From new technology to rearranging classrooms, school districts in Mercer County are educating students during the COVID-19 pandemic — and some newly-announced federal funds will help those districts toward that goal for the next few years.
School districts in Mercer County will receive about $33.2 million through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. With $10.7 million, Sharon City School District is in line to receive the biggest grant, with Farrell Area School District to receive $6.5 million, and Greenville Area School District, $4.2 million.
At least 20 percent of the funds must be used to address learning loss and the social, emotional and academic needs of underrepresented students, including students with disabilities, English as a second language students, migrant students, students in foster homes or experiencing homelessness and students from low-income families, state Rep. Mark Longietti said in a press release.
Though there haven’t been any official studies or measures yet on COVID-19’s effect on education, state Rep. Mark Longietti, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, said the committee heard varied reports from local school districts on how students have struggled during the pandemic.
Those cases ranged from students who struggled with Internet access at home to students who succeeded in the classroom but suffered socially due to remote instruction, said Longietti, D-7, Hermitage.
“I think it’s nearly universally agreed that the pandemic has caused significant learning loss among broad sections of our student population,” Longietti said.
Greenville Area School District Superintendent Brian Tokar said the district’s 1,250 students have returned to in-person instruction, but they are still facing challenges.
The classes feature increased emphasis on technology. Greenville Elementary School has had to hold more classes because of social distancing requirements that mandate a smaller number of students in each classroom.
With the federal funds, Tokar said school officials will look at certain areas, such as increasing technology that is accessible to students and teachers, to direct the additional money. That could include establishing a one-to-one device to student ratio.
The school district is also planning a summer academy, to address learning loss during the pandemic. District officials could also use teacher recommendations and district-wide assessments to help determine educational needs due to the pandemic craft responses, Tokar said.
“Our approach will be to assess what we need, and appropriately prioritize the areas we want to address,” he said.
That would cover 20% of the funds. The remaining money could be used on a variety of needs, including food services, professional training, technology purchases, sanitization and cleaning supplies, summer and after-school programs, and mental health supports, the release states.
Unlike previous school allocations, Longietti said the federal government was more flexible in the possible uses for this round of federal funds. Some uses could include improving broadband connectivity issues, necessary because of students learning remotely during the pandemic, but could have long-term benefits.
School districts have until September of 2024 to use the funds, which gives school officials time to not only decide where and when to spend the money, but also for school officials to see the educational effects of COVID-19 and address them, Longietti said.
“This is going to make a big difference for our local school districts,” he said.
The roughly $33.5 million is part of nearly $5 billion in federal relief, with about 90 percent, or $4.5 billion, aimed toward traditional public school districts and charter schools.
Longietti said the fund allocation for each school district was based on the Title I-A funding formula, a need-based program to annually assist school districts. The funding amounts are proportional to the federal Title I-A funds received in 2020 under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
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