At least $20 million in federal Covid relief intended for disadvantaged students in Arkansas failed to reach them, according to a new report by the National Opportunity Project.

The Educational Assistance for Non-public Schools (EANS) program was created by Congress to be a lifeline for independent, private, and religious schools serving largely low-income students most affected by Covid. But the guidance to states for distributing EANS funds was unclear at best—and at worst seriously flawed, creating a lack of transparency and consistency in disbursing the critical aid that has allowed hundreds of millions to be diverted away from the most at-risk students.

Arkansas EANS Funding: By the Numbers

  • Received $46 million in EANS funds.

  • $20 million failed to reach students and nonpublic schools as intended.

  • As of February 2023, the state had not reported on how it will use remaining federal funds.

Getting Remaining Funds to At-Risk Students

Public schools received hundreds of billions of dollars of emergency aid from the government, but aid for nonpublic schools was more restricted and had more strings attached. Although low-income, minority, and at-risk students at these schools suffered from school closures and government policies like their public-school counterparts, federal funding for nonpublic schools focused on mitigating the effects of the Covid illness itself, rather than long-term learning loss and mental health needs.

NOP has discovered some governors have taken advantage of a statutory spoiler that allows funds intended to help schools and students to instead be used by governors on pet projects—many of which have little to do with K-12 education.

“While America’s youngest students are struggling to read, write, and do math, governors across the country have been using aid meant for kids to fund educational pet projects,” said Patrick Hughes, president and founder of the National Opportunity Project. “There is an unusual opportunity and a small window of time for parents, advocates, and school leaders to help students at independent, private, and religious schools use this aid to target learning gaps, improve technology, and support mental health programs.”

Armed with the knowledge that $20 million may still be available in Arkansas to address Covid-related learning loss, parents and stakeholders are empowered to ask questions and advocate for the needs of the state’s youngest students.

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