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District ‘Thankful’ for COVID-19 Relief Funds

Money to be used on pandemic expenses, including technology

By Siana Emery
The Tube City Almanac
April 13, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched resources in school districts across the nation, creating deficits in funding, access to education, and access to resources. For schools in the Mon Valley, however, there is some aid on the way.

State Rep. Austin Davis announced on March 30 that an estimated $41.1 million in federal funding has been allocated to districts across the Mon Valley to help them reopen safely and address learning losses as students and teachers return to classrooms.

The McKeesport Area School District will receive $16.9 million.

“We are thankful to have those funds,” said Mark Holtzman Jr., district superintendent. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without them.”

Other districts receiving funds include:

• Clairton City School District — $4.96 million
• Duquesne City School District — $4.81 million
• East Allegheny School District — $4.82 million
• South Allegheny School District — $3.4 million
• Steel Valley School District — $5 million
• West Mifflin Area School District — $5.95 million

Holtzman said there are a number of factors that go into determining how the federal funds will be utilized. In the near future, funds will be used to remedy deficits in the budget due to COVID-19, as well as address the issue of learning loss due to the pandemic.

Districts will have until September 2024 to use the funds. As such, it is not sustainable in the long term to hire new positions. Instead, Holtzman said using the funds to sustain current staff, such as social workers, is also a priority. Other potential projects include capital projects to ensure safe buildings, as well as initiatives to retain a 1-1 technology ratio.

“It’s a little bit tricky,” said Holtzman. “It’s a great problem to have, but you have to be very strategic and think of long term solutions, and make decisions that will be in the best interest of the district and children 10-15 years down the line.

On March 29, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said that the state will be receiving $4.9 billion in federal funds, to be used toward helping schools return students to classroom learning, as well as further develop equitable opportunities for students.

“All schools have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I commend school communities for rising to the challenge to combat the toll it has taken,” Wolf said. “This extra funding is critical to help schools meet the unique needs of educating students at this time while keeping school buildings safe when students return to the classroom.”

The funding is part of the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund passed by the federal government.

At least $4.5 billion of the available funds will go to public school districts and charter schools. The amount received will be proportional to the Title I-A funds received in the 2020 Every Students Succeeds Act.

At least 20 percent of the money provided to each district must be used to address academic loss due to the pandemic, as well as the needs of underrepresented students.

Schools can use the rest of the funding for a wide range of activities, including food service, professional training, technology purchases, sanitization and cleaning supplies, summer and after-school programs, and mental health supports.

“Our teachers and staff should be applauded for continuing to educate our children while also keeping them safe, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic,” Davis said in a prepared statement. “This funding will help our school communities continue their commitment to our children by investing in additional resources, including instructional materials, equipment, and facilities, as they navigate the return to safe, in-person learning.”

Siana Emery is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop. She has also written for The Mennonite World Review, Goshen College Communications and Marketing and The Goshen College Record. She can be reached at sianaemery@gmail.com.

Originally published April 13, 2021.

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