Michigan schools in line for $1.7B in COVID-19 relief funds

DeVos urges schools to open up

Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos | Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The U.S. Department of Education has announced an additional $54 billion in COVID-19 relief funds for the nation’s public schools. Of that amount, $1.66 billion is slated for Michigan. 

“This new funding — more than four times the initial awards to state educational agencies under the CARES Act—is intended to help states and school districts safely reopen schools, measure and effectively address significant learning loss, and take other actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the students and families who depend on our K-12 schools,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote in an official memo to states. 

It comes after President Donald Trump signed the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, a supplemental appropriation measure, on Dec. 27. The funds are “intended to help states and school districts safely reopen schools, measure and effectively address significant learning loss, and take other actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the students and families who depend on our K-12 schools,” according to the memo. 

The department awarded more than $13 billion last spring in assistance to elementary and secondary schools through ESSER and authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security, commonly known as the CARES Act.

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DeVos made the case in her letter that states that have shuttered in-person learning should open them back up, something that the Trump administration has long pushed.

“I urge you to use the ESSER and ESSER II funding to safely re-open all elementary and secondary schools as soon as possible, to restore and maintain high-quality learning environments, and to take comprehensive action to mitigate the unprecedented learning loss that many of our most vulnerable students have endured,” writes DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chair and longtime financial supporter of charter schools. “I know these have been extraordinarily challenging times for both educators and administrators, but we must rise to meet this challenge. Most of our children today would be far better off in school with in-person instruction. There is no excuse that so many of them are still locked out.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last March ordered the closure of all state K-12 school buildings, public, private, and boarding, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the 2020-21 school year, schools had the option to hold in-person or online classes.

In November, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced a temporary halt in-person instruction at high schools and colleges. In December, DHHS lifted a prohibition on in-person instruction at Michigan high schools. In addition, state universities and colleges are allowed to have students return to campus and restart face-to-face classes beginning Jan. 18. 

“The governor’s No. 1 priority is ensuring that school districts can provide a quality education in a safe and healthy environment during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Bobby Leddy, a Whitmer administration spokesman. “As school districts continue to review and revise their COVID-19 response plans, this additional funding is another positive step to help schools implement greater infection-control measures to protect students, educators and families.”

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.