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Researchers plan to study effects of federal dollars on students

Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 7:44 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The COVID-19 pandemic is giving education researchers a unique opportunity to learn exactly what type of spending can best help students.

School districts across the United States received $190 Billion in federal COVID-19 funding known as ESSER Funds. Many districts are spending it on new programs, academic facilities, or hiring additional staff members. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team found on Thursday some districts spending it on new playgrounds or athletic equipment.

The money came with broad guidelines, which allowed school districts to freely spend the money in different ways. Dan Goldhaber, who is an education researcher at the University of Washington, said he is trying to track the spending. He said he hopes his research will allow school districts to determine what programs are most effective for student outcomes.

“It would be nice to have as close to as real-time feedback about what is working and what is not working so schools can make adjustments in the out year,” Goldhaber said.

He said one problem with gathering the data is understanding specifics about spending programs like tutoring.

“But, we might like to know for instance if tutoring happens in school or after school,” Goldhaber said. “Whether, it’s an online tutoring program, how students are assigned to the tutoring, all of that would be useful from a research perspective.”

He said another problem is school districts categorize spending differently. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Team saw the problem firsthand after collecting data from around 24 different school districts. Some school districts track the money on spreadsheets, others sent us 56 pages of expenses while others display the data online.

Sometimes districts have broad explainers, like the East Buchanan Community School District. It budgeted to spend $100,000 on outdoor learning, which included an expansion to a playground, new equipment purchases, a walking path, and concrete areas for courts.

The funding is given out based on the number of students on a free or reduced lunch program. That’s how Oelwein Schools got more money than Clear Creek Amana, despite having half as many students.

Joseph Brown, who is an interim superintendent at Clear Creek Amana, said he doesn’t believe this is fair. He said the funds should have been allocated on a student or employee basis.

While, Oelwein argues the current method directs more money to the students who need it the most, like buying hot spots for kids who can’t afford internet.

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