Millions coming to schools, cities, counties

by John Gessner, Sun Thisweek – 4/2/21

Craig: Relief funding an ‘accelerant’ to get communities ‘back on track’ 

Millions of American Rescue Plan Act dollars will pour into local communities — including money to support school districts, cities and counties as the nation attempts to turn the corner on COVID-19.

Schools in Dakota County will get $63 million, including $21.21 million for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan District 196 and $17.76 million for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191, according to 2nd District U.S. Rep. Angie Craig’s office.

South metro cities will get sums ranging from $2.63 million (Farmington) to $7.67 million (Lakeville). Dakota County government will get $83.2 million.

The aid is part of the sprawling, $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan approved by congressional Democrats. It includes stimulus payments to individuals and families, business assistance, expanded child tax credits, expanded health care subsidies and money to speed COVID-19 vaccination.

“This is really an accelerant to make sure that we can get each of our communities back on track as quickly as possible, not just from COVID the health issue, but also from COVID the economical issue, the learning issue, all of those things,” said Craig, an Eagan Democrat, in an interview Monday.

The package includes $122 billion in relief for K-12 schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“I really think that the money that’s coming from the American Rescue Plan is going to help our school administrators breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief as that money starts flowing,” Craig said.

It comes with one notable restriction, she said: School districts must use at least 20 percent of it to address pandemic-related learning loss, which could include efforts such as summer school, after-school programs and extended-year programs.

“Other than that, there’s an awful lot of flexibility built into this bill,” Craig said.

Potential school uses include “avoiding devastating layoffs and hiring additional educators to address learning loss, providing support to students and existing staff, and providing sufficient staffing to facilitate social distancing,” according to a U.S. Department of Education news release.

The aid will be welcomed by districts needing help to balance their budgets. Burnsville-Eagan-Savage plans to use $3.9 million from a previous round of federal COVID-19 relief to help erase a projected $10.86 million shortfall in 2021-22 without raising class sizes or cutting programs.

An even larger projected shortfall looms in 2022-23. Districts have until October 2024 to allocate American Rescue Act funds, according to education news site Chalkbeat National.

“The beauty of the American Rescue Plan funding is it’s really going to be up to those school boards how they apply the money,” Craig said.

For some, it may mean not having to hold levy referendums, she said.

“My hope is that the money we’ve brought home to our local communities is used to be sure that we get every child brought back up to grade level as quickly as possible,” she said. Her other priorities include preserving teaching positions, funding student mental health services and maintaining student activities, Craig said.

Many students will need mental health support as they emerge from a year of distance and hybrid learning, said Craig, the parent of a Rosemount High School senior.

Lakeville Area District 194 will get $2.73 million, according to Craig’s office. Farmington District 192 will get $3.4 million.

Aid amounts are based on districts’ Title 1 funding allocations for low-income students, according to Chalkbeat National.

City funds

According to Craig’s office, American Rescue Plan funding is $7.56 million for Eagan city government, $6.99 million for Burnsville, $6.28 million for Apple Valley and $2.87 million for Rosemount.

Unlike the CARES Act Congress passed last year, the new legislation allows cities and counties to use federal aid to make up for revenue lost during the pandemic, Craig said. The CARES Act allowed spending for proscribed categories of pandemic-related expenses.

Craig said she fought for the added flexibility. The aid is meant to help cities and counties balance their budgets without large tax hikes, layoffs and cuts in crucial services such as public safety and parks, according to Craig.

The American Rescue Plan “puts all of that flexibility under the control of our city leaders,” she said.

Local governments can also use funds for grants to struggling businesses as they did under the CARES Act, Craig said.

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