As COVID relief money ends for Clark, Champaign schools, what’s next?

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Districts that used aid for more staff and programs to fight learning loss face funding decisions.

Schools in Clark and Champaign counties collectively received more than $70 million in federal COVID relief funds since the beginning of the pandemic, and some districts used part of the money to pay for additional staff and programs.

But what happens when those funds run out?

Most school superintendents said the expenses will shift back to coming from the general fund, or they will be evaluated for effectiveness that will determine their future as educators cope with learning loss from the pandemic. Others said the extra help will end.

Superintendent Jesse Steiner said Northwestern has used part of the aid to pay for learning recovery teachers who have helped small groups of students.

“When the money is gone, we will struggle to provide the same services,” Steiner said. “When the funding goes away, some of our current services will go as well.”

The federal government provided three rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, called ESSER, to school districts across the nation during the height of COVID-19. The money from the ESSER I program had to be spent by Sept. 30, 2022. The deadline for ESSER II spending is Sept. 30, 2023. The third round, and the largest, has to be spent by Sept. 30, 2024.

The money can be used to address academics and mental health, but the use of the funds varied widely by district. Some chose HVAC work, others funded summer programs, electronic devices and internet access, and others used the money for renovations, staffing and supplies.

At least 9 local school districts — Springfield, Clark-Shawnee, Greenon, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southeastern, Tecumseh, Mechanicsburg and Triad — used some of their funds on teachers or programs.

The Springfield News-Sun took a look at what aid districts received and what it has paid for.


Springfield used some of its $46.8 million in funds by adding 61 staff members to increase intervention and support services for students and employees, and it provided summer enrichment programs.

“The district is measuring the effectiveness of these programs and will make determinations on which programs will be continued based on the results,” said Superintendent Bob Hill.

As of the end of February, the district had $629,428 of funds not yet been spent or budgeted to a specific purpose.


Clark-Shawnee used some of the $3.9 million in funds for additional technology and for food service staff, academic tutors and extended summer learning.

Superintendent Brian Kuhn said leaders were strategic regarding the expenses that would go beyond the ESSER funding.

“Many purchases were a one-time cost for the district. Any expenditures that would go beyond the ESSER timelines were planned and budgeted accordingly as future expenses. These planned, ongoing expenses for staff and programs will transition to general fund expenditures after the ESSER timeline is complete,” he said.


Greenon used some of the nearly $2.9 million in funds for summer school programs and in-school tutoring, staff, stipends for supplemental staff, mental health therapists, teachers and aides.

When the funds run out, “these will likely become general fund expenditures to continue the progress towards combating learning loss and dealing with mental health issues,” said Superintendent Darrin Knapke.


Northeastern used some of the $3.4 million in funds for added staff to provide personalized and small-group instruction to help close the learning gap. It also went to enhanced summer school, to keep all staff paid in athleltics, food services and latchkey programs, and to instructional staff.

“We will evaluate the programs and support successes into the future,” said treasurer Dale Miller.

The district still has $1.2 million to spend, which will continue to go toward employing instructional staff and other instructional resources.


Southeastern used some of the $1.4 million in funds for an extra custodian and three current certified staff members’ salary and benefits.

Treasurer Ben Kitchen said the remaining funds will continue to be spent on the three current staff members and an upgrade to the intercom system.

“These were existing employees that were being paid out of the general fund, and when the ESSER monies are exhausted, these employees will go back to being paid from the general fund,” said Superintendent David Shea.


Northwestern used some of the $2.8 million in funds for learning recovery teachers to work with small groups of students and provide specific remediation to those students, and provided summer learning opportunities.

“We have told our learning recovery teachers that we will try to hire them through attrition, but we cannot guarantee that they will have a job at the end of the funding period,” said Steiner.


Mechanicsburg used some of the $1.1 million in funds for additional staff, a small group reading instructor at the elementary school and a student success coordinator to support career exploration and pathways for success after graduation.

The remaining funds will be used to continue the additional staff positions, purchase instructional supplies, and expand the Stadium Visitor Bleacher Section for additional seating and social distancing.

Superintendent Danielle Prohaska said the district plans to continue the additional staffing positions once the funds have run out.

“The district will continue to explore other funding opportunities to lessen the expenditures impacting the general fund,” she said. “Regardless, our students and staff have experienced the direct benefits of the added positions, and the administration is committed to the continuation of the added positions.”


Triad used some of the $1.6 million in funds for additional staff to focus on early literacy programs year-round, expanded summer school programs, and added new programs to evaluate student needs.

Superintendent Vickie Hoffman said they have talked many times about the added staff who were paid using these funds.

“We have a plan that reduces one position each year to ensure we keep our percentage of staffing costs the same once grants are no longer there,” she said. “The board could approve to extend positions and things like the flood team, but we have a plan for now and will evaluate at a later date to determine what we do when those grants have ended.”


Tecumseh used some of the $3.1 million in funds for a virtual teacher, nurses, summer learning programs, bus drivers, salaries and benefits, and mental health therapists.

“We will shift those from ESSER funding back to the general fund, which is where they were coming from before the ESSER funding was received,” said Superintendent Paula Crew. “Using ESSER funding for salaries and programs saved general fund dollars for a time, which extended carry-over funding.”


Graham used the $2.75 million in funds to promote student and staff health and safety, and for updated curricular and technology resources.

“The district is budgeting to continue with providing and updating these resources, but that will be difficult with limited funding resources,” said Superintendent Chad Lensman. “The district strategically used the ESSER funds to support both students and staff, and it will be important that we are strategic in how we will budget in the future.”

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