School District Audit Readiness Checklist

School District Audit Readiness Checklist

Putting in the time and effort to prepare for an audit can help your district facilitate a smooth process that saves time and money; leads to a reliable and objective audit report; and helps detect and rectify potential issues before the audit begins.

Here’s a checklist of what to do before an audit to help streamline the actual audit itself, meet key deadlines (and avoid delays), and even possibly lead to better outcomes:

  • Familiarize yourself with the audit process and standards such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) guidelines.
  • Create an audit committee and select its lead. Discuss the audit process, requirements, roles and responsibilities, and a timeline of key dates and activities.
  • Meet with the Committee and auditors to review the audit plan.
  • Meet with business office staff to discuss the implementation of any new accounting standards.
  • Request, collect, and organize documentation and information from appropriate departments and staff, per the audit requirements. This includes income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements, bank statements, invoices, receipts, payroll records, purchase orders, contracts, and other financial documents.
  • Gather information about new or closed bank accounts; new charters and activities; Board members and Administrators; and any debt and attorney information necessary for confirmations. Remember, you must report any material financial or management changes.
  • Prepare copies of current Risk Assessment documents, Claims Auditor reports, Internal Audit reports, OSC audits and corrective action plans, OPEB actuary reports, lease agreements, subscription-based IT arrangements, and tax abatement information.
  • Coordinate with firms providing financial services (i.e., maintaining depreciation records or preparing financial statements) to obtain the required documentation.
  • Reconcile all accounts by checking that amounts match between accounting records and the actual cash, assets, liabilities, equity, revenue, and expenses.
  • If applicable, review records of student activity funds. These funds are often audited separately and require special attention.
  • If you received grant funding, ensure all documents relating to the grant are available and organized. This includes grant agreements, receipts of expenditures, and performance reports.
  • Maintain up-to-date and complete inventory records of capital assets, including property and equipment.
  • Prepare a Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) report that includes financial highlights, an overview of the financial statements, and a description of the district’s financial performance.
  • Review and document internal processes and controls (they’ll be evaluated in their effectiveness at preventing fraud and errors).
  • Conduct a self-audit or internal review to identify and address any potential problems. Perform a fraud risk brainstorm.
  • Review federal and state regulations to ensure that all compliance requirements are met. This includes funding guidelines, procurement procedures, and payroll laws.
  • Review any prior audit findings and recommendations to ensure corrective action was implemented.
  • Make sure the initial resolution for funding of district reserves is passed by June 30 and any follow-up resolutions are completed before the tax levy is set.
  • Present results to the Board and ensure the audit is filed by the October 15 deadline.

As you prepare for your audit, please know you can always count on RBT CPAs for accounting, audit, advisory, and tax assistance. Contact us to learn how we can be Remarkably Better Together.

 

RBT CPAs is proud to say 100% of its work is prepared in America. Our company does not offshore work, so you always know who is handling your confidential financial data.

Navigating the 2024-2025 Budget Season

Navigating the 2024-2025 Budget Season

As if the annual budget season for school administrators and Boards of Education (BOE) isn’t challenging enough, a lack of information about the final New York state budget’s impact on Foundation Aid and the hold harmless (also referred to as save harmless) provision, along with enrollment challenges and the pending expiration of pandemic-era relief funds, have combined to create a perfect storm.

Originally, we were hoping to write this article about where the New York State 2024 budget landed in respect to education. The deadline for a final budget was April 1, but it has been pushed back as Senate and Assembly members rejected proposed cuts and are fighting for a 3% budget increase and restoration of Foundation Aid.

According to Senator Michelle Hinchey, “The Mid-Hudson region stands out as the most affected area compared to other regions in the state, facing a $31 million reduction (4.2%) in total funding.”

Hinchey led a rally to restore funding for mid-Hudson and upstate NY school. As noted on her website, “Our rural and Mid-Hudson Valley schools face the biggest cuts in the entire state; these are districts that have historically received inadequate Foundation Aid and cannot absorb the detrimental losses proposed without cutting curriculum or laying off staff. Out of 31 school districts in my district, all but six of them would face drastic cuts in funding, forcing them to make these decisions imminently.”

This leaves districts in a precarious situation as budget season moves ahead and local budget voting periods loom.

