Brevard Public Schools asked to return any unspent COVID-19 relief from second round

Florida Today | By Bailey Gallion | April 25, 2022

School districts across Florida, including Brevard, have been directed by the state to give back unspent funds from the second round of federal COVID-19 relief money, according to a Florida Department of Education memo.

Most school districts have not spent all of their money, which was initially said to be available to them through September. Brevard received more than $64 million.

Though the money comes from the federal government, the funds were distributed to individual districts by states, allowing state lawmakers to place certain stipulations on how the funding could be used. The Florida Department of Education, in an April 15 memo, is now saying districts must give back certain unspent funds and reapply for the grants.

Brevard Public Schools Spokesman Russell Bruhn said the district was still working to find out what funds, if any, would be impacted. Bruhn said its not clear whether the money is considered “spent” by the state once it is moved to a specific fund and earmarked for a specific use, or only once it is used to pay for goods, services and salaries. Bruhn did not immediately know how much of the COVID-19 relief remained unspent.

“We’re trying to interpret what this message from the state means, in practical terms,” Bruhn said. “Money that we haven’t spent has been earmarked for other other initiatives in the coming months.”

The memo follows a contentious budget debate in the Florida Legislation over funding for K-12 schools. Some state legislators have contended that the unspent money was a sign school districts were not hurting financially as much as their administrators implied.

Meanwhile, districts say they haven’t used the money because the federal government said the funds would be available through the end of September. Some of the funds BPS received have been earmarked for initiatives such as additional staff to address COVID-19 related challenges — social workers, mental health workers, staffing for after school and summer programs, and more — new technology and personal protective equipment. That money isn’t spent in a single lump payment.

“You can’t hire somebody and pay them their three years worth of salary in one year,” Bruhn said.

Some of the money was set to be used for an initiative to distribute an electronic device such as a laptop or iPad to each BPS student. Supporters of the policy say it could help students receive a more technologically advanced education and address inequalities between students who have access to technology and lower income students who do not.

Bruhn said its not likely salaries will be impacted by the Florida Department of Education memo. The district is optimistic that it will still be able to use the money because it has followed the guidelines given by the federal government in handling the money, he said.

“Those positions are funded for the next school year,” Bruhn said. “We expect to still be able to use that money.”

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