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Feds allocate $137 million more in pandemic aid for Hawaii’s public schools

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Ewa Makai Middle School sixth grade students returned back to school for an orientation and in class learning on Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Pictured is Coding instructor Miki Cacace with a list of supplies for her advisory students to bring to class.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Ewa Makai Middle School sixth grade students returned back to school for an orientation and in class learning on Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Pictured is Coding instructor Miki Cacace with a list of supplies for her advisory students to bring to class.

Hawaii’s public schools will receive an additional $137 million to help with making schools safe and assisting students with learning loss connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education is expected to announced today.

The allocation represents the final third of an allotment of federal pandemic relief money that earlier in the year was caught in the crossfire of a skirmish between the state Legislature and the state Department of Education.

Lawmakers ended up approving a bill that would have given the state’s public school teachers a one-time $2,200 bonus, but Gov. David Ige vetoed the measure in June, saying the bonuses did not align with federal guidance regarding use of the funds.

The DOE in June submitted the state’s plan for $412.3 million earmarked for Hawaii under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. By then the department had already been approved for more than $274 million of the total.

In addition to supporting Hawaii’s schools in reopening safely and combating learning loss, the relief funds also aim to assist school operations while meeting the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a U.S DOE news release, Hawaii interim schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi said his department is focused on opening the new school year safely with in-person learning in support of the academic, social and emotional needs of students.

“The U.S. Department of Education’s continued investment in Hawaii’s public schools throughout the pandemic has provided us with a degree of certainty in very uncertain times. We are committed to using these resources to, in turn, invest in our students and their futures,” Hayashi said.

Hawaii’s public schools opened for business this week committed to in-person learning at all 257 schools statewide despite a growing coronavirus pandemic and calls to delay the start of school in the face of the highly contagious delta variant.

Details about how the federal funds will be used have not yet been disclosed by Hawaii officials. The department was expected to present an expenditure plan for the money to the state Board of Education later this month.

The U.S. DOE news release, however, offers some examples of how the funds are or will be used in Hawaii:

>> In regard to safe operations during the pandemic, the DOE has worked with the state Department of Health and local health care providers to host 45 vaccination clinics since students became eligible for the vaccine. More are planned.

>> In regard to supporting students most affected by the pandemic, the department plans to reengage students in in-person learning through high-interest programs such as Hawaiian education and performing arts.

>> The DOE plans to provide academic coaches and tutoring for struggling students who need credit recovery or are behind their grade level in math or language arts.

>> The department will also consider developing COVID-19 impact plans for students with disabilities, including tutoring, small-group instruction and other support.

State Lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year earmarking a significant portion of the money for teacher bonuses to help combat the teacher shortage crisis and stabilize a teaching force threatened by the pandemic.

But DOE officials argued the proposal could cut off student services and health and safety measures intended to help students with learning loss and other issues linked to the virus.

In the end, Ige vetoed the measure. He explained that federal guidance directed education departments across the country to develop flexible plans to address learning loss, and the legislative proposal didn’t fit into that mold.

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