Biden Admin. approves Pa’s plan to spend $1.6B in aid to schools | Friday Morning Coffee

In a recent poll, districts overwhelmingly said they planned to use the money to close the pandemic’s learning gap.

August 6, 2021 7:10 am
Teacher and students in a classroom.

(Getty Images)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
It’s John, back from vacation. Many thanks to Associate Editor Cassie Miller who more than ably filled in during my absence. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts will get a fresh infusion of federal stimulus cash —  some $1.6 billion — now that Washington has approved the state’s plan to spend it.

Washington has already sent the Commonwealth $5.1 billion in emergency aid through the American Rescue Plan Act to help school districts from Pittsburgh to Perkasie, and all points between, close pandemic-prompted learning gaps.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education said it had approved the state’s plan to spend the final third of the money, $1.6 billion, which will help schools reopen safely as classes resume later this month, the agency said in a statement.

“It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities, particularly as we move into the summer and look ahead to the upcoming academic year,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, said in a statement.

“The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic,” Cardona said.

LOUISVILLE, KY – MARCH 17: A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Today marks the reopening of Jefferson County Public Schools for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

In a June poll, nearly nine in 10 school officials statewide (87.7 percent) say they planned to use the $6 billion in federal relief to fill the gaps created by a year of lost learning and to purchase the technology to assist in that learning, according to a new survey.

The poll of hundreds of school superintendents and business managers by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials concluded that “while the optimism and expectations are high, there will be hard work over the next several years as school districts build and implement careful plans to leverage this historic federal investment.

“There is some trepidation amongst school leaders as they prepare to spend these one-time funds: trepidation regarding the sustainability of programs and resources following the expiration of federal funds, trepidation regarding the strict time frames and spending constraints posed by the funds, and trepidation regarding their ability to meaningfully provide the necessary supports and programs for their students,” the survey’s executive summary reads.

Since 2020, Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have received three infusions of aid across two presidential administrations. Districts received $523 million in assistance through the CARES Act in March 2020. They received a further $2 billion in aid in December 2020 through a supplemental appropriation.

In March, under the new Biden administration, districts received a further influx of cash. Under the law, school districts are required to target at least 20 percent of the funds toward learning loss.

The state’s plan to spend the latest aid installment “recognizes the challenges school communities continue to face as they plan and prepare for the future,” Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega said in a statement.

The money also will allow districts to “further develop and implement lasting critical academic, social, and emotional resources, programs, and supports,” Ortega continued, adding that his agency “looks forward to continuing to collaborate with and provide assistance to schools as they navigate, overcome the impacts of, and emerge stronger from the pandemic.”

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, who serves on the U.S. House’s Education and Labor Committee, added that she was glad to see the state’s final installment of aid begin flowing because “students, educators, and our communities urgently need the funding …  to address learning loss and difficulties created by the pandemic.”

“I’m glad to see the Department of Education approve Pennsylvania’s plan to use this funding so we can get kids back on track as quickly and safely as possible,” Wild, of Lehigh County, said.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
With overdose deaths at a three-year high, lawmakers in Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly say they’re not going to extend Gov. Tom Wolf’s opioid disaster declaration, Marley Parish reports.

Pennsylvania will double the length of postpartum Medicaid coverage for people who can become pregnant in an effort to address Pennsylvania’s high maternal mortality rate and improve maternal healthcare, state officials announced Thursday, Cassie Miller reports.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a southwestern Pennsylvania native and a powerhouse in Democratic politics, died Thursday, aged 72Stephen Caruso reports.

In the lead up to the 2022 governor’s race, some Pennsylvania Republican hopefuls are reaching for a new way to question conservative credentials — did their rival vote to approve no-excuse mail-in ballots? Caruso also has the details there.

A western Pennsylvania lawmaker says he’s worried about so-called ‘deepfake’ videos influencing elections in the Keystone State, and wants to clamp down on those who circulate them, our summer intern, Lindsay Weber, reports.

In Philadelphia, violent crimes are down, but Mayor Jim Kenney has warned of a ‘long process’ to reduce it, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, author Julie M. Bach, once a Christian evangelical and anti-vaxxer, explains how she had a change of heart on both counts. And Jay S. Bookman, a columnist for our sibling site, the Georgia Recorder, explains how a former Trump Justice Department official’s letter staked out Georgia as the path to a coup.

En la Estrella-Capital: La elección especial para el escaño de la ex-diputada Margo Davidson se celebrará el 2 de noviembre.

Members of the Pennsylvania House applaud newly elected Speaker Bryan Cutler on June 22, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Spotlight PA explains why the per diem payments state lawmakers receive to cover their food and lodging expenses are easy targets for abuse.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, is expected to declare his U.S. Senate bid today, the Post-Gazette reports.

Amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, the state Department of Corrections is revising its visitation policyPennLive reports.

And the state will start housing unvaccinated inmates together, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).

Northampton County has reinstated its mask mandate in county buildings, the Morning Call reports.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is defending his role in the $26 billion settlement with the opioid industry, the York Daily Record reports.

Heading to Wawa? The convenience store chain recommends that you mask upWHYY-FM reports.

GoErie explains how the Delta variant has changed life in Erie County.

City & State PA runs down this week’s winners and losers in state politics.

NYMag’s Intelligencer explains what U.S. Rep. Cori Bush’s, D-Mo., sit-in over the eviction moratorium taught the left about getting stuff done on Capitol Hill.

A key procedural vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill could come as soon as SaturdayTalking Points Memo reports.

More than a dozen movie theaters in the nation’s capital have announced a vaccination requirement for patrons, Washington City Paper reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Philadelphia for a 2 p.m. event where he’ll encourage unvaccinated Pennsylvanians to get the jab.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Robyn Katzman Bowman, of the state Department of Environmental Protection, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
I’ve been down a bit of a Peter Gabriel rabbit hole of late, powered mostly by some swinging live versions of his classic ‘Solsbury Hill‘ that I’ve dug up on YouTube (I highly recommend this performance). With that in mind, here’s the whole of ‘Bittersweet,’ a wildly underrated solo record from Gabriel’s long-time touring guitarist David Rhodes. The lead track, ‘Reality Slips,’ is a particular favorite.

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
After a history-making 17 seasons, FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi says he’s leaving the only club he’s ever known. The Guardian reports that he’s expected to move to France’s Ligue 1 and sign with with powerhouse Paris St. Germain.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.