School District Spending of COVID Relief Funds

Oregonians weigh in on how school districts should spend and prioritize COVID relief funding from the federal government.

School supplies, dollar bills, "Covid relief"

From May 4th through 10th, 2021, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs, including how they feel about issues related to education. This online survey consisted of 918 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Responses were analyzed and categorized to allow for a better understanding of trends in Oregonians’ values and beliefs. The survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.9% to ±3.2% depending on how the response category percentages split for any given question. Findings will include a citation of the relevant question, which can be referenced in the annotated questionnaire and tabs at the bottom of the page.

Initial Thoughts on COVID Relief Spending in Schools

  • Respondents were asked, in an open-ended format, how school districts could best spend incoming federal COVID-relief and infrastructure funds. Responses varied, but some common themes emerged, including hiring to reduce class sizes, increasing teacher pay, more nutritional food options, increased safety measures in schools (such as COVID-related precautions), technology and facility upgrades, mental health supports for students, and facilitating a return to fully in-person learning. Below are several representative quotes (Q47):

The education system is in great need of extra funds. More books and supplies, computers, equipment, and more staff are all needed. In addition, updating facilities would be beneficial as well.

Female, age 30-44, Deschutes County, white

Hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes, upgrading the school buildings and making sure all children have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Male, age 65+, Washington County, white

Better packed lunches for kids for both school days and weekends, access to Wi-Fi for students doing virtual classes. More supplies for teachers to disinfect their classes and school supplies in general.

Female, age 18-29, Marion County Hispanic or Latinx

By educating all school staff to know proper safety practices that will help in the prevention of spreading the virus. Also, by providing extra space in classrooms where possible, by building temporary trailers to enable classes to spread out giving proper space between students.

Female, age 30-44, Tillamook County, white

Priority Education Programs and Services

  • A majority of Oregonians (54%) believe that state and district leaders should prioritize spending federal dollars on programs and services for low-income students and students of color, while 28% disagree and 18% are unsure. Women are more likely than men to believe leaders should prioritize these groups (58% vs. 49%), as are Oregonians ages 18-29 compared to those ages 45 and older (61% vs. 51%) (Q48).
  • Respondents were provided a randomized list of education programs and services on a single page and were asked which were the three most important to fund with federal dollars. The list did not include health and safety services such as PPE, HVAC, and vaccinations. When looking at the combined 1st-3rd most important rankings, three priority tiers arise (Q49-62).
  • Tier 1: This tier includes programs or services with combined 1st-3rd rankings greater than 40%. Only one response option reached this level: “Mental health counseling” (62%). Additionally, this was the number one most important choice for 40% of respondents and cropped up repeatedly in open-ended responses to Q47. Women are more likely than men to rank mental health counseling as 1st-3rd most important (66% vs. 57%). Also, 1st-3rd rankings for mental health counseling dropped dramatically with age, from 82% among those ages 18-29 to 38% among those ages 65 and older, a decline of 44 points (Q49).
  • Tier 2: This tier includes programs or services with combined 1st-3rd rankings from 20% to 40%, including “mentoring and tutoring” (40%); “expanded vocational and job training” (34%); “internet connectivity between school/teacher and home/student” (33%); “economic literacy about borrowing, credit, buying, saving methods and consequences” (28%); and “reduced class size” (24%). Women and men tend to rate these programs and services similarly, whereas younger Oregonians are more likely to prioritize mentoring and tutoring than their older counterparts, and older Oregonians are more likely to prioritize expanded vocational and job training (Q50, Q51, Q55, Q58, Q61).
  • Tier 3: This tier includes programs or services with combined 1st-3rd rankings below 20% and includes “civics learning” (16%); “preschool for all students” (14%); and “teacher professional development” (13%). No other programs or services received a score reaching 10%. Men are more likely than women to prioritize civics learning (22% vs. 12%), as are those ages 65 and older when compared to younger Oregonians (28% vs. 10-18%). Older Oregonians also prioritize preschool for all students at a higher level, whereas younger Oregonians prioritize teacher professional development (Q52, Q54, Q60).

Final Thoughts on School District Relief Funds

  • Finally, respondents were asked, in an open-ended format, if they had any additional comments about how schools should spend federal dollars received as COVID relief aid or for infrastructure.  Many of the same themes from earlier in the survey resonated again here, such as support for reducing class sizes, safely getting students back to in-person learning, facility upgrades and repairs, improved food/nutrition programs, and mental health supports for students. Below are several representative quotes (Q63):

Federal dollars should be spent helping kids get back to in-person school safely, so that they can see their friends, and have a better experience and learning environment.

Female, age 30-44, Multnomah County, Asian or Pacific Islander

Make sure every school had the same amount of materials and quality teachers.  Teacher training should be ongoing. Schools should be repaired as needed. There should be food programs for students who need it. All education should be equal, not more for some students and not others.

Female, age 65+, Deschutes County, white

Upgrading HVAC and other physical improvements that directly affect the physical environment for students and teachers.

Male, age 65+, Deschutes County, white

To ensure all students have computers, desks, access to broadband internet, and other necessary learning tools (books, craft materials, science equipment, etc.)

Non-binary or gender non-conforming, age 65+, Washington County, Middle Eastern or North African

Demographic Trends

Identifying What Unites Us and Understanding What Divides Us

  • Oregonians of color and white Oregonians showed some modest disagreement on these questions about education funding and programs. For example, Oregonians of color are more likely than white Oregonians to believe that state and district leaders should prioritize spending federal dollars on programs and services for low-income students and students of color (62% vs. 54%). Additionally, Oregonians of color are more likely than white Oregonians to rank “mental health counseling” as their 1st-3rd priority to fund with federal dollars (71% vs. 61%). This is also true for funding “mentoring and tutoring” (50% vs. 39%). Conversely, white Oregonians are more likely to prioritize “expanded vocational and job training” (34% vs. 25%) and “preschool for all students” (15% vs. 8%). Again, these are modest statistical differences (Q48, Q49, Q50, Q58, Q60).
  • Differences are more pronounced when comparing opinions of rural and urban Oregonians. For example, urban residents are significantly more likely than their rural counterparts to believe that state and district leaders should prioritize spending federal dollars on programs and services for low-income students and students of color (62% vs. 42%), a 20-point gap. Additionally, rural Oregonians are more likely than their urban counterparts to prioritize “expanded vocational and job training” (41% vs. 27%). However, there are some points of agreement, including that both urban and rural Oregonians are most likely to select “mental health counseling” as their number one most important priority to fund with federal dollars (41% and 40%, respectively) (Q48, Q49, Q58).

This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent and non-partisan organization. OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (www.oregonvbc.org).

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