The Howard County Public School System announced Tuesday it received more than $13 million in coronavirus relief grants from the federal government.
Most of the money — approximately $11 million — will go toward buying devices for students to use during distance learning or paying off past purchases. Three weeks ago, the Board of Education approved a fully online learning model through the first two quarters of the academic year, which end Jan. 28.
The largest amount was a $6.56 million grant from the CARES Act Technology Grant, which will help the school system buy an additional 17,000 Chromebook laptops in the future, according to school system spokesperson Brian Bassett.
The future purchase, which is not final and still needs to be approved by the school board, will give the school system a one-to-one device-to-student ratio for its nearly 59,000 students and a 1% reserve of computers. The purchase would be in the fiscal 2021 budget.
“Achieving 1:1 device deployment with this additional funding provides me with great relief as we can now be sure that every student will have the technology they need to be successful in this new instructional environment,” schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a news release. “It will take time to order, receive, prepare and distribute each device, and we will provide additional information to the community on how students may receive their devices this school year.”
The school system also received $4.2 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund and approximately $350,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. That federal money, as well as about $500,000 from the school system’s general fund, will go toward offsetting the cost of the 20,000 Chromebooks the district purchased in March after schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Bassett, 11,743 of the 14,000 laptops will be paid for by the two grants.
Prior to the pandemic, the school system had approximately 20,000 devices. Following purchases of 20,000 in March and 6,500 in July, the school system had devices for about 80% of its students. Original plans by the school system showed it giving devices to every middle and high school student with one in three elementary students receiving devices based on need.
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“I found myself at a challenge on March 13 [after schools were closed] because we did not have enough Chromebooks to do what we needed to do,” Martirano said in July.
After the school system finalized its distance learning plan, however, the new plan was for every elementary and middle school student to have a Chromebook and for high school students to receive them based on need. An additional purchase of 17,000 Chromebooks with the CARES grants would give the school system approximately 4,000 more devices than students, giving it the ability to replace broken devices and service an increasing student population.
“These funds will be critical as we look to implement a more robust virtual instruction program for the 2020-2021 school year,” school board Chair Mavis Ellis said. “I want to thank our staff for diligently pursuing every federal and state grant opportunity to maximize the funds that will be available to us to support our staff, students and families.”
Throughout the fiscal 2021 budget process, school system officials projected how much aid it would receive in coronavirus-related grants. Bassett said the amount of money received so far is what the school system expected. The district, however, is still waiting for responses from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund Innovative Program grant and the Broadband for Underserved Populations grant.
In addition to the money for Chromebooks, the school system also received $2.25 million from the CARES Act Tutoring Grant, which will fund a kindergarten through sixth grade math intervention program and support reading tutors at all levels.
The school system’s funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law in March, is in addition to $56.8 million Howard County received in May.
About half of that funding, $28.4 million, was granted to the Howard County Health Department. The other half was given to the Howard County Government. The CARES 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.