Schools Are Spending COVID Relief Funds On Sports Programs Instead

When American schools began to receive aid as part of a $123 billion infusion intended to help educators reopen and recover from the pandemic, no guidelines were issued as to how the funds must be spent. A new report from the Associated Press found that schools benefiting from such a financial boost are using the extra money not to make their facilities cleaner or safer, but to make their football teams look better.

The AP report shares details from several schools in various regions of the country and how they chose to spend relief money meant to be earmarked for recovery. One Wisconsin school district built a new football field. In Iowa, a high school weight room is getting a renovation. Another in Kentucky is replacing two outdoor tracks. All of the new projects are being funded by the billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief Congress sent to schools this year.

The funding is part of the American Rescue Plan signed in March by President Joe Biden that sent money to schools, giving larger shares to those with higher poverty. It’s the latest of several rounds of funding Congress funneled to the states to address education needs. The AP has tracked more than $157 billion distributed so far to school districts nationwide.

Schools have wide flexibility in how they use the money but only three years to spend it, a deadline that has led some to look for quick purchases that won’t need ongoing funding after the federal money is gone. Critics say it violates the intent of the legislation, which was meant to help students catch up on learning after months of remote schooling. But many schools argue the projects support students’ physical and mental health, one of the objectives allowed by the federal government.

Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the U.S. House education committee, said the money shouldn’t be used to fund athletics at the expense of academics. It was meant to help students, he said, not sports programs.

In a statement, the Education Department said it has made clear the funding must be used on “reasonable and necessary” expenses responding to the pandemic. It said there’s “ample evidence” of districts using the relief to keep schools safe, including by increasing access to vaccines, implementing virus testing, and improving ventilation systems. In Congress, lawmakers from both parties say it’s wrong to use the money on sports. Democrats say it’s not what it was meant for, while Republicans say it’s a sign it “wasn’t needed”.

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