The COVID-19 pandemic changed public education in Pennsylvania, and school districts continue to work to rebuild, improve, and enhance educational programming, student supports, and all other aspects of k-12 education with the help of a historic influx of federal funds.
As the scope of this federal funding for schools is significant and the eligible uses are broad, school district leaders are generally optimistic about the opportunity to use these funds to recover from the pandemic, tailoring their expenditures to the unique and specific needs, challenges, and expectations of their students, staff, and communities.
The Spring 2021 School District Budget Report reveals how school districts are using—or expect to use—their federal COVID funds. There was commonality in the use of these funds to address learning loss through various strategies, provide for technology expansion and access, engage in facility upgrades and improvements to enhance air quality and safety, and investigate strategies to improve sustainability of programs in preparation for expiration of the funds. School districts are also focused on addressing the unique needs of their individual student subgroups by combatting food insecurity, enhancing mental health services and supports, and providing staff training.

While the survey showed that school leader optimism and expectations for the outcomes associated with the expenditure of these federal funds are high, the work is not easy, as school districts must build and implement careful plans to leverage this historic federal investment and navigate the expiration of the funds. As a result, with the optimism comes apprehension regarding sustainability of programs, supports, and improvements made with federal funds. Unfortunately, as is pervasive in the commonwealth, the wide pre-COVID variation in local tax bases and state funding support make this a much greater challenge for many districts. As state mandates continue to grow significantly while local and state revenue growth slows or pauses, the pandemic has served to widen the existing gaps across districts.
Despite a short time period to implement the federal investment, school districts see this as an opportunity to reshape k-12 education in Pennsylvania and move public education ahead post-COVID. Their success in this effort, however, will not be sustainable without the support and partnership of state policymakers.
As school districts navigate these challenging times, mandated costs continue to rise and policymakers continue to discuss efforts to further de-fund public education. Without additional future state support for education along with changes in existing policies, our students, school districts, and taxpayers are worse off, and the promise of the improvements and advancements made as a result of the federal funding will be fleeting at best.
The report uses data collected in the spring of 2021 from two separate surveys—one for school district superintendents, and one for school district business managers. The report is also informed by 2019-20 Annual Financial Report data posted by the PA Department of Education. Three statewide education associations issued the report: The PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), the PA Association of School Administrators (PASA), and the PA Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS).
Click here to access the report.