Another focal point of most New York districts’ budget discussions relates to declining enrollment. While student enrollment has been decreasing for years nationwide, it accelerated during COVID and in the ensuing years. In fact, a report from the Associated Press indicates New York continued to lead the nation in enrollment declines in the 2022-2023 school year, with decreases in every county.

Challenges are exasperated in some areas by a teacher and staffing shortage. What’s more, some districts face additional burdens resulting from high turnover in superintendent, other key administrator, and BOE positions, contributing to disruptions in long-term strategic planning, stage-setting communication, and change management.

New York is by no means alone. In recent years, headlines across the U.S. have been highlighting  challenges brought about by falling enrollment and staffing challenges. Responses have ranged from school closures and consolidations to adoption of a four-day school week and more:

  • Energy and water audits and system updates; explore an energy purchasing consortia through BOCES operations.
  • Working with local government to share resources while reducing costs. This can include everything from library and IT services to groundskeeping, snow removal, equipment expenses, and purchasing coops.
  • Consolidating backroom operations with other districts and local government for functions like payroll and benefits administration, human resources, accounting, staff development, safety and risk management, printing, and more.
  • Vacancy cuts, early retirement incentives, hiring freezes, and rightsizing.
  • Renting or leasing space in empty facilities to generate an income stream.
  • Selling vacant property and saving on property insurance costs.
  • Using GPS routing and inventory management systems for transportation efficiencies; discontinuing courtesy bussing for students who live within a certain distance of a school.
  • Outsourcing non-educational functions like food, custodial, transportation, and IT services.

A few approaches that appear to be helping some districts navigate discussions and the budgeting process include:

  1. Having a long-term strategy, developed collaboratively with parents and the community, so priorities are defined in advance and help guide budget and spending decisions.
  2. Collaboratively working with parents and the community to define guiding principles for making budget cuts. For example, if the number one priority is to maintain all program offerings for students, it’s easier to narrow down and gain support for where costs can be reduced or reallocated.
  3. Developing and presenting budget options based on different funding scenarios – if the state budget moves forward as is; if Foundation Aid is restored; or if state aid increases.

As we wait for the final state budget and answers about education funding for the upcoming school year, bipartisan support for restoring Foundation Aid and increasing the budget along with higher than projected state revenues may help districts avoid the worst-case scenarios – at least for this budget season.

As you focus on your school’s or district’s budgets and plans for the upcoming school year, you can count on RBT CPAs to handle your accounting, tax, audit, and advisory needs. We have been serving organizations and individuals in the Hudson Valley for more than 55 years and show time after time how RBT CPAs and our clients can be Remarkably Better Together. For more information, give us a call.

 

RBT CPAs is proud to say 100% of its work is prepared in America. Our company does not offshore work, so you always know who is handling your confidential financial data.

Does Your District’s Cell Phone Policy Go Far Enough?

Does Your District’s Cell Phone Policy Go Far Enough?

It is estimated that 80% of school districts in the U.S. have some type of cell phone policy. Is yours going far enough?

We enter 2024 with hundreds of lawsuits filed on behalf of children and school districts against social media behemoths for purportedly fostering addiction among young users of their platforms. Over 40 states are also pursuing lawsuits, as numerous studies have linked social media to a staggering growth in mental health issues among America’s youth, including anxiety, depression, suicide, self-harm, low self-esteem, and more.

In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory in 2023 to draw attention to social media’s impact on our youth. According to the advisory, up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 say they use social media, with 30% indicating use is almost constant. About 40% of youth ages 8 to 12 are using social media (even though 13 is the minimum age for use). What isn’t known is whether this is safe for young users, considering the lack of information about its impact on brain development.

The advisory goes onto acknowledge there are pros and cons to social media for young users. On the plus side, it can help foster community and connections, allow self-expression, and provide a gateway to information. On the negative side, depending on daily usage, studies show it can significantly increase signs of depression and anxiety, lower self-esteem, increase bullying and peer pressure, contribute to attention deficits, and more. It also dramatically increases exposure to potentially harmful content.

The advisory says charting a path forward will require effort on the part of policymakers, technology companies, parents and caregivers, researchers, and today’s youth, but time is of the essence as the impact of social media on youth is occurring right now.

As the U.S. grapples with the issue, France, Italy, Portugal, Finland, and China already ban cell phones at school. More recently, England adopted guidance supporting a ban in schools, leaving the door open to legislation making the guidance statutory in the future. The ban applies to both class and break times, with a goal of improving focus, decreasing disruptive behavior and bullying, and removing distractions.

