Alaska school districts to soon share in $143 million in new federal COVID-19 relief

There are also plans for academic summer camps to help kids who have fallen behind
Some schools are open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some schools are open during the COVID-19 pandemic.(KTUU)
Published: Feb. 10, 2021 at 3:26 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska school districts will soon be able to apply for a share of $143 million in new federal COVID-19 relief.

The funding is part of a $900 billion federal coronavirus package signed into law in late 2020. It will be allocated across Alaska’s 54 school districts and will allow school administrators to pay for COVID-19 mitigation efforts and some infrastructure improvements like broadband access.

The Anchorage School District will be able to apply for over $50 million while the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District could receive close to $10 million.

The funding has fewer strings attached than earlier federal coronavirus funding and it will allow districts to supplement current year spending, including paying staff members.

Commissioner Michael Johnson of the Department of Education and Early Development anticipates the funds will start being available for districts in mid-February. “What I’m encouraging is that districts spend this money collaboratively, that districts bring the community together,” he said.

The Senate Education Committee heard about the challenges for some districts caused by enrollment changes over the past year.

Over 15,000 fewer students are enrolled in brick-and-mortar schools across Alaska compared to earlier projections. There has been a 95% jump in home schooling and over 1,900 students have seemingly left the state public school system altogether.

Some districts have seen a windfall with those enrollment changes while others are looking at significant shortfalls. The new federal COVID-19 relief could help make those districts whole, Johnson said, and there could soon be more federal funding available.

Under current law, districts can receive 90% of formula funding per student that other public school students receive. The governor has introduced legislation that would mean the 32 districts that operate home-school programs would receive the same funding for home schooling students.

The governor also announced plans during his annual State of the State address to establish summer camps to boost reading, math, and coding skills.

Johnson said on Monday that the state education department is working with smaller school districts to hold summer camps that are aimed at helping students who have fallen behind during the pandemic. There was around $15 million set aside in federal COVID-19 relief, some of that money could help fund those camps, Johnson added.

The state education department does not have the full picture of how COVID-19 has impacted student achievement.

“We don’t fully know yet,” Johnson said. “We haven’t been able to get any standardized testing data. We know that it varies from district to district.”

Johnson added that the state is helping design curriculums and scheduling to provide “almost a summer school in a box” for smaller and rural school districts.

“I believe in our educators being able to make it as engaging and fun as possible, but it really is academic-oriented,” Johnson said.

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