As of the first week of March, the education department had spent just half of the $3 billion in federal COVID stimulus dollars it had planned to spend through June 30, according to a new report from Comptroller Brad Lander. All of the money can be spent through the 2024-2025 school year.
De Blasio and his administration last year devised a plan to spend those stimulus dollars on a slew of items. That included operating school buildings, extra academic support for students, and an ambitious new reading and math curriculum.
The report, based on data obtained from the education department, found the city has spent less than a quarter of the $984 million plan for boosting academic recovery and instructional support, also 24% of what had been planned for investments to care for “the whole child,” which includes social emotional supports and 65% of costs associated with reopening school buildings.
The education department called the report a “mischaracterization of our stimulus spending to date” because “the snapshot of data as of early March does not account for all spending,” said Dan Weisberg, first deputy chancellor, in a statement.
“This funding continues to be available to the Department of Education beyond this year, and we are evaluating ways to utilize any unspent funds to continue supporting students and schools going forward,” Weisberg continued.
New York City’s slow spending mirrors issues seen in school systems across the nation facing labor shortages and supply chain issues that have struggled to spend their COVID relief dollars.
In response to questions from the comptroller’s office, education department staff blamed the underspending on many reasons, including pandemic-related delays, difficulties in hiring and supply chain issues, and problems with contracting and procurement, the report said.
But separately, a department spokesperson said the “full and final account” of stimulus spending won’t be known until the fall, when the city completes its fiscal year accounting. She added that spending in many categories, such as building accessibility, will rise “significantly” before the end of this fiscal year.
Reasons for underspending can include “work not beginning until later in the fiscal year to goods and services having not yet been fully received,” for various initiatives, the spokesperson said.