Alianna Ontiveros works on school work while in her fourth-grade class on the first day of in-person school at Alvarado Elementary School in Signal Hill Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The Long Beach Unified School District, like school districts across the country, was hit hard by the pandemic. But the federal government is committed to helping the district face many of the challenges associated with COVID—to the tune of over $500 million.

These funds mainly come from three federal assistance packages distributed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Package, and the American Rescue Plan.

An Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) was attached to each of these packages, bringing in a total of $330.5 million to the district from the onset of the pandemic in 2020 to September 30, 2024, when the funds expire. These funds are considered restricted with guidelines for use, but they are very flexible, according to LBUSD Executive Director of Fiscal Services Renee Arkus.

“They did give some guidelines, but a lot of them translated into things we were already doing with the funds,” Arkus said of ESSER funds.

Several grants are also coming in from the state to help with specific issues. The largest is an Expanded Learning Opportunity Grant (ELO-G) that provided the district with a payment of $54.1 million this past year. But the state also provided a $23.5 million In-Person Instruction Grant that was implemented in March 2021 alongside the ELO-G.

While each has its own name and particular guidelines for use, the focus of these programs is the same: to help close learning gaps that may have appeared for kids who struggled with virtual learning.

District officials, for their part, used their Learning and Support Plan as a model for how the funds should be spent, and that work led to significant investments in different aspects of student well-being.

Academic intervention and support

The area that is set to receive the most funding over the six-year period—$210.3 million of the more than $500 million in total COVID funding—is academic intervention and support. And in this subset, professional development takes up the largest chunk, $57.5 million.

But student programs like “summer intervention,” which focuses on the academic intervention programs the district runs during the summer, also fall under this umbrella. That program is slated to receive $27.9 from the funds.

Other notable programs included in this branch include $27 million for intervention and instruction coordinators—who are responsible for “interventions, progress monitoring, and ongoing collaborative planning with teachers to improve core instruction,” according to Arkus—and almost $19 million for a literacy program expansion, which includes hiring specialized teachers.

Infrastructure for the future

Almost $150 million is being allocated to assist in the installation of new infrastructure to support learning in the wake of the pandemic. No single program in this group received more money than the funding of technology purchases, which is slated to receive a total of $79.9 million.

Arkus said that the purchases of Chromebooks and other computers was a necessity for the district as it sent more of their existing stock home with kids to enable socially distant learning.

“We sent computers and devices home for the students to learn off of, then we had to replace and replenish to keep our computers and our Chromebooks up to par,” she said.

Classroom infrastructure updates were also needed to try and facilitate a smoother distance learning experience and to create a more comfortable classroom experience, which the district has allocated $52 million from 2021-2025 to implement.

“We had to modernize some of our existing infrastructure, so that our teachers have access to cameras, and [can connect] their computers to other visual devices to help support social distancing,” Arkus said.

Social-emotional well-being

Another $16.8 million went toward efforts to improve social-emotional well-being, and much of it focused on counseling and supportive services.

A one-time allocation of $3 million was used in the 2021-2022 fiscal year to help support the district’s family resource centers, which focus on providing support for the social, emotional and behavioral needs at 32 schools in the district.

From 2021 to 2024, $3.9 million is allocated for social-emotional support for teachers and students, and $7.5 million is committed to various student health and mental health services.

Other spending

Other programs make up about $118.4 million worth of allocations. Payment of additional salaries and benefits to new teachers made up the largest piece of this category, with a total of $80.5 million from 2021 to 2024 reserved to cover these costs.

The district has also been providing extended food service during the pandemic, and meals for all students are free of charge. About $10.4 million in COVID funds have been allocated to this service, including $8.9 million already spent from 2019 to 2021.

One of the most important aspects of staying safe during COVID, though, was cleaning, and the district invested $7.6 million toward cleaning efforts in the 2020-21 year, with $1.5 million allocated from 2021 to 2024.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.