COVID-19 relief funding helping local school districts

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published May 23, 2021

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CENTER LINE/WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — It has been a school year like no other for the teachers, students and families across the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

School shutdowns, sanitization practices, mask mandates, a substitute teacher shortage, mental health concerns and more have impacted the learning process with everyone adapting as best they can.

Districts have offered hybrid formats, online-only programs and in-person instruction full time all while social distancing and trying to keep staff and students safe.

Schools have been staying afloat financially with three federal relief bills — two under President Donald Trump and a third under President Joe Biden — to assist public schools across the state, although the districts have not received all the funding yet.

Thus far, districts have only reportedly received 43% of the second Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, package and have not yet received the third ESSER package. The first relief package came as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, grant. The other two packages are known as ESSER II and ESSER III.

Extra funding was needed for a variety of supplies, including personal protective equipment, or PPE, technology, school supplies, mental health programs and more. Certain criteria were attached to the relief packages. For instance, in February 2021, state officials announced the Michigan Department of Education, or MDE, was awarded $1.6 billion by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the ESSER II Fund. The MDE was to award 90% of the funds to eligible local school districts based on their 2020-21 Title I funding, according to a state memorandum.

The state was allowed to use the remaining 10% to its choosing — primarily based on economic needs. Because of this, some districts received more funding with the 10% than others or none at all. Center Line Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Haynes said the district did not benefit from the remaining 10% of funding.

“It is unfair. Every school district should get the same,” Haynes said. “The federal government doing that says most needy families were hit the hardest.”

Still, the extra money is much appreciated.

“I believe that any federal funding coming to local school districts to help with the pandemic is outstanding,” Haynes said.

According to Haynes, districts have until September 2022 to use the ESSER II money. The ESSER III money is for the 2023-2024 school year. In Center Line, ESSER II money was used to update heating, ventilation, and air conditioning with improved filtration systems designed to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Technological upgrades for virtual learning and hiring additional staff also was provided through ESSER II.

“You need more people to teach in a variety of ways,” Haynes said. “We added eight virtual teachers this year.”

‘It was all very needed.’
According to a report released April 20 by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, based in Midland, Michigan schools are receiving at least $5.75 billion in extra funds overall. Van Dyke Public Schools is receiving $27.7 million. Van Dyke Superintendent Piper Bognar confirmed the district is receiving over the $1,000-per-student threshold per student in both ESSER II and ESSER III.  

“State funding was cut back in 2010,” Bognar said. “We’ve been slowly trying to come back. This is very, very helpful.”

The CARES funding in Van Dyke helped both students and staff.

“A lot of it we used to provide student laptops this year,” Bognar said. That was because many students needed computers to use at home for virtual learning. “We also had to ensure staff at home had adequate devices.”

COVID-19 relief funding also was spent on school supplies, including markers, paper, pens, pencils and PPE.

Van Dyke already has plans to use ESSER II money to purchase a new fleet of buses. The district just ordered 17 77-passenger buses and two wheelchair-accessible buses. Additional laptops also were ordered for the 2021-2022 school year. The devices will be kept at school for the elementary students while the secondary students will be able to take them home. Van Dyke officials also are looking at any capital improvement projects that can be done.

“Some of that is allowed under ESSER II,” Bognar said.

And while Van Dyke’s COVID-19 relief funding has provided for mental health resources for students and staff, Bognar said ESSER II funds will be used to support staff members’ mental health.

Summer school on the horizon
Because of the disruptions in the learning process, there are concerns about students falling behind academically and socially. School officials have already discussed offering summer school opportunities for students using ESSER money to fund programs and offset costs.

Warren Consolidated Schools announced, before press time, that more than 100 of its teachers were going to hold a rally May 22 to spread the word about extended learning opportunities to be offered this summer in the district. The teachers were scheduled to meet at Cousino High School to visit families and students to discuss the summer school programs.

According to the new release, the WCS summer programs will be taught by district teachers and are offered free of charge at every grade level to students enrolled/registered in the district. Programs will include literacy, math, STEM exploration, SAT prep, computer coding and theater.

“We have known for a very long time how much our teachers and staff care about our students and this neighborhood outreach by our teachers and the Warren Education Association is just another great example,” WCS Superintendent Robert Livernois said in a prepared statement. “I am proud of their efforts and look forward to the event.”  

Parents interested in signing up their children for any of the WCS programs can visit or call (888)-4-WCSKIDS. Information is available regarding the new enrichment opportunities as well as traditional summer school offerings and credit recovery options for high school students.

ESSER II money also will be used for summer school programs in Center Line.