This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

$54 million in federal funds from a 2020 COVID-19 relief package for Montana public schools remain to be used, and are set to expire Sept. 30. The funds are from the second of three such federal relief packages, which offered schools and the state Office of Public Instruction a combined $593 million to address issues raised by the pandemic. According to OPI, Montana school districts have so far used the money for myriad initiatives including tutoring, transportation, expanded career and technical education programs and the creation of outdoor learning spaces. State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen has routinely reminded teachers, parents and school administrators of the pending deadline since late last year. The third round of federal funding — $382 million, or more than half the overall total — similarly expires on Sept. 30, 2024. As of April 30, roughly 34% of those funds had been spent.


Alex Sakariassen is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism, where he worked for four years at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and cut his journalistic teeth as a paid news intern for the Choteau Acantha for two summers. After obtaining his bachelor's degree in journalism and history, Sakariassen spent nearly 10 years covering environmental issues and state and federal politics for the alternative newsweekly Missoula Independent. He transitioned into freelance journalism following the Indy's abrupt shuttering in September 2018, writing in-depth features, breaking...