By Rachel O'Brien
Deputy Policy Editor, OpenTheBooks.com
Since Congress began dispersing Covid-19 aid to schools in 2020, Metro Nashville Public Schools has collected $425 million.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief — or ESSER — funds came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act; the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act; and the American Rescue Plan Act.
The Tennessee Department of Education received $4.2 billion across three phases, $3.5 billion of which trickled down to its 147 school districts, with MNPS getting $425 million total — $26 million from ESSER 1.0, $123 million from ESSER 2.0 and $276 million from ESSER 3.0.
The funds break down to $5,445 per pupil, that’s $1,800 more per pupil that the statewide average of $3,637.
We asked Metro Nashville Public Schools for records that show how it spent the funds.
The district sent us a 700-page expenditure report in pdf form with itemized purchases.
For ESSER 3.0 spending, the district’s website provides fuzzy math under “budget breakdown.” We asked a school district spokesperson questions about the spending, but were instead directed back to the district website which we were questioning.
Under the frequently asked questions on its website, the district asks, “How did MNPS spend the ESSER 1.0 and 2.0 grants?” and answers, “ESSER 1.0 was spent on student nutrition, online learning, software and devices, instructional supplies, intervention programs, additional school nurses, hotspot data plans, training stipends for teachers, graduation success coaches, and more.”
“ESSER 2.0 was spent on COVID operations, academics, social emotional learning, transitions and more.”
A 24-minute video presentation from Keri Randolph, executive officer of strategic investments, provides some other details, including how ESSER 2.0’s $123 million was spent — $52 million went to academics and social-emotional learning, $24 million of which went directly to schools. $10.5 million went to summer programming, $3.3 million went to intervention programs, $2 million to professional development for staff, $9 million for a literacy framework, $2 million for advocacy centers/mental health support, $500,000 for navigator support/virtual help center and $135,000 for family/staff check-ins.
Another $19.2 million went to two dozen charter schools, as required by law, and another $650,000 to other programs.
Another $51 million went to “Covid operations” — including $11.2 million for air quality improvements, $18 million for “innovative partnership” $4.7 million for additional nurses, $1.5 million for hotspot data plans for virtual learning, $7 million for nutrition services and an $8.7 million “Covid-19 bonus” for staff.
Randolph said MNPS staff were the best paid in the state, and eligible employees had received step increases, 2% cost-of-living adjustment for administration staff, and seven additional paid days off instructional support staff.
In 2022, more than 300 teachers, administrators and other staff made $100,000 or more.
In Davidson County, the average income is $40,962, according to the U.S. Census. In 2022, almost 7,000 MNPS staff made more than the average income for the county.
Of ESSER 3.0’s $276 million, almost $49 million is going directly to schools, according to the district website.
The funding includes $20 million to accelerate Metro Schools' ReimaginED initiative to improve academic outcomes for students
Other funding includes $19 million for high-impact tutoring, $18.4 million for teacher and student laptops, $17.6 million for high-quality instructional materials, almost $11 million for professional development and planning days for staff, $10 million for nurses, $9 million for mental health supports/counselors plus $4.6 million for social workers and another $300,000 for a student counseling coordinator, $7 million to expand the Community Achieves program, $6.6 million for adaptive intervention platforms for literacy and math, and $6.1 million for restorative practice assistants.
Other spending includes $4 million for indoor air quality, $4 million for performing and visual arts, $2.8 million for hiring teachers and administrators, plus $750,000 for substitute and innovative short-term staffing, $2.9 million for technology support services, $2.8 million for hotspot data plans, $2.4 million for interpreters, $2.3 million for athletics, $2 million for advocacy centers, $1.5 million for parent university “to empower families to take more active roles in their student’s education,” $1.5 million for “Strategic Redesign and Sustainable Transformation Support” and more.
ESSER 3.0 funds must be spent by June 2024, ESSER 2.0 must be spent by June 2023 and ESSER 1.0 funds had to be spent by June 2022.