PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Contrary to what Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said on Wednesday, three school districts have applied for a portion of the $50 million in federal funding allocated to help schools get up to code with COVID-19 protocols, according to the R.I. Department of Education.
Coventry, Portsmouth, and West Warwick have applied for a combined $2.2 million made available through the state’s $1.2 billion in CARES Act funding, RIDE said.
Specifically, Coventry applied for roughly $747,000, according to RIDE, while Portsmouth is seeking around $292,000 and West Warwick applied for approximately $1.1 million. All three districts sought the maximum amount allowed. (How much a district can apply for is based on its student population.)
The clarification came after Raimondo said during her briefing Wednesday that no Rhode Island schools had applied for the $50 million in federal relief funds she set aside for schools.
“Well over a month ago, we said, ‘here is $50 million’ and we haven’t had any requests for it,” Raimondo said.
But RIDE explained Thursday that schools couldn’t officially submit applications for that funding until last week.
A RIDE spokesperson said Coventry and Portsmouth had submitted applications prior to governor’s comments, while West Warwick applied on Wednesday.
Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Brian Daniels released a statement criticizing the governor’s comments:
“RIDE just made the $50 million available only recently, and districts first need to pay for the items and then be reimbursed. It is unclear how 36 school districts are supposed to have submitted all this information while trying to launch a school opening next week. The blame game is a bit premature and not productive.”
Schools are expected to have safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and will then get reimbursed for those costs out of the $50 million. RIDE says eligible reimbursements include expenses with classroom reconfiguration and costs associated with distance learning.
Municipalities have until the end of this month to submit applications to RIDE for the additional funding.
School walk-throughs are being conducted by the state to make sure the governor’s guidance is being followed, but the largest teachers’ union in the state, NEARI, says those are not sufficient and some schools are not ready for a return to full in-person learning.
“Maybe they just haven’t spent any time in the public schools like many of us have and looked around and said, ‘oh my goodness, this is going to be a problem,'” NEARI Executive Director Robert Walsh said.
A checklist is used during the school walk-throughs and if a school doesn’t meet those standards, they must remedy the issues prior to the first day of school on September 14.
A spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health said there will be a follow-up to ensure those issues were fixed.
“If it was determined on the initial walk-through that a school needs to address a specific issue, staff are going back to support the school in making whatever adjustments are necessary,” Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said.
The $50 million out of the $1.2 billion in CARES Act money is separate from the $41 million funding in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund which is allocated to help school districts offset cuts to budget deficits.
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