West Hartford Public Schools Eligible for Nearly $4 Million in COVID Relief Funding

Desks spread apart for greater distancing at Conard High School, replacing tables in this art room. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Superintendent Tom Moore told the Board of Education that the district will need to apply for the funds, and indicate how the money will be spent.

By Ronni Newton

Connecticut will be receiving $492.43 million in federal funds to help the state’s schools cope with additional costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and West Hartford Public Schools’ share of that pot is $3,999,415.

The funds are part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II) passed by Congress in late 2020, and are in addition to earlier funding provided through the CARES Act associated with reopening schools.

School districts will not be given a blank check, and Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore told the Board of Education that he will present plans for how West Hartford will use the money when he presents the Board of Education budget next month.

The district must apply for the funding with an indication of how it will be allocated, he said. It can be used this coming summer, and during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Moore said the intent of the funds is to take care of additional costs and reduce educational disparities in elementary and secondary schools resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. There are specific ways the funds can be used, and spending will be audited by the state. “This is not to supplant any spending. … We can’t just decide to cut money from our roll forward budget,” Moore said.

“We will be working over the next three weeks to develop the plan,” he said.

Moore said the funding will be able to be used for extra services, including the use of community providers for mental health support. It can be used for extra tutoring, additional summer programming, or the cost of extended school days, as well as for the purchase of extra technology.

The funds can be used for mitigation strategies that may be needed in the next academic year, such as to accommodate the extra costs associated with smaller class sizes, as long as the district can prove that the measures are outside of what would normally be planned.

Moore is hopeful that the extra funding will allow the district to aggressively address issues that have arisen over the past year, including what appears to be a dramatic slide in math competency at all grade levels.

Some of the programming being developed by Roszena Haskins, the district’s director of Equity Advancement, will also qualify for the funding, Moore said.

“I don’t know of a single parent, including myself, who does not value public education and who doesn’t want the best for their child, especially in these very trying circumstances during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” said state Sen. Derek Slap (D-5th) in a statement about the latest funding for West Hartford and other towns he represents. “Once again, state and federal spending is helping to smooth the rough edges of online learning and all the accompanying inequities and challenges that come with it. I’m grateful for this infusion of much-needed federal spending, and I’m sure local school boards will determine the best way to make the most of this money.”

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