Minnesota is set to receive about $231 million in federal COVID-19-related funds for education as districts are planning for summer and fall. It’s critical that the aid be directed where it is needed most.
The funds will come through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It’s intended to help students and their families as the economy reopens, parents return to work and educational programs ramp up.
About $140 million will be allocated based on Title 1 specifications. That’s the federal program that allows direct funding to districts based on the number and concentration of students who are eligible for free- and reduced-cost lunch. The other $91 million will fund $48 million in Child Care and Development Block Grants and $43 million for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief.
To better understand where those funds are most needed, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) surveyed its members on their priorities. Their answers provided insight into the financial strain schools are under.
District leaders said they are experiencing budget shortfalls in food service and community education ranging from $1 million to $2.5 million. More than 60% of those surveyed said they need to bolster technology by adding devices for students and internet access for families.
AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist told an editorial writer that although districts have had some savings during the stay-at home order in areas such as transportation, additional costs have been greater. The budget shortfalls have occurred largely because schools were no longer collecting fees for child care or school lunches even as they were required to provide two meals per day to students and set up child care for children of first responders and front-line health care workers.
Gov. Tim Walz and the state Department of Education (MDE) priorities for the funds align well with those of the metro school administrators. In a statement last week, Walz said the federal help should be used to increase student access to technology and summer school; support child care and programs providing care to front-line workers; provide financial support and flexibility to child care providers; and help working families experiencing financial losses.
“Through this funding for education and child care, we can get technology into the hands of students who do not have it, help child care stay open, and support working families who are struggling to afford the child care they need to safely return to work,” Walz said.
The administration expects to use some of the $43 million in emergency funds to support students in higher education, including supporting technology needs, Minnesota Tribal Colleges, and strengthening equity in education through targeted support of teacher preparation programs and postsecondary faculty.
“Child care was a priority for our administration before this pandemic,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a statement. “We will continue to lift up our child care providers and working Minnesotans by working to maximize the funding available to address their needs across the state.”