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Newark to use roughly half of $182 million in COVID aid on buildings, 5% on tutoring

A student runs across the street in front of Hawthorne Avenue School in Newark.

The Newark school district plans to spend nearly $86 million in federal COVID aid on facility upgrades, including repainting buildings and replacing roofs, windows, and gym floors.

Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

How are Newark schools spending the $182 million windfall they’re receiving in the final round of federal COVID aid?

Abington Avenue School purchased laptops for each of its nearly 100 kindergarteners, who previously shared a set of 32 devices. Park Elementary School replaced worksheets with hardware, including model dinosaur bones for inspecting and ice cream scoops for measuring, so students can learn by doing. And First Avenue School expanded and revamped its after-school program, where students receive tutoring, food, and enrichment activities like yoga.

“As you can see, the children of Newark are benefiting from these dollars,” said Janice Litterio, an academic interventionist at First Avenue, during an event last month where Newark educators shared how the federal money has helped their schools.

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Mengxing Perez, a teacher at Park Elementary School, showed her Newark colleagues a baggie with classroom supplies newly purchased with pandemic relief funds.

Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

But the district’s plan also raises questions about priorities, with the majority of the aid going to building repairs and technology and only a third earmarked for teaching and learning. Despite data showing the pandemic severely disrupted students’ learning, the spending plan sets aside more money for office computers than tutoring.

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A district chart showing how it plans to spend the three rounds of federal COVID-relief money.

Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

In total, Newark Public Schools is set to receive more than $287 million from the three relief packages that Congress has approved since 2020 to help schools respond to the pandemic, reopen classrooms, and support students’ emotional and academic recovery. 

That colossal sum is equivalent to nearly a third of the district’s annual budget, and is eight times the amount of federal aid the district received in the school year before the pandemic. The money equals about $7,560 extra for each of the district’s roughly 38,000 students; right now, the district budget includes nearly $20,000 per student.

In February, the state approved Newark’s spending plan for the $182.4 million, which includes a $177 million grant from the federal government as well as subgrants from the state to support teacher training, summer and after-school programs, and student mental health. The district has until October 2024 to obligate the money.

District officials previously shared a rough breakdown of their plan for the third aid package: 51% for facility upgrades, 34% for teaching and learning, and 15% for technology. Their strategy is to invest in building projects, devices, and staff training that will hopefully continue to pay dividends long after the money runs out.

“Our strategy is not to spend those dollars on a short-term reality, like the hiring of somebody,” Superintendent Roger León said during a recent school board meeting. “While the funds are allocated for a certain time period, we want to make sure the efforts last longer.”

Newark’s 128-page spending plan for the final installment of federal COVID money shows how the district intends to stretch those dollars. Chalkbeat analyzed the plan — here’s what we found.

Buildings will get a major makeover

Nearly $86 million, or almost half the total, will fund improvements to the district’s aging school buildings.

“The district schools are in poor to fair condition and many buildings have aged out of useful life,” the plan says. But because replacing the schools is too costly, the only option is “continued usage.”

The plan doesn’t list all the expected upgrades, but says some older buildings must be renovated to meet current safety standards, most schools need repainting, and “roofs, windows, gymnasiums, outdoor fields, and other areas” that have suffered water damage must be repaired or replaced.

Another $3.1 million will pay for new furniture for classrooms and science labs.

Just 5% of the funds are earmarked for tutoring

The pandemic dealt a crushing blow to student learning. In Newark, recent mid-year tests showed that the vast majority of students are far behind in math and reading. 

The American Rescue Plan, the federal law that provides the third and most recent round of pandemic aid for schools, says districts must spend at least 20% of their allotment on “evidence-based interventions” to address learning loss. The U.S. Department of Education has suggested possible interventions, including summer programs and longer school days, but left the decision-making to districts.

The main way Newark says it will jumpstart student learning is by purchasing nearly $21 million worth of classroom supplies, including $9.4 million for textbooks and about $300,000 for materials for students with disabilities and English learners. The district also paid teachers to help with curriculum writing.

“The experience has inspired me,” said Karen Unger, a math teacher at Ann Street School who worked on new high school math materials. “I think I’ve become a better teacher as a result of it.”

