While the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $123 billion for schools to address issues related to COVID-19, the manner in which the money is earmarked shows a wide disparity between educational entities.
The latest figure for the third round of Estimated Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds shows Peters Township receiving $752,324, business manager Brad Rau said. Using a Pennsylvania Department of Education formula for determining average daily attendance, that works out to about $185 a student.
By comparison, per-student estimates for other Washington County school districts ranged from Canon-McMillan’s $560.36 to Washington’s $3,884.48, according to information presented by Rau at a recent meeting of Peters Township School Board’s finance committee.
Rau said allocations follow the formula used to determine schools’ federal Title 1 eligibility, which in turn is based primarily on the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program.
School board member Daniel Taylor spoke about the resulting effect on the distribution of ESSER III funds.
“If you break down all the school districts in the state, the top five, based on this, are getting $10,000 per student, and the bottom five are getting an average of $164 per student,” he said. “This is mainly to make up for COVID-related expenses, which, last I checked, doesn’t really vary by your ZIP code or any other demographic.”
Superintendent Jeannine French pointed out schools have taken a varying degree of approaches with regard to in-person education.
“We are a district that’s been in school five days a week since the beginning,” she said about the current school year, “and we’ve incurred quite a bit of COVID-related costs as opposed to somebody who’s not.”
Taylor called for “a push to find out what can be done to change that.”
“I understand that some districts are going to need more and some districts are going to need less,” he said. “But to say the top need is 61 times what the bottom need is, is insane.”
An estimated $4.7 billion is going to Pennsylvania as part of the scholastic component of the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package that became law March 11.
In the first two rounds of Estimated Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, the “local education agency” shares for Peters Township School District are listed as allocations of $97,338 in May and $371,457 in January, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The department’s formula for determining school districts’ basic state funding includes an enrollment factor known as Student-Weighted Average Daily Membership, based on data from the previous three academic years. Peters Township’s 2021-22 number, which incorporates a “poverty weight” among other considerations, is calculated at 4,051.955.
The district received $5.63 million from the state for the current school year, and Rau said the expectation is that at least that much will be allocated in the final version of Pennsylvania’s 2021-22 budget.