Princeton Public Schools receives $2.9 million in federal COVID-19 aid

September, 2021
Jessica Chen

To cover expenses spent during the pandemic, the Princeton Public Schools received a total of about $2.9 million in COVID-19 federal aid. The aid was used to fund multiple upgrade initiatives and to smoothly transition students back to a normal school year.

Beginning in spring of 2020, Congress set aside $2.59 trillion for pandemic relief. About $189 million was budgeted for K–12 education through the COVID Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief (ESER), and the American Rescue Plan (ARP). They were also used to fund higher education and help vulnerable Americans.

Since mid-2020, PPS has spent millions of dollars preparing for remote and socially distanced in-person learning, putting a strain on the district’s budget. Matthew Bouldin, PPS Business Administrator, expressed major relief to the aid.

“We’re here to educate, so it has helped to be able to do that without taking a step backwards financially,” Bouldin said.

The CARES and ESER Acts provided the district with around $116,000. The ARP funding was split into three separate streams: accelerated learning, mental health, and COVID-19 expenses. PPS Director of Grants Valerie Ulrich helped organize the funds.

“We got $51,577 toward accelerated learning, [programs] to help students who were struggling as a result of being out of school or having to learn online,” Ulrich said. “We [also] got $45,000 toward mental health and another $833,705 toward COVIDrelated expenses.”

District administrators collaborated in an effort to brainstorm initiatives to make use of the funding. These included upgrading PPS’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, installing new learning software, and purchasing school computers and tablets for every student in the district. The funds also helped run successful summer programs district-wide in order to help transition students out of the pandemic “slump.”

“We had almost 700 kids participate in a summer program this year, district-wide. [This] was the greatest amount ... of PPS students ... ever. I know that both students and parents greatly appreciated the opportunity for additional learning over summer break,” Ulrich said.

In addition to funding summer programs, the money helped transition students back to a normal school year in other ways. For example, the aid was used to fund counseling surrounding equity and trauma from isolation and to organize schoolwide events to foster community within the student body.

“Part of the money is, of course, to address the nonacademic piece [of] a student’s education, the trauma they face as a result of being isolated for a year, social [and] emotional learning, and to [help] students get along ... We were able to use some of the [funds] towards welcome back events,” Ulrich said.

Though the pandemic changed the course of education for PPS students and staff, Bouldin and Ulrich anticipate more new projects to come.

“If we can find a silver lining behind all that has happened to us in the last year and a half or so, I would say [it’s] that every educational professional views school and education, just a little differently,” said Ulrich. “With interesting projects coming on board, a lot of spending is still yet to come.