Whitmer directs $65M in federal coronavirus funding for hard-hit schools

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As state public schools are poised to resume fall instruction within three weeks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that she will allocate nearly $65 million in federal funds to help support school districts that have been most significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and approach the start of the new school year, we must continue doing everything we can to protect our students, educators and support staff,” Whitmer said. 

The source is the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and will be available to state school districts, higher education institutions and other education-related entities. The funding will be allocated by the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund (GEER). It can be used for personal protection equipment, cleaning supplies, Internet connectivity, laptops or tablets, student mental health services and teacher professional development.  

This comes after both the House and Senate in the last week passed a compromise for a school reopening plan. Whitmer is expected to sign legislation soon.

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The pandemic has had a significant impact on Michigan’s students, educators and support staff, particularly those in low-income communities. Funding will be based on the number of students in high need. To be eligible for funding, the school district’s concentration of economically disadvantaged students, compared to total district enrollment, must exceed 50%.

Education leaders applauded Whitmer’s announcement on Wednesday.

“It’s essential and appreciated that Gov. Whitmer is focusing these resources on districts with the highest need during this pandemic,” said Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, which represents 120,000 teachers, education support professionals and higher-education employees throughout the state.

“Both from a public health and from an educational standpoint, economically disadvantaged communities need these additional funds to keep students safe and academically engaged,” Herbart added. “Equity in education funding is a critical issue and it’s encouraging to see Gov. Whitmer remain committed to addressing disparities so every student gets a great education no matter where they live.”

Don Wotruba, Michigan Association of School Boards executive director, agreed.

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“This new funding targets school districts that provide education services to children most at need,” said Wotruba. The organization is composed of more than 600 boards of education, representing nearly all public school districts in the state.

Leadriane Roby, Grand Rapids Public Schools superintendent also indicated her support.

“The GEER funds announced today are a significant step forward in equitably meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of our most at-risk youth,” Roby said. 

Whitmer also used the announcement to continue her call for U.S. Senate Republicans to approve the $3 trillion HEROES Act to further address COVID-19-related stimulus needs. It was passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House in May. 

“This is a good start, but we still need the federal government to work together on a bipartisan recovery package to support all Michigan students and educators, as well as state governments, families, and small businesses,” Whitmer said.  

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.