The changes that have needed to be made by all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic have required the federal government to take unprecedented steps to keep the economy from collapsing.
For the last three months, the unemployed have been given $600 a week in federal payments on unemployment insurance. In April, most adults received a $1,200 stimulus check to help pay bills. Several aid programs have been created to help small business that were forced to shut down.
One of the largest relief programs has been the CARES Act, which has provided counties, cities and townships with funds to help pay the staggering costs of implementing procedures to protect employees and customers from COVID-19 related costs.
Wright County has received $16.55 million in CARES Act funding and the Wright County Board of Commissioners has pledged approximately $4 million of that money for Wright County school districts that are struggling to make ends meet in the COVID-19 world.
Commissioner Darek Vetsch said that the children of Wright County have suffered considerably being forced to do their schoolwork from home – many of them without the ability to get online to do remote learning from home due to the lack of fiberoptic connections or “hot spots” in rural areas. He believes the best use for CARES Act funding is to dedicate money to assist schools for costs already incurred and those likely to come if schools don’t fully re-open.
“The county board felt that one of the highest and greatest uses for the CARES Act funds was to assure that it went to our children and our schools,” Vetsch said. “Approximately $4 million will be sent to our schools, because they incurred some of the greatest expenses due to this pandemic in trying to facilitate remote learning. They received far less funding than that of the county. We’re working on creating that allocation to assist them.”
Vetsch added that, to have equity in how the money is disbursed, the plan is to allocate the funds on a per-pupil basis for each school district.
“We need all of the superintendents to turn over a letter certifying their projected enrollment on Sept. 8,” Vetsch said. “Whatever number they’re projecting their student enrollment to be will be turned in now. When we add all those up, that will be the number we will use to calculate the per-pupil disbursement.”
He added that this isn’t simply an operating budget handout to schools. By the rules of the CARES Act, schools must quantify how the money they received was spent and what it went spent on.
Wright County is in a unique position in that many students who physically live in the county attend schools outside of Wright County, as well as schools within the county being part of school districts based in other counties. As much as the local school districts need to account for dollars allocated, so do those districts outside of the county that oversee Wright County students.
“One of the points we want to make to the superintendents is that they will be required to send back an accounting of how that money was spent in their school districts,” Vetsch said. “The schools that are border schools with Wright County, like those in St. Cloud and Elk River, will have to demonstrate how they spent the money for Otsego Elementary and Clearview/Clear Lake Elementary.”
Vetsch added that it is imperative to get the money to schools as quickly as possible so they can make the needed preparations for the 2020-21 school year. With a Dec. 15 deadline to use the CARES Act funds or return the unused portion, it is important to get schools their allocation as soon as possible because the need is significant and it is needed immediately.
“We need to move quickly on this,” Vetsch said. “These school districts need money now, not in October or November. We aren’t going to find out until July 27 from the governor how we’re going to move forward. Nobody knows right now exactly what the state’s plan is. There are doubts that there will be a full return to school with COVID numbers rising, but, whatever decision is made, schools will have to be able to adapt quickly and move forward with whatever plan is put in place.”