‘It helped us try to recover’: How Nevada schools used American Rescue Plan funds to get through the pandemic

Nevada schools

In this Feb. 25, 2021 file photo Tia Baker cleans a desk in a classroom during a media tour at Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher,File)

By Mark Credico

May 8, 2024

Nevada schools used the COVID-era relief funds to help students recover from learning loss and trauma, invest in classroom supplies, and pay teachers’ salaries and bonuses amid recruitment and retention challenges.

Three years after it was signed into law, Nevada’s school districts have spent nearly all of their allocated federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which provided a key source of support as schools navigated the pandemic and its fallout.

The act funded $1.9 trillion in “emergency assistance measures” when President Joe Biden signed it in March 2021, with $122 billion of that funding designated for school relief for preschool through 12th grade, according to a release on the White House official website. The law also dedicated $8 billion for states and school districts to support “certain student populations,” like homeless or disabled students.

Nevada received $965 million from ARPA for education, according to the Nevada federal relief tracker, and those funds have made a real difference according to Megan Griffard, UNLV assistant professor of Educational Psychology, Leadership, and Higher Education.

“This appears to be a once in a lifetime infusion of money just to sort of get schools, and specifically students, back on track after two years of kind of mayhem: tons of learning loss, tons of trauma, a lot of social emotional things, a lot of things going on with students at home,” Griffard said about ARPA funding for education.

Russell Klein, superintendent of the Lander County School District in Northern Nevada, said that infusion of money was crucial for his small school district to make the changes needed to get through the pandemic.

“The magnitude of the shift required such enormous changes that those federal dollars became really a lifeline,” Klein said, “because your budget is normally set to be business as usual. So then when you get hit with an event that requires such tremendous out-of-the-box action, you just wouldn’t normally have room in your budget to be able to navigate those needs.”

The Lander County School District spent its ARPA funding on pay and retirement funds for employees, insurance, virtual learning and infrastructure improvements, and repairs to the schools, according to records provided by the district.

How Nevada schools used their American Rescue Plan funds

So far, the state has spent or allocated $853 million of that federal money, and has until the end of September to form plans on how they will spend the remaining $112 million, then finish spending it all by Jan. 28 of next year.

“What’s happening now is we’ve got just about three months before schools and school districts and states have to give whatever they haven’t (allocated) back,” Griffard said. “And so we’re just sort of watching to see who’s still got money left and what they’re going to spend it on.”

The state allocated most of this money on staff, approving $409.6 million to pay for salaries and retirement fringe benefits for school personnel ranging from instructors to administrators, as well as student services and safety operations.

But Griffard pointed out that the money used on staff was largely for retention bonuses to keep current staff, so their pay would not disappear or decrease when the ARPA funding is used up. The retention bonuses were given in efforts to keep teachers in the classroom, amid growing teacher recruitment and retention challenges nationwide. A 2023 analysis from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 86% of US K-12 public schools reported challenges hiring teachers for the 2023-24 school year and 45% of public schools feel that they are understaffed.

Nevada also spent or allocated over $380 million in ARPA funding on supplies for classrooms. School districts used this money to buy items like textbooks, new technology, books, software, and web-based programs.

The state spent over $147 million on services, including professional, technical, and property services bought by the districts, student transportation, and staff travel paid for by the districts.

Another $27.6 million was spent on other costs, like dues and fees for safety operations and instruction and student support services.

RELATED: Extra funding to boost CCSD teacher pay raises approved

Nevada school districts did not all get the same amount of money, as their allocation largely depended on the size of the district and its student population. The Clark County School District got the largest share by far, with over $777 million dollars coming into the district. The next largest allocation was to Washoe County, which received over $77 million. The Esmeralda County School District received the smallest share of over $154,000 for its enrolled population of 92 students.

While all districts track the ARPA spending in categories recorded by the federal relief tracker, some like Nye County and Lander County tracked how much of the federal money went toward each school within the district. The Clark County School District, the largest school district in the state and one of the largest in the country, did not provide records of tracking how much ARPA funding went to each school within the district.

As the last of the ARPA money is set to be spent within the next year, Klein said his district is still working through problems like chronic absenteeism and lingering academic and social struggles in students from the pandemic.

But the district must simultaneously prepare to tackle future issues as well, like a retiring generation of teachers, political extremism leading to some people being more hostile toward educators, and concerns about school safety. The superintendent said the education system will need more support to deal with these issues as they become more prevalent going forward.

“I wish I could give you a different answer by saying how it put us so far ahead,” Klein said. “But what it really did is that it has helped us to try to recover from the trauma that occurred.”

  • Mark Credico

    Mark Credico is a born-and-raised Las Vegas native. He graduated from UNLV after writing for the school newspaper, then spent a year writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal covering local government and breaking news.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | POLITICS

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