With litigation playing out in the U.S. and potential legislation seemingly on the distant horizon, the majority of school administrators and education professionals are taking the reigns to advocate for policies managing or limiting cell phone use at school.

A spectrum of approaches is being used. Some districts have policies negating the use of cell phones during class time or throughout the entire school day. Some give individual teachers the authority to determine cellphone use in their class. Some have centralized storage for cell phones or designated areas where use is allowed. Still, consistent enforcement has been a challenge.

A growing number of schools are turning to buying patented phone pouches, produced by a company called Yondr, that are locked at the start of the school day and unlocked when school is over, with seemingly positive feedback from educators, parents, and students alike. A survey of over 900 school partners that adopted these pouches revealed 65% saw improved academic performance, 74% saw improved student behavior, and 83% saw improved student engagement in the classroom.

As you and your team work with parents, students, educators, healthcare professionals, and legal council to determine a path forward for managing cell phone use during school hours, you can count on RBT CPAs for all of your accounting, audit, tax, and advisory needs. Give us a call to learn more.

 

RBT CPAs is proud to say 100% of its work is prepared in America. Our company does not offshore work, so you always know who is handling your confidential financial data.

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice. As always, it’s in your best interest to work with your district’s legal advisor when contemplating new policies and procedures.

More School Districts Can Offer Free Meals Starting October 26

More School Districts Can Offer Free Meals Starting October 26

Thanks to an expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) announced in a final rule September 26 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USA), an estimated 3,000 additional school districts with about 5 million students will be eligible to offer free breakfasts and lunches starting October 26.

With inflation significantly driving up grocery prices since the end of the COVID waiver providing free meals to students across the country regardless of family income, the Federal government, states, and school districts have grappled with the challenge – and expense – of addressing food insecurity among students, particularly in high poverty areas.

As a result, as of the 2022-2023 school year, the number of schools that adopted CEP grew to over 40,000 nationwide. To date, eight states have passed legislation establishing permanent universal school meal policies. Other states, like New York – which enacted legislation permanently requiring reduced-priced meals be provided for free – are making progress, with New York City, Albany, Rochester, and Yonkers offering universal free meals at school.

With the September 26 final rule, the identified student percentage (ISP) certified as eligible for free meals decreased from 40% to 25%, opening the door for another 3,000 high need school districts to make breakfast and lunch available to all students at no cost. Families do not have to apply for the program. Instead, data from SNAP and other income-based assistance programs will be used in a formula determining Federal funding; then, state, or local funds must cover any gap between Federal funds and program costs.

As noted on the USDA website, “As a result of this rule, more schools are eligible to participate in CEP and experience the associated benefits, such as increasing students’ access to healthy, no-cost school meals; eliminating unpaid meal charges; reducing stigma; and streamlining program administration and meal service operations.”

There’s more to come with the  Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for Children (Summer EBT) officially launching in 2024 to provide low-income families with school-aged children grocery buying benefits when schools close for the summer.

Interested in learning more about CEP and school meal programs? Visit Community Eligibility Provision;  USDA School Meals;  USDA Support for Schools.

In the meantime, The New York State Education Department (SED), is holding in-person and virtual training opportunities for Child Nutrition Program operators. Anyone involved with the operation of a school nutrition program may be interested. To see the schedule of training opportunities through November, click here.

While you’re focusing on school meal programs among numerous other priorities, please know you can count on RBT CPAs professionals to support your accounting, tax, and audit needs. To learn more, give us a call today.

 

RBT CPAs is proud to say all our work is prepared in the U.S.A. – we never offshore. As a result, you get peace of mind that your operation’s financial and confidential information is handled by full-time, local staff who have met our high standards for quality, ethics, and professionalism.

Grants, Free Resources and Other Support to Stand Up to Cyber Attacks on Schools

Grants, Free Resources and Other Support to Stand Up to Cyber Attacks on Schools

Cybercriminals beware! As we gear up for back to school season, the White House, Federal agencies, companies, and local administrators and educators are teaming up to shore up plans, resources, and protocols to help school districts across the U.S. stand up to cybercrime.