Roughly $16 million will go towards enrichment activities, including field trips, and at least $9.8 million will fund staff training on special education, reading instruction, counseling, and other activities.

One intervention many experts recommend is intensive tutoring. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently urged schools to give every struggling student 90 minutes of tutoring per week, and Newark’s superintendent says every school offers tutoring. 

However, the spending plan only earmarks $9.3 million, or about 5% of the total American Rescue Plan aid, specifically for tutoring. That is slightly less than the $10 million the district set aside for new computers for office employees.

The plan also includes two state grants, worth about $586,000 total, for summer learning and afterschool programs.

Thomas Kane, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the recent test scores are a clear sign the district should invest heavily in direct support for struggling students.

“They ought to be planning to spend almost all of those federal dollars on academic recovery,” he said.

Tech, career education, and mental health round out the list

Newark will spend more than $27 million, or about 15% of the aid, on technology.

The tech includes tablets for younger students, classroom smart boards, and upgraded internet infrastructure for schools.

At least $3 million will go towards the recently revamped vocational programs in the district’s high schools, where students are introduced to careers in business, medicine, fashion, the culinary arts, and more. The money will help pay for supplies, field trips, and other expenses.

Just under $2 million will help pay for mental health support for students, including stipends for counselors and social workers, as well as staff training. 

After the pandemic turned their lives upside down, separating students from friends and teachers and piling hardships on many families, the return to school has been tough on many students, the plan says. 

Some are struggling with “relationship skills, self-management, and personal decision-making,” leading to an increase in behavior issues, the plan adds. Discipline data for this school year are not available, but León has said that “students are exhibiting behaviors unlike ever before.”

Students are showing more “symptoms of isolation, depression, lack of attentiveness,” the plan added, “and an overall decline in mental health.”

