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Report shows how Knox County Schools are spending federal COVID dollars
August 23, 2022

KNOXVILLE -- Today, after months of research and open records requests, the Beacon Center released a new report showing how local school districts in Tennessee are budgeting and spending federal COVID dollars through the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) program. Congress allocated over $4 billion in federal taxpayer money to Tennessee's public education system to address the pandemic. The data suggests that Tennessee public schools have budgeted or spent millions of dollars on areas that had little to nothing to do with COVID or student performance. School districts across the state budgeted tens of millions of dollars for "indirect costs" without any further explanation and also funded pet projects such as walk-in coolers and retractable bleachers.

Knox County Schools received nearly $178 million in federal relief funding in response to the pandemic. Though these funds were meant to combat the pandemic and learning loss, they came with few strings attached. Records show KCS has budgeted nearly $12 million dollars on “Indirect Costs”, with no information provided as to what those dollars will actually be used for. In addition to millions of dollars going to unknown areas, budgeted items also included travel for teachers and an administrator to attend a conference in Baltimore, over $2.6 million in stipends for department chairs, and thousands budgeted on items that include imitation coins, mattress pads, and shopping carts, just to name a few.

Beacon Research Associate and report author Jason Edmonds stated, "In the past few years, Tennessee families have had to deal with school closures across the state resulting in forced virtual learning. The ESSER funds provided by the federal government were supposed to help children with learning loss and mental health issues, but instead, local school districts budgeted and spent money on non-education and non-COVID-related areas. With relief dollars budgeted as they are, parents should be questioning why districts are choosing to budget for retractable bleachers and new awnings while their students are struggling to read at grade level."

Edmonds continued, "Districts should use their remaining portions of historic relief funding to focus on the most pressing needs of students, getting children on track to excel in academics and addressing mental health issues stemming from school closures and the pandemic."

Source: The Beacon Center of Tennessee

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