PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island K-12 public school districts have spent less than 10% of the hundreds of millions of dollars they received last year in federal COVID relief money under the American Rescue Plan Act, according to a Target 12 review of new data from the R.I. Department of Education.
Both national and local education leaders have recently said they want districts to act with urgency in spending the emergency funds to help students who may have fallen behind during the pandemic.
“The American Rescue Plan dollars are unprecedented,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said while visiting Newport last week. “I shouldn’t be secretary if I don’t feel a sense of urgency to improve education across this country.”
Cardona said state education leaders should view the $330 million that traditional public schools received as a tool to help transform education in their communities.
“I want to make sure that we’re matched, our level of urgency is matched at the state and local level,” he said.
Neil Steinberg, president of the Rhode Island Foundation, agreed with Cardona’s call for urgency locally, saying the funding represents an unprecedented opportunity for districts — and therefore deserves unprecedented scrutiny.
In August, Target 12 reported there was nowhere for the public to see how much districts have spent so far.
“I know it’s been challenging to get information,” Steinberg said. “There needs to be not only transparency, but much better communication.”
Target 12 has now obtained spending data from RIDE, which shows that as of June 30, districts had spent roughly $24 million of the $330 million, a little more than 7%.
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Steinberg told Target 12 he wants to see more of the money spent to help students who fell behind and to improve social emotional learning.
“We cannot have a generation of kids with an asterisk after their name that they were COVID students,” Steinberg said.
Seven districts reported spending nothing so far: Barrington, Jamestown, Foster, North Kingstown, North Smithfield, Westerly and Glocester. (As of Thursday, Glocester was the only district that had not submitted its June 30 report, but reported spending nothing as of March 31.)
Central Falls also reported spending nothing so far, though it’s the only district that reports it has obligated all the money.
Warwick Public Schools have used the largest share, with more than half of its $12.2 million in ARPA dollars spent.
“We wanted to accelerate student learning,” said Warwick Superintendent Lynn Dambruch. “We purchased new [English Language Arts] materials for elementary students, we put a math interventionist in every elementary school.”
In addition, Dambruch said the district increased the wage paid to substitutes, bought new curricula and hired more social workers.
Steinberg encouraged parents ask their districts to schedule quarterly meetings about how the ARPA dollars are being spent and to push for what they want from their districts.
“We’re all paying for this in taxes,” he said. “So, we need to have that accountability.”
“It’s not coming again,” Steinberg added. “This is it. This is the big pot of money.”
Tolly Taylor (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.