School challenges remain as COVID-19 relief funds run out next year |

School challenges remain as COVID-19 relief funds run out next year

Erica Breunlin
Colorado Sun
Students from San Luis Centennial School District R-1 in San Luis, Colorado play outside in the sun, still wearing masks.
John McEvoy/Special to The Colorado Sun/Courtesy photo

With less than a year and a half until school districts must spend all their federal COVID-19 relief dollars, district leaders are confronting an increasingly urgent question: How will they continue supporting student and teacher mental health, recruit and retain school staff, and address other needs intensified by the pandemic without more sustainable funding?

They’re scrambling to answer that question as many districts grapple with escalating mental-health struggles and worsening teacher shortages — concerns that have become chronic since the pandemic began.

“In order to really make improvements around the conditions that have been outlined here, we need sustainable funding,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project. “The current funding that we have within our system does not allow for that, and so how do you elevate that to an issue, so that it is funded for every school district and for students and not through something that is a grant?”

Districts last month passed the halfway mark on the timeline set by the federal government for spending all COVID-19 relief money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, programs.

The ESSER Mid-Point Survey found that challenges that arose early in the pandemic remain top-of-mind concerns among education leaders and teachers three years later — including student emotional support and behavior, vacant staff positions, and staff social and emotional support. Many districts have spent some of their ESSER funding on those priorities, but they have also been stretched between other urgent needs, such as Internet connectivity and technology, meal distribution, health and safety supplies and equipment, and infrastructure upgrades to support better airflow.

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