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Howard gives school system $5.9 million in CARES Act funding for technology, other coronavirus-related costs

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said Wednesday an additional nearly $6 million in federal CARES Act funding would be going to the school system to offset costs incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding will mostly be spent on technology, meals, and safety and cleaning items.

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“We all want the best teaching and learning environment possible and want our students to return safely to school as soon as possible,” Ball said in a news release.

Similar to previous announcements of CARES Act funding, a significant portion of the $5.9 million will go toward paying for Chromebook laptops for students. About $2.25 million will go toward achieving the school system’s goal of having a device for all of its approximately 57,000 students by the end of the academic year.

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In August, the school system received four different coronavirus relief grants totaling $13 million — $11 million of which was used to pay for Chromebooks as the district has been in a virtual learning model since April. The school system has also used money from both the fiscal years 2020 and 2021 budgets to help pay for the laptops. Right now, all elementary school students in the district have one for virtual learning, while about half of secondary students do.

Earlier this week, the Board of Education rejected the school system’s proposed hybrid learning model and voted instead to keep students in virtual learning through at least mid-April — almost a full year since school buildings shuttered due to the pandemic.

“Ideally, the [school system] would have had the resources to ensure all students had access to a computer device and we were prepared to support a transition to virtual instruction at the onset of this pandemic,” said schools Superintendent Michael Martirano during a joint news conference with the county Wednesday. “Due to the funding realities, this was not the case. Through the federal funding as part of the CARES Act, and using our budget savings achieved through managed hiring and spending in the prior fiscal year, we were able to weather these costs while adding the resources we needed to get us closer to a one-to-one student-to-device ratio.”

In addition to the $2.25 million for student devices, $2.5 million will go toward safety and cleaning items for students and staff, $500,000 will be spent on technology devices for staff, $400,000 will go toward providing meals for students and $200,000 will cover increased unemployment costs. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the school system has incurred almost $23 million in coronavirus-related costs, according to the county, and $13.8 million of that has been covered by federal aid.

In June, Howard County received nearly $57 million in CARES Act funding from the state of Maryland.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding that supports health-related costs is set to assist with salaries for emergency management and services dedicated to mitigating and responding to the pandemic; acquisition and distribution of supplies; expenses for public safety measures; communications and enforcement; and disinfection of public areas.

Ball also announced the rollout of a CARES Act spending dashboard on the county’s website. According to the dashboard, all $57 million in funding has been allocated by the county and 37.5% of it has been spent. The deadline to spend the money is Dec. 30.

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