Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

Tenn. could give $60 million in unused pandemic relief money to private schools

By John Pirsos

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – A lot of pandemic relief money could be going to private schools in the state.

Tennessee has $60 million in leftover funding, and some lawmakers are trying to make it easier for private schools to apply to use it.

The money is leftover from the American Rescue Plan Act. A report out by Chalkbeat detailed how the state has $60 million in unused funds from ARPA.

“Legislative leaders made it clear that they believe private schools should get a second crack at the money,” Marta Aldrich said, Senior Statehouse Correspondent for Chalkbeat.

Aldrich said Tennessee received $74 million in ARPA funding for private schools. Public schools had the chance to dip into a separate pool of money.

Many private schools were only eligible if 40% of its students came from low-income backgrounds. Some schools chose not to apply, while others found the applications process too difficult. Some private schools weren’t eligible because they had already received money from the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program.

As a result, $60 million hasn’t been used.

“So now, they’re deciding okay, what do we do with this money,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich said lawmakers were considering loosening the rules, to make it easier for private schools to get the money, an idea that angered some public school advocates.

“That money was initially intended for low-income children, which we don’t have typically, or not many of, in our private schools,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat representing the 90th district.

Officials from the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools, which represents 61 schools in the state, said member schools are divided, with some schools saying they don’t need the money. However, officials said those funds were earmarked for private schools, and it would be wrong for lawmakers to change the original intent.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally is on the governor’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group, which oversees the relief spending.

“The pandemic and related shut downs affected everyone in Tennessee. This includes small businesses, charitable organizations as well as private and parochial schools. I am grateful to Governor Lee, Commissioner Schwinn and my colleagues on the Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group for recognizing this need in our community,” McNally said.

Aldrich said there is a sense of urgency from lawmakers, since the money has to be used by the middle of 2024. The state has to give schools enough time to apply and use the money.

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