A lack of resources and infrastructure have made schools the number one target of cyber criminals. One report puts the cost of responding to a cyberattack at $50,000 to $1 million. Attacks also lead to lost classroom time, cancelled exams and school closures, not to mention the employee and student data that’s at risk.

In a recent press release, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “Let’s face it: in today’s digital age, our students and their teachers will increasingly use technology in the classroom. Schools have access to more devices and connectivity than ever before, and this technology in education has incredible potential to help students better connect with their learning and achieve, and teachers better engage with their students, but to make the most of these benefits, we must effectively manage the risks. Just as we expect everyone in a school system to plan and prepare for physical risks, we must now also ensure everyone helps plan and prepare for digital risks in our schools and classrooms.”

To that end, Federal, corporate, and local resources are joining forces to help school districts stand up to cybercrime:

  • On August 7, the White House brought together educators, administrators, and companies to discuss best practices and resources outlined in “K-12 Digital Infrastructure Brief: Defensible and Resilient,” a publication from the Office of Educational Technology and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
  • A Government Coordinating Council (GCC) is being created by the Department of Education and Homeland Security to facilitate collaboration; coordinate cybersecurity activities, policy, and communications in schools; and support district efforts to prepare for, respond to and recover from cyberattacks.
  • The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a three-year pilot program providing up to $200 million to reinforce cyber defenses in K-12 schools and libraries.
  • CISA will assess cybersecurity at 300 K-12 entities in the 2023-2024 school year and provide cyber security training. (That’s in addition to the support already provided to teachers to incorporate cybersecurity into lesson plans and make schools safer.)
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Guard Bureau will provide guidance on how to report cyber incidents at schools and obtain support from federal cyber defense programs.
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) committed $20 million to fund cyber grants for K-12 school districts and state departments of education. Applications are being accepted now. (Be prepared to describe the number of students served in the district, as well as the scope and goals of the cyber security project.) Click here to apply. In addition, AWS will provide free security training to K-12 IT staff via AWS Skill builder; free cyber incidence response assistance if a district is attacked; and free security reviews for U.S. education technology companies providing mission-critical K-12 applications.
  • Cloudflare committed to offer free cybersecurity solutions to districts with less than 2,500 students as part of its Project Cybersafe Schools. For more details and to apply, click here.
  • Google created a new K-12 Cybersecurity Guidebook providing best practices and guidance for IT administrators on how to set up and configure hardware and software to strengthen cybersecurity in K-12 schools.
  • PowerSchool committed to providing free and subsidized security-as-a-service webinars, toolkits and training to districts and schools, while D2L committed to increase access to training, launch a cybersecurity user community, and more.

While you’re waiting to learn about next steps, it may be a good time to catch up on some summer reading before the start of school:

As you focus on building your district’s cyber defenses, you can count on RBT CPAs to focus on your audit, tax, accounting, and advisory service needs. Interested in learning more? Give us a call.

 

RBT CPAs is proud to say all of our work is prepared in the U.S.A. – we never offshore. As a result, you get peace of mind that your operation’s financial and confidential information is handled by full-time, local staff who have met our high standards for quality, ethics, and professionalism.

Lunch Money: What’s the Latest on Free Meals in New York Schools?

Lunch Money: What’s the Latest on Free Meals in New York Schools?

In May, when the New York State Education Department Office of Child Nutrition hosted a webinar reviewing how schools and districts could take advantage of a 2023-2024 Executive Budget enhancement to help the state move closer to realizing universal free meals at all K-12 public and charter schools, there were three open questions:

