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Report: Michigan schools spent almost half of COVID funds on employees

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(The Center Square) – A new report found Michigan school districts spent their COVID-19 funds similarly to their general budget, with nearly half spent on employee compensation and benefits.

A Mackinac Center for Public Policy report shows how school districts have spent $2.5 billion of the $6 billion in federal pandemic aid between the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

To help address the challenges of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress distributed unprecedented amounts of money to public schools across the country from March 2020 to March 2021. Michigan schools received $6 billion total, with each district receiving varying amounts, ranging from about $500 extra per student to as much as $50,000 per pupil. School districts serving the poorest students received the largest amounts.

Across three school years, the report says employee salaries and benefits comprised 47% of total pandemic relief expenditures. Employee compensation is consistently the largest portion of school budgets, so the additional spending follows that trend.

Despite spending $1.2 billion of COVID aid on personnel, staffing levels only increased by 3%. This suggests that much of this extra spending on employee compensation took the form of raises for existing employees rather than hiring new staff, according to the report.

A third of the funds were spent on services and supplies. One-fifth of COVID funds went toward outside service providers such as custodial services, transportation or tutoring. Districts usually spend 11% of their budgets on these services.

“It’s been four years since the pandemic began and Michigan students are still trying to catch up,” Cassidy Syftestad Klutts, author of the report and doctoral fellow at the University of Arkansas, said in a statement “School districts have one school year left to spend the remaining $3.5 billion. It will be interesting to see how well they use these resources to overcome learning loss and stabilize the classroom.”

Supplies accounted for 16% of COVID relief spending. This is a broad category, as it can cover anything from energy costs to testing materials. The remaining funds were spent on capital costs and other things.

The report analyzed how charter schools and conventional public schools spent their funds differently. The data suggests charter schools focused more resources on addressing learning losses based on the percentage spent on instructional services, according to the report.

Some conventional public school districts planned to spend COVID cash on support dogs, massage chairs and a $460,000 amphitheater.

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