Iowa schools received over $1.3 billion in COVID grants

A hand puts a coin in a piggy bank on top of school books. (Photo by Getty Images)

Iowa schools have received over $1.3 billion in COVID-19 grants, leaving just one question: How to spend it?

“As superintendent, we always said, things would look a lot different around here if we had additional money. Well, guess what: now you have additional money,” Iowa State Board of Education member John Robbins said. “Now, what’s going to be looking different around here?”

The State Board of Education met Thursday to review COVID-19 funding and discuss the reaccreditation process for Davenport Community Schools.

Iowa schools received $1.32 billion in federal COVID-19 grants

Department of Education Director Ann Lebo began the all-day meeting with a review of federal COVID-19 grants. In total, she said, the Department of Education received over $1.3 billion “just for Iowa, just for schools.”

But the federal grant money is on a tight timeline, Lebo said. Grants expire in 2022 and 2023 and any excess funds will not roll over into future school budgets.

“You get three years, from beginning to end, to spend all this money, and it can only be spent certain ways,” she said. 

Robbins said the additional money presented a “wonderful opportunity” for schools to try new educational methods. The Department of Education and Iowa schools have already used some of the federal money to purchase online course management subscriptions for schools and internet hotspots for remote learning.

Going forward, board members said they expected schools will need to increase resources for mental health as students reckon with traumas brought on by COVID-19. Lebo cautioned that schools should not use the one-time funds for expenses that will outlast the grants, such as additional teacher salaries.

The State Board of Education reviewed COVID-19 grants in a Thursday meeting. (Image courtesy of the Department of Education)

Davenport Community School District makes progress but stays on conditional accreditation 

In 2018, the Department of Education found several violations in Davenport schools. Special education programs were not being properly administered and students of color were more likely to be disciplined, the Quad-City Times reported. The district also overspent for several consecutive years.

The Department of Education began oversight of the district in 2019, marking the Davenport Community School District as “conditionally accredited.” The district must make remediation plans and check in regularly with the state board to regain their accreditation. 

On Thursday, the state board voted to continue oversight of the school district, but acknowledged that Davenport schools were improving.

“We’ve learned a lot of things. Our district had a lack of leadership, I’m not going to lie, at the board level and at the superintendent level,” Davenport school board President Daniel Gosa said.

The state board recommended that Superintendent T.J. Schneckloth and Chief Financial Advisor Gary Sinclair stay in their positions as the district continues its remediation plans.

“Things are going well in Davenport,” school board Vice President Linda Hayes said. “Better than they have in quite some time.”