  1. Will the USDA approve the state’s request for an extension to file CEP applications? The answer is yes! The deadline is now August 31 as noted on the top of the NYS Education Department Office of Child Nutrition’s webpage. If your district/school(s) has/have not applied yet, your School Food Authority (SFA) can determine if a school, group of schools or entire district are eligible using this list . If eligible, apply as soon as possible so the application can be processed before the start of the school year and there is time to fulfill the requirement to notify families about participation (templates will be provided with the approval email you receive). If you need assistance determining eligibility, contact your Child Nutrition Program Representative at 518-473-8781 or by email.
    • REMEMBER: Receiving an approval on an application means a district/school(s) will be able to take advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision State Subsidy (Section 925), as amended by the 2023-2024 NYS Executive Budget. Starting with the upcoming school year, the state will increase reimbursements for CEP meals so they are free. This additional funding is only available to subsidize federal rate of reimbursement through CEP. It is not available to buildings where all meals are already fully reimbursed through CEP or for meals at buildings that do not participate in CEP.
  2. Do we know reimbursement rates for the 2023-2024 National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast program? Yes, on July 7th the rates were published and take effect from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024. According to the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the base reimbursement rate for each lunch and breakfast increased 8.27%. At the same time, though, Keep Kids Fed Act (KKFA) funding expired, resulting in 37 cents less per paid category school lunch and 8 cents less for free and reduced price lunch. The SNA is encouraging school administrators to urge legislators to extend KKFA funding via the SNA’s Action Network.
  3. Are there any updates on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service’s proposed rule to lower the minimum identified student percent (ISP) participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) from 40% to 25%? Nope, no news yet and while many are hoping a final rule and guidance will be issued before the start of the 2023-2024 school year, there are no guarantees. If approved, more schools will have the option to elect CEP and, when financially viable, offer all students school meals at no cost. As of now, it remains a proposal with no timeline. If approved, and a final rule and guidance published, the state will communicate with School Food Authorities (SFAs).

This story is to be continued. In the meantime, according to NYCFoodpolicy.org, some New York municipalities, like New York City, Albany, Rochester and Yonkers already offer universal free school meals. Some states – like California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont– have made universal free meals for K-12 public school and charter school students permanent. And more than half of the remaining states currently without universal school meals are in various stages of moving the proposition forward in the coming year.  So, stay tuned.

While you and your team are moving ahead with CEP applications and/or awaiting word on what’s next, you can count on RBT CPAs to free you up by focusing on your accounting, tax, audit, and advisory needs. Give us a call and speak with our professionals to learn what we can do for you.

 

RBT CPAs is proud to say all of our work is prepared in the U.S.A. – we never offshore. As a result, you get peace of mind that your school district’s financial and confidential information is handled by full-time, local staff who have met our high standards for quality, ethics, and professionalism.

NOTE! While every effort has been made to ensure the integrity of the information contained herein, the situation is fluid. It is always a good idea to consult legal counsel before making any changes.

Will Three-Year Bachelor’s Degrees Catch on in the U.S.?

Will Three-Year Bachelor’s Degrees Catch on in the U.S.?

Has the time arrived for three-year bachelor’s degrees to become the status quo in the U.S.? About 50 years ago, the idea was raised. Other than a short reprisal in the early 2000s, the three-year-degree concept never gained much momentum, until recently.

In April of this year, InsideHigherEd.com reported, “Representatives from a dozen colleges met at Georgetown University to discuss three-year bachelor’s degree pilot programs” as a potential solution to improve student outcomes while addressing costs.  (Moody, Josh. “The Push for a Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree.” April 7, 2023. InsideHigherEd.com.)

Prompted by several headwinds – from a growing perception that you can earn a good standard of living without college, serious hesitancy about taking on debt to go to college, a 40% dropout rate, and a potential six-year completion timeline – the pool of applicants looking to pursue higher education in the U.S. is shrinking.

While three-year degrees are the status quo in the U.K. and much of the European Union, the U.S. has been slow to jump on the bandwagon. In truth, it didn’t need to, with enrollment steadily increasing for decades, even among students from outside the U.S. Now that the tides have turned, it seems like a growing number of educational institutions are open for discussing the three-year degree.

Originally, three-year degree programs simply accelerated the timeline for completing 120 credits. Today’s discussions are going further, by looking at whether the number of credits for a degree should be reduced to 90 or 100; whether 30 hours of electives should be eliminated; whether a three-year degree program should be offered alongside a four-year program; and more.

One school is looking at offering three 30-credit certificate programs that can be accumulated to add up to a bachelor’s degree. As revealed by HecchingerReport.com, NewU – a startup in downtown D.C. – is offering the three-year degree at a locked-in rate. Still, others are considering offering a bachelor’s plus a master’s in four years for certain programs.

Schools represented at the Georgetown University gathering referenced earlier are from different geographies, represent a mix of public and private institutions, and have different goals. Some are just beginning to look at the idea while others are ready to launch, pending accrediting body approval, which isn’t guaranteed.  (For example, the New England Commission of Higher Education denied New England College’s proposal to offer a 100-credit criminal justice degree.)

