Three of San Jose’s largest school districts received a total of more than $155 million in federal funding to tackle COVID-19. Those dollars have served as a lifeline to schools throughout the pandemic and since, but after 2024 that well of money will dry up.
The federal funds have been allocated in three rounds throughout Santa Clara County school districts. The first round came in 2020 and the last round runs through 2024. The dollars are being applied to staff retention, digital learning, mental health services and basic necessities.
San Jose Spotlight reviewed funding allocations in the San Jose Unified, Alum Rock Union and East Side Union High school districts based on information obtained from the California Department of Education.
San Jose Unified School District
San Jose Unified School District, the city’s largest district, represents more than 30,000 students across 41 elementary through high school campuses. The district received more than $58.5 million in federal funding: $17.5 million was awarded at the beginning of the pandemic, $12.6 million during the pandemic and an additional $28.4 million will be allocated through September 2024.
The initial $17.5 million focused on bridging the digital divide as classrooms shifted online to purchased thousands of Chromebooks, iPads and internet hotspots, said spokesperson Jennifer Maddox. The district also used funds to provide meals and retain workers.
When COVID hit in March 2020, every school district had to rethink the instructional model and find ways to deliver learning opportunities, Maddox told San Jose Spotlight.
“With public facilities shuttered and a strict quarantine order in place, the only avenue to connect with students was to equip students with a device and internet service,” she said.
Funds used during the 2020-21 school year balanced virtual learning with the slow return to in-person instruction for some students, Maddox said. San Jose Unified School District purchased monitors and video cameras for educators to teach live in their classrooms to virtual audiences. Meanwhile, the district also poured funds into PCR COVID testing, as well as supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer. The following school year included investments in mental health resources, medical supply restocks and upgrading and replacing broken tablets and laptops.
The district’s last allocation of $28.4 million will focus on addressing pandemic learning loss, according to district documents. More than $18 million will be spent on improving and implementing curriculum that will also support students with disabilities and English language learners.
One-time federal funds prevent the district from hiring permanent employees, since those revenue streams will ultimately end, Maddox said. Instead the district is relying on contractors as needed.
Alum Rock Union School District
Alum Rock Union School District serves more than 8,500 students across more than 20 elementary and middle schools in San Jose. The district received more than $44.9 million in federal funding: $12.5 million was awarded at the beginning of the pandemic, $10 million during the pandemic and an additional $22.5 million will be allocated through September 2024.
The district prioritized student and family access to food, using the initial $12.5 million for food supplies and workers to prepare and distribute meals, said Superintendent Hilaria Bauer. Funds were also used for staff salaries and to purchase COVID supplies.
“Federal funds were and are crucial… (These funds) provided the much needed resources for the district to be able to purchase food, PPE, cleaning supplies and devices to be able to maintain the health and safety of students and staff, and continue to provide education for our students,” Bauer told San Jose Spotlight.
The more than $10 million received during the pandemic, plus $18 million of the $22.5 million in the final round, are being used to pay for employee recruitment, support and retention, according to Bauer.
District data also shows the remaining $4.5 million will be set aside to address academic learning loss through more workers, such as reading specialists.
“The district currently has a structural deficit mainly due to the severe declining enrollment that the district has been experiencing over many years,” Bauer told San Jose Spotlight. “These funds are used to keep the district afloat and maintain the same level of staff, services and programs for our students.”
East Side Union High School District
East Side Union High School District includes more than 21,000 students within its 17 high schools and adult education programs. The district received more than $51.8 million in federal funding: $14.8 million was awarded at the beginning of the pandemic, $11.4 million during the pandemic and an additional $25.6 million will be allocated through September 2024.
The school district used the first round of $14.8 million to retain staff including bus drivers, even though transportation stopped due to remote learning during the pandemic, said Teresa Marquez, associate superintendent of educational services. The funds were also used to purchase protective equipment and school supplies for students.
In the next funding round, the district used $11.4 million to address mental health impacts on students caused by the pandemic, such as grief and loss, Marquez said. The district expanded its mental health services, adding more social workers and counselors across all schools.
The last allocation of more than $25.6 million will be used to maintain staffing, continue safe in-person learning and address learning loss through online tutoring and summer programs that allow students to retake courses, Marquez said.
District officials acknowledge the abrupt stop to the unprecedented flow of money after 2024 is disconcerting, given the sporadic funding districts have dealt with in the past.
“This concept of one-time dollars that are specified for a specific population, specific purpose, that’s been common for us,” Marquez told San Jose Spotlight, referring to what will happen after this infusion of funding dries up.
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