Search Newark’s plan to spend $182 million in COVID aid
Category Amount % of Total Description
Building upgrades $50,000,000 27.4% Upgrades to school buildings in need
Building upgrades $21,396,494 11.7% Contracts needed for upgrading school buildings
Technology $11,400,000 6.2% Internet access via hotspots, Replacement of aging switches in all schools to provide faster network connectivity to staff and teachers
Classroom supplies $10,341,238 5.7% Instructional supplies to support all content areas of district curricula
Technology $10,000,000 5.5% PCs to replace aging desktops used by the administrative staff in schools and Central Office
Classroom supplies $9,421,000 5.2% Student textbooks
Enrichment activities $8,441,402 4.6% Field trip transportation for extended learning experiences
Tutoring $6,828,848 3.7% Stipends for teachers to ensure tutoring to address learning loss; writing curriculum; and teaching in extended learning programs
Building upgrades $5,000,000 2.7% Technical services for building upgrades
Building upgrades $5,000,000 2.7% Vehicles to ensure safety and facilities management
Enrichment activities $4,613,100 2.5% Consultants providing enrichment activities to students K-12
Staff training $4,414,500 2.4% Consultants to provide professional development to staff K-12
Building upgrades $3,847,874 2.1% Materials needed for upgrade of school facilities
Technology $3,470,000 1.9% Professional services to support technology needs across the district
Enrichment activities $2,850,000 1.6% Extended Classroom Learning Experiences
Classroom upgrades $2,500,000 1.4% Upgrade in classroom furniture
Tutoring $2,500,000 1.4% Tutoring costs for tutoring SAGA Education for training the tutors
Security $2,086,768 1.1% Cameras and security tablets used in schools
Mental health $1,646,881 0.9% Stipends for counselors and social workers to provide additional mental health supports to students; Administrative stipends for the Principal Pipeline; Stipends to support IT, Facility and health needs across the district
Technology $1,600,000 0.9% Upgrade of the remaining legacy smart boards
Staff training $1,500,000 0.8% Consultants to develop efficacy and pedagogy for special education teachers
Staff training $1,500,000 0.8% Consultants to develop collective teacher efficacy and pedagogy among content teachers, bilingual and ESL teachers
Vocational education $1,364,578 0.7% Supplies and materials for CTE programs
COVID safety $1,000,000 0.5% Hydroxyl generators and equipment for school safety
Technology $772,592 0.4% Touch tablet devices for elementary students; microphone and classroom accessories to enhance sound in classrooms
Staff training $750,000 0.4% Consultants to provide professional development to build staff capacity
Vocational education $750,000 0.4% Consultants working with students in the CTE programs
Vocational education $700,000 0.4% Equipment to support curricular needs of CTE program
Early education $662,745 0.4% Instructional supplies and materials for district early childhood centers
Classroom upgrades $600,000 0.3% Demonstration tables for middle schools for schools without adequate lab facilities
Building upgrades $558,525 0.3% Bucket truck for facilities and patrol cars
Staff training $500,000 0.3% Educational consultants to develop district and school leaders through adaptive leadership coaching
Staff training $500,000 0.3% Consultants to develop efficacy and pedagogy of school counselors, school social workers & CST teams
Early education $464,000 0.3% 2 Transition Specialists to assist families transitioning children to Pre-K
Classroom supplies $315,000 0.2% Physical education equipment
Classroom supplies $297,693 0.2% Provide educators with meaningful texts, classroom supplies to support the learning of special education, bilingual and ELL students
Staff training $260,000 0.1% Classes to assist teachers with getting certifications
COVID safety $250,000 0.1% Consultants for training on pandemic response and crisis situations
Staff training $250,000 0.1% Supplies to support district-wide staff development
Classroom supplies $243,010 0.1% Decodable texts, grade level reading texts for K-3 classrooms
Food service $230,000 0.1% Food Equipment
Health supplies $170,000 0.1% Health Equipment
Summer programs $139,945 0.1% Stipends for middle school STEM Program
COVID safety $125,000 0.1% PPE supplies to support students and staff district-wide in ECC centers
Family engagement $105,000 0.1% Supplies and materials to support district-wide parent engagement initiatives
Staff training $100,600 0.1% Supplies and materials to support professional development
Health supplies $100,072 0.1% Health supplies for nurses across the district
Technology $100,000 0.1% Monitoring system
Vocational education $85,975 0.0% Admission for students in CTE program for field trips
Vocational education $83,150 0.0% Professional services for CTE program
Food service $78,285 0.0% Supplies for students to manage food distribution
Mental health $75,501 0.0% Professional development for Student Support Team Members for Tier II and III strategies for students
Summer programs $56,600 0.0% Supplies for robotics, digital creativity, and STEM activities
Family engagement $50,000 0.0% Parent Engagement speakers for workshops
Staff training $50,000 0.0% Professional Development focused on addressing reading deficiencies for teachers in grades K-3
Summer programs $40,270 0.0% Students supplies and materials for the i2learning courses being offered
Mental health $30,000 0.0% Mental Health & Crisis professional services for students
Vocational education $29,500 0.0% Buses for field trips for CTE students
Family engagement $25,000 0.0% Online platform for Parent University
Mental health $25,000 0.0% Mental Health & Crisis professional development for staff
Family engagement $20,000 0.0% Parent engagement incentives to increase parent engagement
Mental health $18,726 0.0% Supplies and Materials to support mental health for students
Security $17,000 0.0% Training management for security purposes
Summer programs $13,995 0.0% Nurse for Ed Tech summer program; Principal, Clerk, Social Worker, and Nurse for visual and performing arts summer program
Summer programs $10,000 0.0% Teacher training provided by i2learning for each course
Summer programs $9,000 0.0% Art supplies for drawing, painting, ceramics and printmaking; sheet music; recorded music; sets, props, costumes, makeup for musicals
Mental health $8,650 0.0% Resource books to help support staff with strategies for Tier !! and Tier III students
Summer programs $8,000 0.0% Residencies and teaching artists working with students
Summer programs $7,800 0.0% Buses for student extended learning experiences
Summer programs $5,000 0.0% Admissions to museums, plays, and other performances
Mental health $4,350 0.0% Stipend for a Social Worker to foster relationships with outside organizations, analyze data and support school counselors/social workers addressing the Social-emotional learning and mental health of students during summer school
Summer programs $2,400 0.0% Educational technology professional development
Amounts and descriptions from Newark Public Schools’ spending plan. Categories and percentages from Chalkbeat analysis.

Patrick Wall is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city and across New Jersey. Contact Patrick at pwall@chalkbeat.org.

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