Even if approval is attained, some – like those in California and Pennsylvania – face an additional hurdle: state law requires 120 credit hours for a bachelor’s degree. (That doesn’t even begin to address what happens to master’s programs that require a four-year undergraduate degree for entry.)

Still, HecchingerReport.org reports, “Already, a surprising 12 percent of full-time private and 10 percent of full-time public university and college students are finishing four-year degrees within three years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.”

As you and your team explore opportunities to maintain/increase enrollment and income, we want you to know RBT CPAs are here to handle all of your accounting, tax, audit, and advisory needs. To learn more about what we can do to help you succeed, give us a call today.

 

RBT CPAs do not outsource work to another country. All of our work is prepared in the United States.

Are You Ready for GASB 96, 94, 100 and 101?

Are You Ready for GASB 96, 94, 100 and 101?

It’s a big year for new and updated GASB standards, which translates into new and updated reporting requirements for government entities, including public school districts and institutions of higher education.

GASB96 took effect for fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2022, so it will start to be reflected in financial statements with a June 30, 2023 year-end and all reporting periods thereafter. Similar to GASB 87 governing leases, GASB96 sets standards for how government entities – including school districts and higher education institutions – account for and disclose costs and investments for subscription-based information technology arrangements (SBITAs) that are longer than 12 months.

Similar to what is required for leases under GASB87, all SBITAs that may be covered under GASB96 must be identified; required information must be collected and documented, and various costs must be accounted for during the implementation and subscription periods. (For more details, see RBT CPAs’ article, GASB 96 Kicks Off in 2023: What to Know & Do.)

GASB 94 took effect for fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2022, so it will start to be reflected in financial statements with a June 30, 2023 year-end and all reporting periods thereafter. It applies to Public-Private and Public-Public Partnerships (PPP) and Availability Payment Arrangements. GASB94 defines PPP as an arrangement where a government (the transferor) contracts with an operator for public services by giving the right to operate or use a non-financial asset (i.e., infrastructure) for a period in an exchange or exchange-like transaction. The transferor can approve and change which services the operator provides, to whom and related prices. The transferor is also entitled to residual interest in the service utility of the PPP asset at the end of the arrangement.

GASB 100 amends GASB62. It is effective for accounting changes and error corrections made in fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2023. Accounting changes are defined as changes in accounting principles, estimates, and/or changes or within the financial reporting entity. Implementation of corrections/changes must be identified as prospective or retrospective and prior period financial statements must be restated, displaying the aggregate amount of adjustments to and restatements of beginning net position, fund balance, or fund net position. Financial reporting entity changes should be reported by adjusting current period beginning balances. Estimated changes should be recognized in the current period and reported prospectively. Financial statements should note the organization adopted GASB 100 provisions as well as the date of adoption; note disclosures detailing changes, errors, impacts on starting balances; and highlight why new methods are preferable.

GASB 101 (Compensated Absences) replaces GASB16 (Accounting for Compensated Absences) to reflect paid time off practices (including vacation and sick time) in a workplace. Enhancements to compensated absence recognition, measurement, and reporting requirements take effect fiscal years starting December 15, 2023.

That’s a lot of GASB to take in. For more details, see RBT CPAs’ article, What to Know About GASB Changes Taking Effect in 2023. Even better, if you need clarifications or answers to questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your RBT CPAs contact.

How Your School Can Use Federal Funds to Go Green

How Your School Can Use Federal Funds to Go Green

Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), there is more federal funding available – in the form of grants and tax credits – to help schools go green and save. Is your district making the most of this opportunity?

IRA funding is meant to help schools create healthy, sustainable learning environments by providing tax credits for clean energy and transportation, plus support for energy efficiency initiatives. Here’s a sampling of what’s available…

