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It’ll Take Nearly A Decade For Schools To Spend All Their COVID-19 Money

(Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images)

Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Will the pandemic last until nearly 2030? Hopefully not, but recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) suggest schools could still be spending COVID-19 stimulus money for nearly the next decade.

Democrats are trying to push through a COVID-19 relief package without much Republican input by pursuing the process of budget reconciliation. The package, if it passes, will give elementary and secondary schools $129 billion in funding and higher education institutions nearly $40 billion. However, ample funds remain from those previously provided by Congress during the pandemic. So while these schools are receiving taxpayer dollars out of the need for immediate relief, they might not actually get around to spending those emergency funds until as late as 2028, according to the CBO.

Out of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, only around $825 billion of that planned spending is going towards COVID-19 relevant programs. These provisions include the often-discussed $1,400 stimulus checks, which carry a price tag of $413 billion in total, an extra $7.2 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $15 billion for economic injury or disaster, $26 billion for venues like restaurants and bars and $75 billion for COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccinations, as well as expanded federal unemployment insurance. (RELATED: Here’s What The Swamp Stuck In The Stimulus)

The bill also provides $350 billion for states and localities, but primarily doles out aid based on the unemployment rate of the area in question. This means that states who implemented stricter lockdowns and devastated their own economies are primed to get the most federal dollars. New York, for example — which had a 8.2% unemployment rate in December of 2020 — would receive $50 billion under the current version of the COVID-19 stimulus bill, as reported by the New York Post. Other spending includes billions distributed amongst public transit, Amtrak, rental and mortgage assistance, food stamps, and “socially disadvantaged” farmers. There’s also the provision that raises the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

As mentioned earlier, K-12 schools in this go-round of COVID-19 stimulus would receive $129 billion, and colleges and universities $40 billion. But schools have already been given a hefty amount of COVID-19 emergency cash. The CARES Act, which was passed in the previous Congress and signed by former President Donald Trump March 27, 2020, appropriated $13.2 billion for K-12 schools, and another $14 billion for higher education. In December, a bi-partisan coalition appropriated another $54.3 billion for public elementary and secondary schooling institutions, according to Education Week.

Together, that’s $67.5 billion from United States taxpayers. Because much of the cash was appropriated just a few months ago in December and schools have largely been closed, much of that money remains to be spent, the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted.

This is why the CBO has recently estimated that out of the $129 billion appropriated for schools in the $1.9 trillion rescue package, just $6.4 billion will be spent by schools in fiscal year 2021. That’s less than 5%.

Extending the timeline’s horizon for nearly the rest of the decade, the CBO estimated that $32.1 billion of that $129 billion will be spent by K-12 in 2022. The CBO expects that spending level, $32.1 billion, to be matched in fiscal year 2023. Combined, the estimated spending from K-12 in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 still makes up less than half of the total money allotted in this COVID-19 emergency rescue package.

From then on, spending is expected to decrease over time, according to the CBO’s projections. In 2024, K-12 is expected to spend $25.7 billion of the taxpayer dollars granted to them in the $1.9 trillion package. Another $19.3 billion will be spent in 2025, according to the CBO. Elementary and secondary schools are expected to spend $9 billion of COVID-19 stimulus funds in 2026, a number that is still higher than the expected money spent from this round of stimulus in fiscal year 2021. In 2027, K-12 is expected to spend $2.6 billion, and in 2028, $1.3 billion, according to the CBO.

Higher education is expected to spend $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2021 and $13.8 billion in 2022, according to the CBO. The two consecutive years after, in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, higher education will spend $5.9 billion of COVID-19 relief, the CBO estimated. It then declines to 3.9 billion in 2025, and continues to drop until it spends 396 million COVID-19 dollars in 2028, the CBO claimed.

The $129 billion appropriated for schools is not doled out on the basis of ensuring students get back to the classrooms. A teachers union could theoretically use the COVID-19 stimulus as the impetus to immediately try and negotiate wage increases for their teachers to syphon more cash towards the union, as some have noted.

From there, the cycle of teachers unions demanding more funding for sanitation and safety precautions in order to get more concessions, and then funnel more money towards the union, could rage on, which is what we’ve already seen play out in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C.