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New Hampshire schools get $206 million in pandemic aid

August 26, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Dan Donovan sounds a bit sheepish when he describes his monthly Zoom calls with fellow school district business administrators. While they all are figuring out how to spend their share of federal pandemic aid, he’s aware that his allocation far exceeds many of the others.

“When I talk about the money I have versus what they get, I have an embarrassment of riches here,” said Donovan, chief operating officer of the Nashua School District, the state’s second largest.

Since March 2020, the federal government has provided $190 billion in pandemic aid to schools, an amount that is more than four times what the U.S. Education Department spends on K-12 schools in a typical year. The Associated Press, relying on data published or provided by states and the federal government, tallied how much money was granted to nearly every school district in the country.

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The AP tracked more than $155 billion sent to states to distribute among schools since last year, including general pandemic relief that some states shared with their schools. More than $206 million was sent to New Hampshire, ranging from $4,200 for the tiny northern town of Errol to $37 million for Manchester, the state’s largest city. The average amount per district was about $1.2 million, compared with $2.3 million nationwide.

Per student, the aid averages nearly $2,800 per student nationally, but it varies widely by district and state, according to the AP’s analysis. Funding per student in New Hampshire ranged from $200 for the CSI Charter School in Concord to $5,500 in Stratford.

Ronna Cadarette, the superintendent who oversees schools in Stratford and two other communities, said the majority of the money has gone directly to programs that support students’ safety and their physical, social, emotional and academic well-being.

Among other things, the district provided devices to each student, installed new communication systems for remote instruction, provided wireless access to families, replaced exhaust fans, and bought additional supplies so students didn’t have to share textbooks and materials. It also purchased a social and emotional guidance curriculum, added an elementary teacher and offered summer school for all students, she said.

“These are just a few of the reasons the Stratford Public School District is so special and I am honored to serve beside this community in the best interest of student learning,” she said in an email.

The latest and largest round of funding, totaling $123 billion, is still being distributed and gives schools enormous flexibility in how to spend it. Schools have three years to spend the latest round, a window that many district officials say is short for such a large amount of money.

In Nashua, Donovan said much of that money likely will be spent on construction and renovation projects.

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“We’re just not built to spend that much money that quickly,” he said.

Nashua spent about $1.7 million from the first round of funding on technology for remote learning, about $500,000 on personal protective equipment and made plans to upgrade heating and air quality systems at three elementary schools, he said. It has asked the state for approval to spend another $7.4 million for staff and services aimed at helping students recover from learning setbacks.

“The positive people will tell you, ‘Oh, Zoom was fine! These kids did great,’” he said. “Well, to be honest, nobody knows if they did great or didn’t do great until the kids are back in school,” he said.

Some of that money also would go toward expanding summer school and possibly adding Saturday school hours, plus additional staff in areas related to mental health. But that could prove difficult, Donovan said.

“One of the challenges I have is when people see large amounts of money, they immediately want to add all kinds of staff. But some of these staff aren’t available; you can’t find school psychologists,” he said. “And if you find them and tell them, ‘Oh, by the way your salary’s covered for two years and after that we don’t know,’ they may not choose to take that job.”

Unlike small districts, Nashua has a dedicated grants manager to sort through all the red tape. But it’s still a daunting task, Donovan said.

“My goal is to spend it in the right way,” he said.

The New Hampshire money tracked by the AP doesn’t include The Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund. States got $3 billion based on a formula, but governors had discretion on how to spend it. New Hampshire used only a portion of the governor’s funds for local education agencies, but has not provided a breakdown.