Following the Money: How local schools are spending millions in Federal CARES Act funding

Investigative

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Over the last year, Hampton Roads schools have added millions to their budgets with CARES Act money.

10 On Your Side pulled funding reports from the state as they pertain to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER), which is part of the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief.

We added up the money received in the first two rounds and calculated what local school districts have received so far:

  • Norfolk $63,243,947.52
  • Virginia Beach $46,850,767.16
  • Newport News $46,106,906.00
  • Hampton $30,189,430.75
  • Chesapeake $29,073,586.53
  • Portsmouth $26,149,278.00
  • Suffolk $15,057,411.66

Congress added another $130 billion for schools in the latest COVID-19 Relief Bill, so more money will be coming soon and local superintendents tell WAVY News they need it.

“The number one costliest purchase has been on the technology side,” said Portsmouth Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Elie Bracy.

Virginia Beach, for instance, reports spending upwards of $5.2 million on items such as chrome books, laptops and hot spots.

The resort city also spent more than $10 million on hand sanitizer, masks, cleaning supplies and custodial staff.

Aging HVAC systems also got major upgrades and maintenance in several school districts.

Many schools have also turned water fountains into water bottle filling stations. Suffolk bought water bottles for each student.

“It’s just little details like that we are really having to focus on to make sure all kids are going to be safe and they are all provided the same mitigation strategies,” said Suffolk Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gordon during a recent virtual round table discussion.

10 On Your side requested itemized purchase lists from each of the seven Hampton Roads school districts a few weeks ago. As they finally begin to trickle in, we are crunching the numbers. What we do know already is there are still millions of dollars on the table, leading some to question if schools are getting too much money.

When asked this question, Virginia Beach Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence replied, “Sometimes people say payday windfall as if that’s a negative. School systems have been chronically underfunded in the United States for years and years and years.”

In fact, administrators argue they’ll need even more money moving forward.

“(We have) substantially increased summer school costs this year. We have taken a budget usually probably in the range of a million and a half and tripled that,” Spence told WAVY.

He contends that getting kids caught up on reading and math will take years.

Dr. Bracy worries how they’ll keep connectivity and technology current or safety measure in place once the money runs out.

“Anytime you implement something to put in place that’s a safety measure, you’ll be hard pressed to try to not maintain those practices,” Bracy said.

He is asking Congress for a continuous commitment. Congressman Bobby Scott didn’t say no. “The school systems have to show that the money made a difference,” he said.

10 On Your Side will continue to follow the money as we break down those budgets and spending sheets. We’ll be posting that information here on WAVY.com over the next several months.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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