The Juneau School District, it's headquarters seen here in this Juneau Empire file photo, will receive a portion of Alaska's more than $358 million in federal relief money for schools. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

Alaska to receive over $358 million to reopen schools

Relief package included funding for K-12 reopenings

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced billions of dollars would be going to states to bolster efforts to reopen K-12 schools quickly and safely. For Alaska, that means nearly $359 million meant to address pandemic-related issues with schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The funds “will allow schools to invest in mitigation strategies to get students back in the classroom and stay there, and address the many impacts this pandemic has had on students — especially those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” Cardona said at a news conference Wednesday.

Money can be used for testing and screening materials, hiring additional staff to assist with learning loss, expansion of internet services and addressing the social and emotional needs of students during the pandemic among a range of other uses, the Department of Education said in a news release.

School districts will be allocated 90% or $322,836,421 of the state’s funding, according to Grant Robinson, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, and funds will be awarded to school districts based on a federal formula.

The allocation methodology is similar to the CARES Act and second federal relief distributions, Robinson said, and per the new act, school districts must use at least 20% of their funds to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and ensure that those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional and academic needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups.

[White House sets low expectations for China talks in Alaska]

“Additionally, school districts must, within 30 days of receiving the funds, make publicly available on their website a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services,” Robinson said in an email. “Before making the plan publicly available, the district must seek public comment on the plan.”

The Juneau School District isn’t sure yet how much money it’s set to receive, chief of staff Kristin Bartlett said, but any funds the district does receive will go toward recovery programs.

“Those efforts include instructional recovery support such as a substantial summer school program and online curricular license fees, as well as continued operational support like PPE and testing to allow us to continue the mitigation strategies necessary to maintain safe school operations,” Bartlett said.

The Juneau School District resumed some in-person learning earlier this year but is still limiting the number of students in the classroom.

The U.S. Department of Education also announced Wednesday Alaska Department of Health and Social Services will also receive over $22 million for testing, screening and other health mitigation strategies at schools. In an email, spokesperson Clinton Bennett said DHSS would work closely with the state education department on how to best allocate the funds.

The funding is part of the $1.9 trillion relief package recently passed by Congress, known as the American Rescue Plan. That package also included $40 billion for education and $7.6 billion for special education, children and youth experiencing homelessness, tribal educational agencies, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives, emergency assistance to non-public schools, and overseas territories like Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the education department.

The Biden administration is making a strong push to promote the package which passed Congress with no Republican support. The Associated Press reported First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are on a cross-country tour to promote the package and administration officials have been meeting frequently with the press.

Biden administration officials will be in Anchorage Thursday for discussions with representatives from China, but AP reported U.S. officials have “low expectations” for the meeting.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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