May 1, 2020
More than $260 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding is being made available to K-12 schools across Alabama, but that money isn’t yet in the bank.
The money can be used for a wide variety of reasons, from improving emergency preparedness to planning for long-term school closures to purchasing technology for distance learning.
In a memo to superintendents on April 24, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said each Alabama school district will need to apply for funds. “We expect the application to require a particular focus on items such as expenses directly related to COVID-19, remediation related to COVID-19, equitable services, and distance learning.”https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
A list of allocations by school district will be available soon, Mackey wrote. “Funds will begin to flow upon application approval.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress in March, includes nearly $31 billion nationwide in an Education Stabilization Fund to cover emergency costs associated with education’s response to the coronavirus.
Of that $30.75 billion in the CARES Act for education funding nationwide, $13.2 billion is for K-12, and $14.2 billion is for higher education. The remainder is for states with the highest coronavirus burden and for the Bureau of Indian Education.
The $13.5 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, is being distributed based on a state’s share of Title I funding, which is tied to the number of low-income students a state has.
In Alabama, that means $216.9 million.
Those funds will be split between school districts and the state department of education. Of the $216.9 million, $195 million must go directly to school districts. The state department can use $1.1 million for administration and can direct $21.7 million to go where the need is.
The Alabama State Department of Education submitted the required application on April 24, but has not yet been approved, according to state education officials.
The cost to get remote learning up and running is unknown at this point, but school officials have incurred expenses by purchasing hotspots for students to have internet access, outfitting buses with Wi-Fi capabilities, and making copies for instructional packets.
Another $48.9 million is available to Alabama through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, or GEER, which received $3 billion nationwide. That amount was calculated based on the number of children statewide and Title I funding.
In a notice to Governors April 14 announcing the availability of GEER funding, U.S. Education Sec. Betsy DeVos encouraged governors “to focus these resources on ensuring that all students continue to learn most likely through some form of remote learning. They and their families are depending on your leadership to ensure that they don’t fall behind.”
Schools closed officially on March 19, and remote learning in most of Alabama’s school districts began on April 6. School officials are using a combination of online learning along with instructional packets, and most are planning to end the school year on May 22.
Governors have until June 1 to apply for the funding, and while the application process has been simplified, asking only for assurances that appropriate procedures will be in place, federal education officials are requiring reports detailing how the awards process takes place and how funds are spent.
The U.S. Department of Education posted a frequently asked questions document for clarification of uses of GEER funds.
The application sets out expectations for how funds could be spent, stating executive or administrative salaries or benefits are not considered a “lawful purpose” for the use of GEER funds. Gov Kay Ivey has not yet submitted the application.
Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola told AL.com, “Governor Ivey is working with education stakeholders and the Alabama Department of Finance to determine how to best allocate those funds to serve the needs of Alabama’s students and all of our education institutions who have been impacted by COVID-19.”
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