How Iowa public schools are using federal COVID relief dollars

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JOHNSTON, IOWA — The first round of federal COVID-19 relief dollars came to the Iowa Department of Education in May of 2020. The dollars were provided through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). In total there have been three rounds of funding made available for public schools to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The school districts were able to apply it how they see fit.

The Johnston Community School District received $325,927 in May of 2020, $1,034,071 in January 2021 and $2,322,376 in July 2021. All the records of how the school district are available on the website’s finance page.

The first round was used for the shift to online learning.

“We started out with a hybrid model as students were learning partially in school and partially at home so there weren’t as many students in the building at once,” said Lynn Meadows, the district’s Director of Communications. “So certainly there was more funding towards online learning systems.”

$176,400 was used on IPads for grades K-2 in that first round of funding, as well as pay to keep staff aboard. As the 2020 school year advanced, the next two rounds of funding became utilized for keeping in-person learning safe.

“Studies have shown that there can be negative effects if kids have to stay at home and not learn in-person,” said Meadows. “We are doing everything we can to keep things safe to keep things clean and encouraging handwashing and that sort of thing.”

$480,679.98 was used strictly for cleaning costs in the second rounds of federal funds. The third round focused on previous costs the district is obligated for; but also allocated a large amount of dollars to substitute teachers. And Meadows added that if more funding was passed the majority of it would go to keeping staff on amid staffing shortages in nearly every industry.

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