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State schools to get $558M from new aid

Funds go to public systems; Little Rock district allotted the most by Cynthia Howell | January 14, 2021 at 6:59 a.m.
FILE — This 2015 file photo shows public school buses. (AP Photo/File)

The Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Wednesday night the district-by-district allocations of special federal funding for public schools, including charters.

The $54.3 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act -- approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last month -- means $558 million for Arkansas education -- resulting with only a few exceptions in hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars for the state's school districts.

The money is to be used through September 2023 to offset expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 21,000-student Little Rock district, the second-largest school system in the state, is to receive the largest amount, $28.6 million, according to the preliminary allocations posted on the state agency's website.

The Springdale district, the state's largest system, is expected to receive $17.8 million. Fort Smith will receive $16.9 million, while the North Little Rock district is to be awarded $13.8 million, West Memphis $12.2 million, and Pulaski County Special $11.3 million.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Additionally, the Conway School District is to receive $8.1 million and Pine Bluff is to receive $7.7 million. Other districts' allotments include Hot Springs, $9.5 million; Jacksonville/North Pulaski, $5.4 million; and the El Dorado School District, $4.7 million.

The eSTEM Public Charter School System in Little Rock is to receive $3.1 million. KIPP Delta Charter Schools based in Helena-West Helena is to get almost $7.4 million.

The tiny Imboden Area Charter School is to receive $89,697.

The special federal funding is being awarded to the states and to school systems in the same proportion as each state and districts receive the more standard annual federal Title 1 funds, which takes into account the poverty rates of students.

The coronavirus money is the second but much larger federal distribution to states and school districts, Last spring, Congress and the president approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that provided Arkansas school systems $128.8 million.

[DOCUMENT: FY 2020-21 ESSER II preliminary allocations » arkansasonline.com/114award/]

The Little Rock district, received $6.8 million in that first round of special funding or about one-fourth of the amount it will receive now. The district has an overall operating budget of about $300 million.

School districts statewide have been waiting for word of their allocations as they continued to grapple with expenses such as paying for substitute employees when regular staff members are unable to work because of infection or because of quarantines resulting from exposure to the virus.

Other pandemic-related expenses include purchase of laptops and replacement devices for students and teachers; online curriculum materials; online learning management systems; personal protection equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer; and cleaning supplies.

In one of her final acts before resigning last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote to state education chiefs about the special money.

"I urge you to use the ... funding ... 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," DeVos wrote. "I know these have been extraordinarily challenging times for both educators and administrators, but we must rise to meet this challenge."

The state's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education will host a noon webinar Tuesday, about the funding and the required record-keeping and reporting of expenditures. The webinar will be recorded and posted on the CARES Act webpage at http://dese.ade.arkansas.gov/divisions/public-school-accountability/federal-programs/cares-act.

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