By JAMES BROWN , WXXI
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that the Rochester-Finger Lakes region will receive $391 million for K-12 education. The money comes from the recent COVID-19 federal stimulus package.
“COVID brought unprecedented challenges that have cost a year of learning and development for students,” Schumer said in a statement. “Challenges disproportionately felt by students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and more. As majority leader, I was proud to make funding for our schools a priority, and the American Rescue Plan (the stimulus package) will deliver this much needed aid to get upstate students back in school.”
Schumer said upstate New York districts will receive about $2.5 billion from the current stimulus package. That’s in addition to the $5 billion marked for districts from previous COVID-19 relief bills.
The Rochester City School District, the largest district in the region, will get $228 million. Greece Central Schools will receive the next largest chunk, $21 million. The rest of the money is split among the rest of the districts, with most receiving millions of dollars. No word yet when the money is expected to arrive.
Eamonn Scanlon, education policy analyst for The Children’s Agenda, calls it a chance for generational change.
“Schools are going to have to make a lot of choices about how they invest in things to address the current crisis but also there needs to be a balance and think about things in the long term,” said Scanlon. “This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make some other investments, that the community should have some input on.”
The bill said districts have until 2024 to spend the money. About 20% of the funds are required to be spent addressing learning loss and other issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of that money is expected to help students with disabilities, English language learners, homeless students, students with bad internet connectivity and those who are living in poverty.
Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Beatriz LeBron would like to see the district get creative in how they address learning loss in particular.
“I think that it’s going to have to take very nontraditional ways to do that work and it’s not going to be able to be done with just traditional staffing,” LeBron said.
She added that she’d consider adding evening, weekend and summer school programs to help kids catch up. She’d also like to partner with existing community agencies to staff the programs to avoid overstaffing and potentially putting the district in a bad situation a few years from now.
“You know, my fear is that we’ll lose sight of those goals and plans that are in place, so that we’ll have long term financial stability,” said LeBron. “Based on one-shot injections of money.”
Sherry Johnson, who leads the Monroe County School Boards Association, said most districts could use the help because they face mounting COVID-19 pandemic-related expenses.
“Some of those costs are still being incurred and some of those costs are not covered by previous (stimulus) dollars,” said Johnson. “These dollars will take care of those pandemic needs and allow school districts to use budgets to get school districts ramped back up for full in person student instruction.”.
Johnson is turning her focus to advocating for an increase in state foundation aid in the 2021 New York state budget. Last year, there was no increase and she said districts can’t afford to fall two years behind.