‘Provides some opportunity to think, for us to look at some of those larger needs’: Local schools plan on how to use incoming stimulus funds

Keeping Schools Safe

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – As Americans wait for their third stimulus checks to hit the bank, so are school districts. Local schools say they will likely get roughly double the funding received the last time.

Johnson City Schools expect to receive over $10 million, while Kingsport City Schools’ expectations are somewhere just over $17 million. Sullivan County Schools do not have an estimation yet.

“There are some stipulations to that 20% of that at a minimum has to be spent on learning loss, and then the other 80% could be spent on other types of needs that are brought forth because of COVID So right now what we’re really doing is looking to analyze, you know where we can best utilize that money strategically so that we can make best use of those funds to use them wisely and in the best interest in the best long term interest in short term needs of our school system and our students,” Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

Though no exact guidance has been released as to how much of the state’s $2.5 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for schools will reach Northeast Tennessee yet, local districts know at least 20% will have to go toward remedial studies of some kind, but other spending can also be expected.

The first round of COVID relief funding came in the spring of last year, going primarily to purchasing PPE. The second round went primarily to purchasing Chromebooks for students to be equipped for remote learning, now – funds will be used to get kids back in the classroom.

“They haven’t given us guidelines yet about what that can really be spared. I know that 20% needs to be spent on remedial services for students so we do know that and we’ll definitely make sure that that occurs. That’s the first thing you’re going to look at with this type of money anyway. And then, we’re hopeful that we can continue, to do some work with things like HVAC systems that need to be upgraded, we have some of our schools where they’re well over 25 years old and need some upgrade so we’ll get with the school board and school board will come up with a plan and work through them with the city and the school board and make those decisions,” Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

In Sullivan County, they are still using funds from the previous round of CARES Act funds to make these improvements.

“We have focused on updating and upgrading our HVAC systems in certain of our schools. And so, that is related, primarily to air quality issues in those schools. Some older systems and units plus some ionization that would help remove impurities from the air. So, for example, some of the schools that, are prioritize would be the current Central High School, which will serve as a middle school next year, as well as Sullivan South High Schools, which will also be a middle school next year. So upgrades to the Indian Springs Elementary School, ionization for all of our schools, and a new roof replacement for settlement East Career and Technical spaces, and for the HVAC system in the career technical building at Sullivan East High School,” Sullivan County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Cox told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

In the second round of the COVID stimulus funding, Sullivan County Schools received $9.176 million.

How do COVID relief funds reach schools?

“The federal dollars are going to the state, and agree in form of a grant, and the State Department [of Education] has to do the grant application, and then our grant applications are tied into that. So this is monies coming down to each school system in a state,” Barnett explained. “It’s not money that we just receive, everybody is going to be required to do that work on the front end, and fill out the grant applications, make sure that we have everything that we’re doing is something that falls under the guidance of the grant for 3.0.”

“This is kind of the 3.0 that allows us to have it’s a little bit larger amount. So really provides some opportunity to think, for us to look at some of those larger needs that we have that, that can be used to really benefit our environments. You know that has kind of again been kind of enhanced here, through COVID,” True said.

The school systems don’t really know when exactly those funds will be made available to them, just that it will likely be in the coming weeks, and that it will need to be spent by September 2023.

“We are getting money in the category of learning loss to fund summer school that will be for transportation for our students to and from some school. In addition to some additional nursing services for summer school,” Cox announced.

“We’re going to be good stewards and look for ways to be creative, to make sure that we spend this money in a way that it’s going to make an impact for the students and the teachers in our school system for the upcoming years,” Barnett said.

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