Schools begin planning to spend COVID relief money

CASPER — Wyoming school districts have begun receiving much-needed federal pandemic relief dollars, and are planning how to spend promised dollars not yet received.

Some money has already been spent on increasing staff salaries — specifically for food service and custodial workers, paying for technology improvements like new computers, and re-equipping personal protective equipment for faculty and staff, according to a report shared with the Legislature’s Select Committee on School Finances.

One of the stipulations of the funding is that it be used to curb “learning loss.” Some districts were clearer about how they plan to meet that obligation than others.

Converse County School District 1 plans to spend a portion of a $2.2 million grant on “curriculum instructional materials and professional development to address learning loss, rural, extended day and summer school staff and resources.”

The Rock Springs school district plans to use part of a $14.3 million grant for “certified intervention teachers to support learning loss and achievement gaps.” Big Horn district 3 reported it too will hire staff for “learning loss recovery efforts” like summer school and other programs.

Outside of the classroom, many districts hope to make HVAC improvements to improve airflow — another condition of the grant money.

Districts will have several years to spend the relief money, but it’s unclear if the Wyoming Legislature will impose any restrictions.

In addition to the roughly $120 million from the most recent federal aid package that will be set aside for schools, $151 million has already been awarded from earlier aid packages, though much of that money is so far unspent.

The state, however, oversees a much larger pot of money — more than $1 billion alone from the most recent aid package passed with the American Rescue Plan Act.

At least some districts are unsure how to proceed with money from that pool, according to the report.

“We are unsure as to what we can apply for because the Legislature has proposed limiting these funds’ availability to districts,” notes the Converse County School District 1 in a survey meant to determine how districts plan to spend their federal aid.

Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday announced the anticipated special session tentatively scheduled for July will not happen. Lawmakers had planned to parse out the federal money at that time, and determine if rules should be attached to money districts received from certain pools.

The Friday announcement said most of those determinations will instead be made at the budget session in 2022. The governor would not need legislative approval to funnel money into existing programs, however.