Feds say relief money can’t be used for Kentucky school construction
Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration says $127 million in federal relief money planned for school construction in Kentucky will not be able to be spent as originally intended.
Lawmakers set aside $1.3 billion from Kentucky’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act during the state legislative session earlier this year, shortly after the federal relief package passed out of Congress.
Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury says the pool of money Kentucky planned to dip from to upgrade aging schools is supposed to be used for increasing internet connectivity—not school construction.
John Hicks, Beshear’s budget director, said the development was unexpected and that 12 schools across the state had already moved forward on taking advantage of the assistance.
During a legislative meeting on Monday, Hicks said the state can still fund school construction, but will have to “swap” the funds out through a different part of the federal relief act.
“The same amount of money appropriated by the General Assembly still is intact, but simply switches the two sources of funding,” Hicks said.
Hicks said the school construction could be financed by part of the federal relief bill that allows states to cover revenue losses during the pandemic. He said preliminary calculations show the state has about $220 million to spend filling revenue losses.
But lawmakers would have to make the changes during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester, said Beshear didn’t do a good enough job swaying the federal government on the issue.
“As a Kentuckian, it pains me to know we have a governor that doesn’t have very much influence with a White House that he endorsed or with a Congress that’s controlled by his own party. What a difference two and a half years make in Kentucky,” Alvarado said.
Alvarado was the running mate of former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019, and an ally of former President Donald Trump, but the ticket lost to Beshear’s by about 5,000 votes.
Beshear sent a letter to lawmakers explaining the financing problem last week.
The 12 school districts that had already planned to use the federal relief money on construction projects include districts in Martin County, Floyd County, Boyd County, Jackson County, Grant County, Breckinridge County, Pendleton County, Bath County, Cumberland County, Carter County, Mayfield Independent School District in Graves County and Bellevue ISD in Campbell County.
Bath County School Superintendent Steven Evans said his district planned to use the money to overhaul the district’s aging middle school, but was notified recently about the funding problem.
“That facility is beyond normal upkeep and repairs, major renovations are necessary to keep it going,” Evans said.
Sen. Robby Mills, a Republican from Henderson said legislators were surprised by the news.
“When we start getting calls and concerns from schools about major construction funds lost, it’s important for us to know as the representatives and people closest to our community what’s going on,” Mills said.