Not all COVID-19 aid is spent. But schools, cities and states say they need more

  • By Tamara Keith, Scott Horsely/NPR

When the school district in Pima, Ariz., got its first round of federal pandemic relief last summer, Superintendent Sean Rickert put it toward the expenses incurred while suddenly shifting classes online at the start of the pandemic.

Now, as some Republicans in Congress question why COVID-19 aid for schools has not yet been spent, Rickert is just learning how much his district will get from a second relief bill approved in December.

“I have a list of things of things that we need in order to be able to provide better social distancing, more safety for teachers, more safety for students,” Rickert said. “I’ve been talking to my admin team all year about these things.”

Pima Unified School District, serving about 1,000 students in K-12, has been open nearly full time since the fall and Rickert says they’ve been “blessed” not to have any serious outbreaks, but the setup isn’t perfect.

“What we’ve been able to do with the money we have is a lot of tables,” Rickert explained. “So we have a lot of kids sitting across a table from each other, which isn’t terribly safe.”

His message to critics who point to unspent funds and say schools don’t need more: It isn’t a light switch. The money doesn’t get approved one day and spent the next.

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