A small handful of school districts rejected some or all of the money offered by the federal government to assist with recovering from the pandemic.
These 68 districts in 14 states that Education Week could find represent a miniscule minority of the thousands of districts nationwide that collected $190 billion from the federal government in three rounds passed in March 2020, December 2020, and March 2021.
Education Week contacted 49 state education departments to find out which districts rejected federal COVID relief money. (Hawaii only has one district, which accepted its allocation.) As of Feb. 28, 35 states had responded.
Among the most common reasons districts have cited for passing on COVID relief aid from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, Fund:
- Some districts were offered such small amounts through the federal Title I formula that they decided that investing time and resources to claim the money and adhere to reporting requirements wouldn’t be worthwhile—particularly if they didn’t have multiple finance staff members.
- Some charter school districts shuttered during the pandemic, as part of the regular churn of that sector. At least one public school district rejected ESSER funds because it was in the process of consolidating with another.
- At least two districts expressed philosophical concerns about the implications of accepting the money. School board members in Camdenton, Missouri, for instance, said they weren’t sure they needed the money, were skeptical of any federal education funding, and didn’t agree with the federal government’s decision to allow districts to spend ESSER funds on incentives for vaccination. Districts generally had wide latitude to spend the funds how they saw fit, but they did have to prove their expenses were brought on by the circumstances of the pandemic.
The database below lists public school districts and other eligible local education agencies (LEAs) that declined pandemic funds, and notes—when the information was available—which of the three rounds of funds the district declined.