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Hampton Roads school divisions look at ways to spend COVID-19 pandemic funds

After a tough year of online education and new safety rules, schools are getting billions in COVID-19 relief money to help everyone get back on their feet.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — As students head back to the classroom, millions of dollars are heading to school divisions’ bank accounts.

School leaders across Hampton Roads have a new test on the table this school year: how to spend the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief money.

As a parent, you may have already filled out a survey from your school division, asking how it should spend its extra cash. For example, Newport News Public Schools is set to receive $82 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

Superintendent Dr. George Parker said the money will be "critical" as the division welcomes students, staff, and teachers back for a new school year. 

“This funding provides the opportunity to fully recover from a situation where we put the brakes on public education for a while," Dr. Parker said. “There is some flexibility, but you know, it is COVID relief - and we obviously want to target at least 20% to 25% of that funding for student achievement and learning loss.” 

Other local school districts are receiving the following from the American Rescue Plan:

  • $113 million for Norfolk Public Schools
  • $82 million for Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • $54 million for Hampton City Schools
  • $51 million for Chesapeake Public Schools
  • $46 million for Portsmouth Public Schools
  • $27 million for Suffolk Public Schools

The plan stipulates 20% of the funding should be spent to address learning loss, but schools still have a lot of leeway on how they can spend the money.

Schools can use the funding for vaccinations and testing, remote learning and afterschool programs, or renovations and small repair projects including ventilation upgrades.

“We have targeted at least eight schools under [the] CARES Act spending plan that will have full replacements of their HVAC systems,” Dr. Parker said. "This funding is critical to moving things forward that we would have really struggled to do had we not had the funding to do so.”

But addressing learning loss is key for a lot of schools and parents. That simply means providing extra support to students who need it.

As COVID cases climbed last year, school divisions were forced to pivot to virtual learning, and it wasn’t an easy ride. The change exposed educational inequities and put a strain on parents, schools, and students.

Lauren Nolasco, a spokesperson with Portsmouth Public Schools, said the division plans to use the ARP funding to develop programs to address learning loss. She said that includes summer school, afterschool, and tutoring and remediation programs.

The funding will also go toward "evidence-based literacy plans and interventions." 

Other uses for the money include: mental health support for students, professional development for staff, cleaning and PPE, improving indoor air quality (HVAC replacements), and technology upgrades.

Leaders at Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) were seeking parents' input on how to spend their share of the AFP funding. According to the VBCPS website, spending priorities include learning loss, strategies to re-open safely, and emotional and mental health. 

Hampton City Schools (HCS) spending plan for ARP funding is online.

According to the plan, funding is divided into four categories: 

  • 47% of funding will go toward COVID-19 prevention and mitigation
  • 25% to address "unfinished learning"
  • 11% will be spent for students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health.
  • 17% will be spent on other things like laptop replacements, food services, and additional pay for substitute teachers. 

Chesapeake Public Schools surveyed parents back in June. The division's communications director Chris Vail said possible uses for their funding include daily tutors, literacy coaches, summer school staffing, and staff incentives.

CPS is also considering "post-summer transition programs" for students, new laptops, software and technology upgrades, professional development and training, and HVAC replacement.

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