NYC Department of Education Slow to Spend Federal COVID Stimulus Funds, NYC Comptroller Finds

NYC Department of Education Slow to Spend Federal COVID Stimulus Funds, NYC Comptroller Finds

New York City Council member and candidate for city Comptroller Brad Lander attends the “Hometown Heroes” Ticker Tape Parade on July 07, 2021 in New York City. (Shutterstock)

New York, NY – New York City Comptroller Brad Lander released a spending update, which found that the NYC Department of Education (DOE) has been slow to spend federal COVID stimulus funds allocated for FY 2022. While re-opening expenditures are largely on track, DOE is running far behind on programs in the critical areas of academic and instructional support, and social and emotional wellbeing. Nine months into the fiscal year, DOE has spent less than 25% of funds allocated in those categories.   
“Our students are counting on us to use this unprecedented influx of federal funding – all of it, not just a fraction – to deliver the academic and emotional support they need, as a result of two hard years of pandemic loss and disruption,” said Comptroller Brad Lander. “Our city cannot afford to squander this opportunity to invest in the programs and supports to help our young people begin to succeed again academically, process the trauma they’ve experienced, and address long-standing inequities in our school system. We still have an opportunity to spend this one-time funding wisely – but the clock is ticking.” 
On March 1st, Comptroller Lander unveiled an interactive public dashboard tracking the spending from FY 2022 onward of nearly $11 billion in Federal pandemic relief funding for New York City. Through FY 2026, the City’s federal pandemic aid is expected to total $26 billion. School spending is the largest category of federal funds, as DOE received $7 billion in total federal stimulus money through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 
In order to provide more detailed information, the Comptroller’s Office reached out to DOE to request budget and spending information for those funds allocated for FY 2022. Based on that data, the Comptroller today released an analysis comparing DOE’s October 2021 spending plan to its actual spending from the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 2021 through the first week of March 2022. To date, DOE has spent less than 50% of the funds allocated for FY 2022, and is not on track to spend the full amount allocated in the three months remaining in the fiscal year. According to the data, three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, DOE has spent: 

  • 65% of $1.3 billion total for re-opening healthy and safe schools (including Summer Rising for the Summer 2021 year). 
  • 22% of the planned $984 million in Academic and Instructional Support, such as early literacy, college and career prep, and special education. 
  • 24% of the $274 million allotted for social-emotional wellness programs, including 5% of the $12 million for restorative justice programs. 

The Comptroller’s Office discussed the underspending with DOE, who provided the data and additional context regarding spending challenges, including pandemic related delays, hiring difficulties, and supply chain issues as well as long contracting and procurement processes. School systems across the country have been slow to spend federal COVID aid.  
DOE allocated on average $1500 per student with some variation between schools and districts, but the data does not show clear correlation of per-pupil spending with student need. 
The DOE will be able to roll over unspent funds into FY 2023-2024, funding that could bolster current initiatives or could be redirected to other priorities. The Comptroller’s Office urged the agency to be more transparent with plans to use or reallocate funds and to set clear outcome metrics to ensure that critical federal stimulus dollars are being spent effectively and equitably and on the programs that best address the growth and wellbeing of NYC’s students.  
“My top priority is always making sure our schools, students and their families have the resources they need to thrive,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D. (NY-16). “The remaining $1.5 billion in FY2022 funding tells me we need to couple it with support and capacity so these needed funds are fully utilized. When I voted in Congress to deliver historic levels of funding for New York schools through the American Rescue Plan, I envisioned those funds being used to hire more staff and personnel to support our students and their families, to ensure that the wraparound supports that are even more critical during a pandemic are meaningfully available and accessible. As an educator for more than twenty years I deeply empathize with the complexities that teachers, school personnel, students and families are experiencing. By dedicating budgetary support to serve the whole child – rather than on resuming standardized tests in a pandemic despite the evidence showing us that year after year, standardized tests don’t improve student outcomes — I believe we can get our students back on track after the unprecedented challenges they continue to face in the ongoing pandemic. We are navigating unprecedented times and our youth deserve unprecedented support.” 

“Federal stimulus funds allocated toward the DOE have provided crucial support for key initiatives throughout the pandemic, particularly for at-risk students. However, the DOE spending just $1.4 billion of these funds, rather than $3 billion as expected, means that many students are still not getting the services that they deserve. Moving forward, I am hopeful that the DOE will provide the public with transparency on the status of stimulus spending, while utilizing stimulus funds in an urgent, but fiscally responsible, manner,” said Council Member Rita Joseph. 

“We are deeply concerned with the current lack of federal stimulus spending meant to go towards student needs. The city is flushed with cash to cover critical expenses such as a meaningful city-wide expansion of restorative justice, implementation of the Mosaic curriculum, and services for students with IEPs. Yet, for some reason, much of the money has not been spent. The lack of urgency behind spending the federal dollars in a truly transformative way is an issue that must be dealt with at every level of government in order to ensure the money is spent right, at the time it is most needed, for the students who need it the most,” said Marina Marcou-O’Malley, Policy and Operations Director at Alliance for Quality Education (AQE). 

“A transition in administration cannot be an excuse for the lack of transparency and accountability we have had to date on the NYCDOE’s stimulus spending for critical resources to support students and families. New York Appleseed finds the information in this report concerning, as it underscores a historical pattern of divestment in the resources and programming all students–particularly students from historically marginalized communities–need to thrive in school. The exceedingly minimal spending in investments for special education and in programming that supports equitable, inclusive, and integrated schools such as the Universal Mosaic Curriculum and restorative justice programs, is both disappointing and troubling. Black and Brown students, students with disabilities, students from low-income families, students in temporary housing, and students who are identified as English Language Learners are not being invested in at the rate and level of urgency that they deserve. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the inequities that were already present in our school system, therefore our stimulus spending must do more than prioritize recovery, it must prioritize equity as well. We are thankful that the Comptroller’s office is practicing transparency and asking for accountability on this matter. Moving forward, we are hopeful that the NYCDOE will support students and families not only through words but through long-overdue actions,” said Nyah Berg, Executive Director at New York Appleseed. 

The full report can be viewed here

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