The Jersey City Public Schools have received over $160 million in federal COVID-19 aid since 2020 and I was curious how the funds have been used, the status of what remains, and what insights we can glean from this public data particularly as we approach the annual budget process. I have published a few visualizations below unpack the data and invite others to explore too.
1-The school district received $161 million over three successive tranches of federal aid:
- $10.7 million from CARES Act – expired in June 2021
- $48.3 million from ESSER II – expires in September 2023
- $101.6 million from ESSER III – expires in September 2023
Approximately $96 million remains from the $161 million that was received.
3-The school district has spent about $65 million of federal COVID-19 aid.
The total aid spent includes most of the CARES Act (which expired in 2021), just over half of the ESSER II aid, and about a third of the ESSER III aid (both of which expire in September 2023).
I was curious what major areas of investment were being targeted, so I shifted the lens from “funding source” to “area of investment” and grouped the data into major categories:
- Health / PPE
- Mental Health*
- Professional Development
I’m providing a visualization below that shows (a) the high level grouping, (b) a bar chart summary of items within each grouping, and (c) the data in a tabular format. I acknowledge: there may be better ways to group these items and I’d welcome a dialog around how to better understand and interpret this data. For now, this is my attempt to unpack it.
Over 70% of the $65 million to date has been spent on technology and buildings. Several insights can be made here.
First, Jersey City was behind the eight ball when the pandemic began, lacking sufficient technology for thousands of students. The federal funds are helping fill that structural gap. It would be good to know exactly how much of the gap has been filled, and how much remains.
Second, the depth of building-related investments is a lens into the failure of the School Development Authority (“SDA”)- a state-level agency that is supposed to be maintaining Jersey City’s aging buildings. The “Buildings”-related investments reads like a laundry list of what the SDA has long been ignoring – from school ventilation to boiler systems to roof replacements.
Important context here includes the SDA’s notoriously poor record as a politically dysfunctional state agency that is failing children across the state, in some of the highest poverty districts. For more on that lens, check out:
- New Jersey’s SDA districts set to open in ‘deplorable’ conditions.’ What you need to know. (Aug 12, 2021)
- Murphy’s office knew about SDA hiring spree, State Commission of Investigation finds (Sep 30, 2020)
- What’s $12 billion among friends? New report slams Murphy administration’s Schools Development Authority (June 3, 2021)
One thing schools stakeholders can look for in the next few weeks is: what are the remaining COVID-19 relief funds (ESSER II and ESSER III) going to be used on? What other technology, buildings, and other investments are needed after years of chronic underfunding? These are arguably “one-time” investments that federal aid can be used to fund, as opposed to recurring expense (like staffing salaries) that will need to be funded with recurring revenues like the local levy and the payroll tax.
*A note on mental health: that is asterisked because, while the district has nearly $3 million recorded as spent, it is for a cancelled mental health services contract. The status of those funds is not clear from the COVID-19 trackers in Board Docs.