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US didn’t track more than $150B in pandemic school aid. AP did.

Whitney Anderson wheels a recently purchased air scrubber through a classroom in advance of the school year at the E.N. White School in Holyoke, Mass., Aug. 4, 2021. Schools across the U.S. are about to start a new year amid a flood of federal money larger than they’ve ever seen before, an infusion of pandemic relief aid that is four times the amount the U.S. Department of Education sends to K-12 schools in a typical year. (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)

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Reporters Geoff Mulvihill and Collin Binkley, data journalists Camille Fassett and Larry Fenn, video journalist Mike Householder and photographers Carlos Osorio and Charles Krupa teamed up on an all-formats project documenting what happened to historic sums of pandemic aid released to the nation’s schools.

Congress has sent more than $150 billion to the states to help K-12 schools since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but the federal government has no accounting of where that money went. Over a period of months, Mulvihill, Fassett and Fenn did that painstaking work, going state by state to ferret out how multiple streams of congressional funding as used. The result was a massive but granular database shared with AP customers in advance of publication, showing how much federal money each school district in the country received and how it compared to other schools — public, private and charter.

With reporting help from Binkley, the team also produced three distinctive news leads: Most school districts do not intend to spend the money in the transformative ways the Biden administration envisions; virtual schools that were already fully online before the pandemic received as much or more than traditional school districts, including those serving high-poverty communities; and some Republican governors used the windfall to further school choice policies such as private school vouchers that had previously been blocked by legislatures or courts.

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Dr. Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, is interviewed outside Cody High School in Detroit, Aug. 20, 2021. Like other school systems, Detroit is caught between the Biden administration’s lofty aspirations and bleak realities. At least half of its $1.3 billion in federal pandemic aid is being set aside to make long-neglected repairs. – AP Photo / Carlos Osorio

Drawing on AP’s national reach, the work resulted in data that customers could localize as well as two explanatory webinars and sidebars in more than a dozen states by AP statehouse reporters.

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