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MN schools quickly spent COVID relief funds, committee hears

Minnesota schools have made short work of their first round of federal COVID-19 relief funds, House lawmakers heard Thursday. House Photography file photo

Minnesota schools have made short work of their first round of federal COVID-19 relief funds through purchases needed to keep buildings sanitized and by providing extra support to students, families and educators.

The initial CARES Act funds, enacted in March 2020, were delivered to districts and schools to help with costs associated with the pandemic. Minnesota’s schools received more than $594 million in education stabilization funds at that time.

The House Education Finance Committee received an update on the status of those funds Thursday from the Department of Education.

The first round of funds was distributed between six programs, with the largest allocation of $244.8 million going through a Coronavirus Relief Fund. Those dollars were used for operational costs such as cleaning supplies, as well as providing for student, family and educator needs in the form of technology access, tutors, translation services, professional development and school-aged care for essential workers. To date, all but $17,000 of those funds have been spent.

The legislation required the funds be spent by Dec. 30, 2020, according to Denise Anderson, chief financial officer for the department. “They did a great job making sure they utilized that funding.”

Two other programs that received substantial allocations were the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, $140.1 million, and the Child Nutrition Grants to States Fund, $160.3 million. Those funds have been, or will be, used to address mental health needs, provide summer school programming, technology support and cover the reimbursable meal costs of the National School Lunch Program.

While most of the initial round of funding has been spent or earmarked, schools will have additional resources coming their way through the passage of the second coronavirus stimulus package late last year. This round, the state’s $649.4 million appropriation will be disbursed through two programs with different specified eligible uses.

Committee members inquired about the distribution of funding to tribal schools, the rational for Paycheck Protection Program Loans being distributed to non-public schools and charters, and the breakdown of federal relief funding for non-public schools vs. public schools.

Of the new funds, $41.7 million will go to non-public schools, according to Andre Prahl, agency finance director for the department. 

“The allocation to the non-public schools was written in law and it’s the same for every state,” she said.

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