Metro East schools may get federal CARES assistance

By Bob Pieper for Chronicle Media

During the COVID-19 shutdown, East St. Louis School District 189 is serving Grab and Go Meals at all nine schools and at seven centers throughout the District 89 community. (Photo courtesy of East St Louis School District 189)

More than 40 Metro East public school districts could receive federal funding to help address the needs of students during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an advisory last month from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

The $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, establishes a $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund, to be administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Education Department is to distribute approximately $13.5 billion from the fund to local ​ school districts, in the form of emergency relief grants.

An additional $3.5 billion will be distributed to states, for governors to use and distribute based on local need.

The federal emergency relief grants will be targeted largely at economically disadvantaged elementary and secondary school districts, based on a formulate established in the CARES Act, according to the March 31 advisory from the ISBE to district administrators.

The grants are to be used by elementary and secondary school districts to address the needs of all students, but consideration is given to the unique needs of students with disabilities, English language learners and homeless students.

The funds can be used to purchase educational technology to support online learning for all students, for administrative planning during long‐term school closures, and other authorized activities, according to the ISBE.

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal provides financial assistance — generally known as “Title 1” funding — to schools in need.

A school with more than 40 percent of its students classified as low income by the government qualifies for the funding.

CARES Act funding to a school district will be based on a percentage of the district Title 1 funding for fiscal year 2020.

Local school districts must still formally apply for the funding, the ISBE emphasizes.

Funding is contingent on meeting several conditions, including implementation of distance learning programs in line with an order issued last month by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Funding is to remain available through Sept. 30, 2021.

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds, totaling $2,953,230,000, will be issued to states by the Department of Education, based 60 percent on the population of school-age individuals (ages 5 through 24) and 40 percent on the relative number of children in each state, as defined in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

States can then use their grant awards to provide emergency support for local educational agencies or institutions of higher learning, most significantly impacted by the coronavirus. Funding may also be provided to other institutions that are deemed by state officials to be essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students.

Other sections of the bill establish a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($13,952,505,000) and a Grants to States with Coronavirus Burdens program ($307,500,000) to be administered by the Education Department.