New analysis finds New York State school districts slow to spend federal pandemic relief dollars

Press Release

The New York Equity Coalition calls on state and school district leaders to act with urgency and direct dollars to students who most need them 

NEW YORK – Even as recently released assessment data show that half of all students tested in the Spring of 2022 lack proficiency in math and literacy, a new analysis found that as of August 2022 school districts across New York State have spent less than 10 percent of their American Rescue Plan Act funds, which are aimed at accelerating learning after the pandemic. 

The analysis of spending also shows that when combined with the two other rounds of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, New York State ranks 49th nationally in the percentage of total funds spent – 19 percent. 

The analysis of district spending is included in a new report released today, The Time for Urgency, that also examines how other states are investing their federal funding and how New York can ensure these resources are reaching the students who most need them. 

The report comes as students across New York State are engaged in the most consequential school year in generations, following three years of interrupted instruction due to the pandemic. Recent national and state assessment data show that most students, particularly students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, experienced significant academic setbacks. 

The federal government quickly recognized the negative impact of the pandemic on students and directed a historic amount of funding to address the challenges facing schools starting in 2020. The most recent round of funding from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund  and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) distributed $122 billion in funds to schools across the nation, with $9 billion for New York State.  

State and district leaders now find themselves in a unique leadership role ensuring these resources reach the students and schools most impacted by the pandemic. 

At the state level, the New York State Education Department can support and monitor district spending while also using its authority as a state oversight agency to instill a greater sense of urgency, identify evidence-based investments, and highlight promising practices.  

The New York Equity Coalition recommends NYSED take the following steps to strengthen the effectiveness of ARPA spending across the state: 

  • Incentivize additional spending on unfinished learning; 
  • Create a cradle-to career longitudinal Data System; 
  • Prioritize research and evaluation of promising practices; 
  • Focus on teacher diversity, recruitment, and retention.  

District leaders also play a critical role, and while districts must make investment decisions based on their own unique student needs, we recommend that districts spend at least 50% of their total ARPA funds to address unfinished learning and consider investing in the following evidence-based strategies and priorities:  

  • Early literacy instruction aligned with the science of reading; 
  • Math instruction and professional learning for teachers; 
  • High dosage intensive tutoring and expanded learning time; 
  • Teacher diversity, recruitment, and retention; 
  • Data equity and reporting transparency; 
  • Course access, dual enrollment, and graduation support. 

Read more about these recommendations in the full report. 

“These are challenging times for students, teachers, and families,” said Jeff Smink, deputy director of The Education Trust–New York. . “New York was hit especially hard by the pandemic, which makes swift and urgent investment of these relief dollars particularly crucial to creating an equitable future. The choices school leaders make at this moment will carry a long-standing impact on our students, our communities, and our state’s overall recovery.” 

“Read Alliance is heartened by New York City public school system’s commitment to investing in early literacy assessments and interventions, which is key to long term academic success of children,” said Danielle Guindo, executive director of Read Alliance. “The results of the state and federal assessment data are nothing less than an urgent call to action – a call that Read Alliance (READ) has always stood for: leveling the playing field for economically disadvantaged youth to ensure they have access to high quality academic supports. READ stands with the New York Equity Coalition in shining a light on promising practices and advocating for programming that elevates the education of ALL children.” 

“For my entire lifetime we have been told one of the biggest challenges in urban education is lack of funding,” said Samuel L. Radford III, co-chairperson of We the Parents. “Now, with districts having unprecedented resources, we must meet the moment by addressing the most pressing needs. We must invest in a system where all of our children read, write, and do math at grade level and graduate college and career ready. Early literacy and teacher training aligned with the science of reading and social emotional learning strategies to address the devastating impact of the pandemic must rise to the top of the list. We may never see this kind of investment in education again and we cannot accept anything less than an urgent and effective allocation of these resources. Now that we have the money and resources, can we finally turn around urban education in Buffalo and New York State? Our children and their future are depending on us.”