Michigan's plan for federal COVID relief funds for schools approved

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The U.S. Department of Education approved Michigan’s plan on Friday to use emergency federal funds to safely reopen schools and expand opportunities for students impacted by the pandemic.

Michigan is receiving a total of $3.72 billion in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. Approval of its plan by federal education officials triggers the release of the final $1.2 billion, officials said.

Local school districts already have been spending some of the federal money, boosting summer school programs to combat learning loss during the pandemic, replacing personal protective equipment, buying more laptops and expanding mental health services. The money also can be used on infrastructure.

Kenneth Gutman, superintendent of Walled Lake Consolidated School District and president of the K-12 Alliance, issued a statement about the plan's approval, which allows for the use of $363 million in state equalization payments set aside for districts.

"The ESSER III Equalization Fund was included in Michigan’s bipartisan budget deal to ensure that every school district has the resources necessary to help their students overcome the unique challenges they have faced over the past year," Gutman said in a statement. "Today’s approval of that plan is a welcome step forward and gives our schools the assurance that they can continue providing their students with the support and top-notch educational experience they both need and deserve."

As part of its federal plan, the Michigan Department of Education has promoted partnerships between districts and local health departments to conduct vaccination clinics. It also partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the MI Safe Schools Testing Program, to help schools with COVID-19 testing to allow for in-person learning.

The state health department is providing more than $24 million in additional federal funding to school districts and local public health departments to hire 220 health resource advocates to support school-based COVID-19 testing and reporting, education officials said.

State education officials say the federal funds, which serve Michigan's 1.4 million schoolchildren, focus on expanding early childhood programs, improving early literacy achievement and improving the health, safety and wellness of all learners.

Students work during a computer applications class at O.L. Smith Middle School in Dearborn on Monday, May 24, 2021. The district expects to receive about $133 million in COVID-19 relief money over the next three years.

Local districts can use the funds to pick evidence-based interventions that address the academic, social and emotional needs of student populations most impacted by the pandemic, federal officials said.

Michael Rice, state superintendent of Michigan, said in a statement he was pleased the plan was approved and the remaining money released to improve Michigan schools.

“Our state ARP plan will help Michigan students better rebound from the disrupted learning that they experienced during the past year," Rice said in the statement.

The federal money, from three rounds of COVID-19 relief funding, doesn't come all at once. It will be spread out over three years with spending deadlines extending into late 2024.

Local school districts must complete additional budget information and documentation on how they will use the federal funds for students disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.