Billions in additional federal COVID funds announced to help reopen U.S. schools

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Florida Phoenix | by Danielle J. Brown | January 6, 2021

More than $54 billion in additional federal COVID relief money will support reopening of schools across the nation, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday.

In a letter to state education commissioners, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos argued that there is “no excuse” that so many U.S. students are “locked out” from in-person instruction, notwithstanding COVID-19.

“This new funding — more than four times the initial awards to state educational agencies under the CARES Act — is intended to help states and school districts safely reopen schools, measure and effectively address significant learning loss, and take other actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the students and families who depend on our K-12 schools,” she wrote.

In a press release, the department said the new money is part of $81.9 billion Congress has allocated to the Education Stabilization Fund in its latest COVID relief package. The CARES Act, approved in March, gave $30 billion to K-12 schools and higher education.

The funds allocated vary from state to state. California will receive more than $6.7 billion and other states’ shares will range between $100-200 million in these funds. Florida will draw $3.1 billion.

DeVos has been pushing for schools to reopen since early July.

DeVos urged state commissioners to use the funding “to safely re-open all elementary and secondary schools as soon as possible, to restore and maintain high-quality learning environments, and to take comprehensive action to mitigate the unprecedented learning loss that many of our most vulnerable students have endured.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a reality for the nation’s educators and students.

COVID cases across the United States continue to rise, and a more contagious U.K. variant of the coronavirus has been identified in California, Colorado, Florida, New York, and now Georgia, CNN reported Tuesday. In addition, a new strain has emerged in South Africa that may be resistant to existing COVID vaccines.

Although Florida schools have been ordered to provide an in-person learning option and are starting their first week of the 2021 spring semester, school districts throughout the United States have yet to open for brick-and-mortar instruction.

According to a report by Education Week: “As of Jan. 5, seven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have state-ordered full or partial closures in effect.” Other states are allowing local school districts to decide whether their schools should open.

DeVos encouraged states to “rise to the challenge.”

“Most of our children today would be far better off in school with in-person instruction,” she wrote in her letter. “There is no excuse that so many of them are still locked out. Families and students, particularly our nation’s most vulnerable, are depending on your leadership.”