Federal aid to local schools on its way

Federal aid to local schools on its way

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MERIDEN — The school district recently learned it is eligible to receive up to $2.38 million in funding from the federal CARES Act to pay for pandemic-related costs next school year. 

Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni said in an email the money will “support increased costs in operating models, health and safety measures, and programmatic changes.” He added the district needs to “wait and see what guidance we receive from the CT Department of Public Health, local health officials, and the State Department of Education before making any firm plans” on how to spend the funds. 

The state Department of Education received a total of $111 million through the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The money going to schools is from approximately $13.2 billion set aside in an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund under the act.  

The state Department of Education is using $11.1 million for state-level activities and will dole out the remaining $99.9 million to school districts and other local education agencies, Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona wrote in a May 13 letter to superintendents. 

Meriden’s $2.38 million is among the highest in the state. Wallingford and Southington are entitled to receive $469,972 and $418,982 respectively, while Cheshire is slated to receive $99,144, according to Cardona’s letter. 

Each district’s cut was based on the proportion of Title I funding they received for Fiscal Year 2020, according to Cardona’s letter. Title I is a federal entitlement program that gives funds to schools in need based on enrollment, free and reduced lunch percentages, and other metrics. 

“The road to recovery for school districts will, in many ways, be unique to the district and most likely include delivering education with a mix of traditional classroom settings along with continuing online distance learning,” Cardona wrote. “We acknowledge that considerable resources will be required for this recovery at the same time as communities and the state are facing significant declines in revenue.” 

Wallingford Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Menzo is also waiting on further guidance from the state.

“Planning for the fall is underway, but it will not be completed until final guidance is provided by the state.  As a result, we are still reviewing the exact use of the funds,” Menzo said in an email. “We anticipate the funds will be used for staffing, technology, and special education. There are still so many unknowns during this challenging time.”

Department of Education spokesman Peter Yazabak said the law allows for “a lot of flexibility” on how the money can be spent. 

Cardona listed four priorities administrators should keep in mind: access to technology and connectivity; access to high-quality curriculum that addresses the needs of all learners including students with disabilities; addressing student learning gaps; and providing social and emotional supports for educators and students.

Southington Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan is planning to propose using the funds to buy more devices for distance learning. 

“One of the primary issues we discovered as the district attempted to pivot and move toward an online learning environment was limited access to devices for students,” Connellan wrote in an email. “The district has loaned out over 1,000 Chrome Books, but that still does not ensure equitable access...it is impossible to mirror or come close to a ‘normal day’ if there is no assurance that each student has a device to use.”

Connellan will present a plan to the Board of Education to make Southington a “1:1 district,” meaning one device for every student, at the board’s next meeting. 

“For example, a family with three children, one each at elementary, middle and high school may have only one device that must be shared among the children in the home,” he said. “If each child had their own device the time of their classes might still overlap, but each would be able to access the online class and content at the same time if necessary.”

mzabierek@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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