The five largest school districts in New York spent only a small percentage of their federal pandemic recovery aid on early childhood education and may be falling short in using the funds to help with learning loss due to the interruption of in-classroom instruction, a report released Monday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office found. 

The analysis by the comptroller's office assessed how the five largest school districts in New York state — New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers — spent their combined $8.6 billion in funds from the federal government. The money was initially approved by Congress to help schools and students narrow learning and achievement gaps created by the public health crisis. 

School districts across the state have been flush with federal and state cash in the last year, with money that has been meant to offset the educational and mental challenges created by the pandemic and the subsequent move to virtual learning. The disruptions have led to learning and retention problesm for students, especially lower-income kids. 

The report found efforts varied when it came to spending for academic recovery. In New York City, programs to do so initially received 16.5% of funding, but are in line for money under the city's adopted budget. Yonkers set aside the largest share of funding, 44.4%, followed by Syracuse at 37.1% and Bufflao at 30.1%. Rochester set aside 20.4% of its funds for academic recovery, according to the analysis. 

The city of Los Angeles, by comparison, used 60.5% of its federal funding for academic recovery. 

“Many students fell behind in their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic and are still struggling to catch up,” DiNapoli said. “The federal government responded to the pandemic by providing significant one-time aid to school districts to support their operations and help students make up for lost learning. New York’s school districts should carefully monitor students’ academic recovery and report on their progress to allow policy makers and the public to assess the effectiveness of the funding decisions made.”

Testing data shows New York state students are struggling with substantial learning loss. In assessments for students in grades 3 to 8 in New York City, math scores fell by 7.7%. Test scores in English were more mixed, however, with younger students seeing a decline and older grades seeing an improvement. 

None of the largest school districts in New York will use more than 2% of its funds for early childhood education, DiNapoli's report found.