Schools dream big with infusion of federal cash

By: | April 5, 2021

With billions of dollars in federal aid coming their way, schools across the U.S. are weighing how to use the windfall to ease the harm of the pandemic — and to tackle problems that existed long before the coronavirus.

The assistance that was approved last month totals $123 billion — a staggering sum that will offer some districts several times the amount of federal education funding they normally receive in a single year. The aid will help schools reopen and expand summer programs to help students catch up on learning. It also offers a chance to pursue programs that have long been seen as too expensive, such as intensive tutoring, mental health services and major curriculum upgrades.

“This feels like a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to be able to make critical investments,” said Nathan Kuder, chief financial officer of Boston Public Schools, which is expecting $275 million.

But the spending decisions carry high stakes. If important needs are overlooked — or if the money does not bring tangible improvements — schools could face blowback from their communities and from politicians who influence their funding. At the same time, schools must be wary of dreaming too big and taking on long-term costs they cannot sustain.

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