  • Tax credits or direct payment to reduce installation costs for renewable energy sources like solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, and energy storage systems. Receive 6% to 30% of eligible costs, plus an additional 10% for meeting certain criteria.
  • Funding for energy produced from renewable sources like solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, and energy storage systems. Receive 1.5 cents per kWh produced plus 10% for meeting certain criteria.
  • Tax credits or direct payment for the purchase of clean light- and heavy-duty electric vehicles (including buses). Depending on type of vehicle and weight, receive up to 30% of the price or incremental cost for a comparable vehicle, whichever is less.
  • Tax credit for alternative fuel refueling property, including charging stations for electric school buses. (Low income and rural schools may be able to receive direct pay.)
  • Reduce energy-saving project costs by passing on deductions – equal to $.50 to $5 a square foot – to eligible contractors and other entities who agree to reduce fees by the amount of the deductions. Use this for interior lighting design; heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems; and building envelop design or retrofit that increase energy efficiency by 25%.
  • Access no- or low-interest loans to deploy low- and zero-emission technologies via the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.
  • Competitive grants can help replace eligible vehicles with zero-emission vehicles, including electric school buses; monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants at schools in low-income and disadvantaged communities; invest in community-led projects in disadvantaged communities to address disproportionate environmental and public health harms from pollution and climate change; support neighborhood equity, safety, and affordable transportation access.
  • Partner with eligible recipients to receive funds to increase the number of trees on school property.

For complete details, download the “K12 Education and Climate Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act Guide” created by the Aspen Institute’s “This Is Planet Ed” and the World Resources Institute’s “Electric School Bus Initiative”.  (Natalia Akopian, Michelle Faggert, and Laura Schifter. (2022). “K12 Education and Climate Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act” The Aspen Institute: Washington, DC. https://www.thisisplaneted.org/blog/ school-climate-provisions-in-the-inflation-reduction-act.)

The IRA is just one source of green funding for schools – there are others.

For an overview of how to develop a green plan for your district, refer to this seven-step guide from The Henchinger Report. (Kamenetz, Anya. “There’s a lot of new money for greening education. This is how schools could use it.” December 20, 2022. The Henchinger Report.)

While you focus on taking advantage of this billion-dollar opportunity (literally), please know that RBT CPAs is here to take care of your accounting, tax, and audit needs. We’ve been serving clients in the Hudson Valley and beyond for over 50 years. Give us a call.

Your December Reading List: ESSR Guidance & Resources

Your December Reading List: ESSR Guidance & Resources

While you’re likely looking forward to some time away from talk of budgets, fiscal cliffs, and more this holiday season, we recently came across a few ESSR funding pieces you may want to review. They focus on the latest developments in ESSR spending, and how to overcome planning and implementation challenges. They may also offer some perspectives that you can bring to budget talks and planning in the New Year.

First, on December 7, expanded guidance on ESSR spending was released by the U.S. Department of Education via its Frequently Asked Questions on Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs/Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Programs.

As noted in an announcement from the Office of State and Grantee Relations, the expanded guidance includes 27 new FAQs and updates to eight existing FAQs that provide clarity on school construction and HVAC; additional information on liquidations; and “additional options for using ESSER and GEER funds to support mental health services for students and educators (C-14), reduce rates of chronic absenteeism (C-11), and promote workforce stability (D-1 and D-1.a).”

Second, Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy FutureEd Think Tank article, What Congressional Funding Means for K-12 Schools, (Jordan, Phyllis. December 7, 2022. https://www.future-ed.org/what-congressional-covid-funding-means-for-k-12-schools/) was updated to include a lot of details about what the expanded guidance allows, doesn’t allow, and more. It also addresses one of the biggest questions that is top of mind: When do funds have to be obligated and spent?

The article notes, “A decision will come ‘at a later date’ on extending deadlines for spending the $54 billion in ESSER funds allotted in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and the $122 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP), the guidance states. In the meantime, the department encourages states and districts to spend ‘with urgency on activities that will support students’ academic recovery and mental health needs.’”

Third, McKinsey & Company’s Halftime for the K-12 stimulus: How are districts faring? article shares results from a May-June survey of 260 district decision makers about priorities (i.e., unfinished learning and staffing) and challenges related to the deployment of ESSR funding (Bryant, Jake; Dorn, Emma; Redmond, Wayne; Shelat, Neil; Williams, Claire. November 2, 2022. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/halftime-for-the-k-12-stimulus-how-are-districts-faring).

It’s worth the read, especially when it comes to a suggested three-step framework to help districts with planning and implementation. As it notes, “Though the window for action is narrowing, there is sufficient time to ensure remaining ESSER funds are strategically allocated toward priorities that will improve student outcomes by addressing immediate learning delays as well as long-standing challenges and opportunity gaps.”

While getting through your reading list, please know that RBT CPAs is here to help with any accounting, tax, audit, or advisory services you may need now or in the new year. To learn more about what RBT CPAs can do for your school district, give us a call.