efforts through the Department of Education. School districts are expected to see 90% of the total funds, or about $995 million.

Currently, Connecticut can only access two-thirds of its total education funding

The U.S. Department of Education has only released about $700 million to Connecticut so far. That amount “is available for us to begin using now,” Demsey said.

In order to access the remaining one-third of funding, the state Department of Education must develop a plan and submit an application to the federal government.

“We are still awaiting guidance from the [federal education department], which is supposed to be coming shortly on what our plan needs to include [and] what the application itself will involve,” she said.

What rules must the state follow when spending their allocation of about $110 million?

The federal plan requires the government to put the majority of their allocation towards specific efforts:

Summer enrichment activities and after-school programming must each receive about 1% of the overall $1.1 billion, or about $11 million each.","type":"text

No more than 0.5% of Connecticut’s total allocation, or about $5.5 million, may be spent on state administrative costs.","type":"text

The remaining amount, about $27.6 million, can be used for “other state activities,” such as closing funding gaps districts may experience, Dempsey said. The roughly $5.5 million allocated to administrative costs will likely be spent hiring temporary staff to help the department roll out funding efforts, she noted.

The remaining amount, about $27.6 million, can be used for “other state activities,” such as closing funding gaps districts may experience, Dempsey said. The roughly $5.5 million allocated to administrative costs will likely be spent hiring temporary staff to help the department roll out funding efforts, she noted.

How is the roughly $995 million distributed to school districts?

The amount of money districts are expecting to receive is based off their Title I allocations. A federal initiative, Title I “provides financial assistance to local educational agencies for children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Title I funds are allocated at the district level, the center notes, and the amount they receive is based on the number of children who are eligible for such support in the district, as well as a state’s per-student cost of education. Schools with a high number of students experiencing poverty tend to receive more Title I funding.

Because the American Rescue Plan funding distribution is based on Title 1 allocations, about a half-dozen small, rural districts in Connecticut are not expected to receive money, Demsey said.

Andover, Canaan, Colebrook, Eastford and Union are not expected to receive education funding through the plan, although the towns will get some non-education funding. Hartford and Bridgeport are expected to receive the largest amounts of education funding, with more than $127 million each. New Haven is expected to see about $90 million in education aid.

What can schools use the funding for?

Federal regulations state that 20% of districts’ funding must be used to address learning loss. The rest of the money can be used to address schools’ specific needs. For example, Demsey said districts could use the funds to support remote learning, purchase technology, improve ventilation systems or make building upgrades to allow for better spacing between students.

When it comes to hiring additional staff to reduce class sizes or offer intensive tutoring, Demsey said it is important for schools to remember that the extra money “has an expiration date.”

“They have to be mindful that those funds will not be available in two years,” she said, so districts must either recognize that some efforts will be time-limited, or plan for how they will pay for them “after these funds go away.”

When will schools begin receiving the American Rescue Plan aid?

Regarding the $700 million from the plan that the state has received, “there’s a 60-day timeline for us to make those funds available to the [local education agencies], so we will be moving quickly” Demsey said.

She added that the state Department of Education will begin developing district applications for American Rescue Plan funding “in the coming weeks.” Interim state education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker explained districts are “knee-deep right now” applying for the previously announced round of funding through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was enacted in late December.

Demsey said district applications for that funding round, commonly referred to as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II, are due to the state on April 19. She said that the department is working to figure out the most efficient application process for districts to access the American Rescue Plan funds.

Amanda Blanco can be reached at ablanco@courant.com.