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Northam to send $220 million in federal aid to schools

RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam will distribute $220 million in federal emergency aid to school divisions across Virginia, including about $3.2 million combined for Albemarle and Charlottesville, as the state ramps up efforts to spend money provided under the CARES Act to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money for K-12 schools has been expected for more than three weeks, but Northam increased the amount from $159 to $175 per pupil, or an additional $20 million, as divisions get better estimates of enrollment in a school year defined by uncertainty because of the public health challenges posed by the pandemic.

The Albemarle County school division will get $2.49 million, the most among area school divisions. Charlottesville City Schools was allocated $738,675.

Elsewhere in the area, Louisa County Public Schools will get $856,275; Orange County, $847,578; Fluvanna County, $596,190; Greene County, $508,410; Buckingham County, $345,058; Madison County, $283,780; and Nelson County, $264,215.

“Students, teachers, principals and parents are going to great lengths to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic amid a new school year, and we must do everything we can to support them,” Northam said in an announcement Thursday. “This $220 million in federal funding will give our schools the resources they need to continue operating and provide Virginians with a world-class education, whether safely in person or remotely from home.”

Most of the money already is reflected in budget proposals adopted by the House of Delegates and Senate in special session, but the governor’s announcement is the third in two days as he pushes to commit funding under the CARES Act before a Dec. 30 deadline under the federal law adopted in late March that included help for state and local governments to cope with the public health emergency.

Northam announced Wednesday that he would allocate $30 million toward accelerating state efforts to expand broadband telecommunications in underserved areas that urgently need it for both education and remote work, and an additional $12 million to a state fund program for rent and mortgage relief that already has received $50 million in federal aid to prevent evictions during the health crisis.

Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, welcomed the additional aid Wednesday but said “more must be done to help the thousands of Virginians struggling to pay rent during this economic crisis.”

Additional help for Virginia’s public schools ranks at the top of priorities for the governor and lawmakers who are revising the two-year state budget in response to a projected $2.8 billion revenue shortfall triggered by the pandemic’s effect on the businesses, jobs and wages that are critical to the state’s economy.

Northam has held back about $1.1 billion of the $3.1 billion that the state received under the CARES Act in early June in case Congress adopted additional relief that would include flexibility to use the money to offset revenue shortfalls that the law currently prohibits.

The governor distributed about $1.3 billion in CARES Act money this summer to local governments to pay mounting bills for coping with the COVID-19 calamity, not including Fairfax County, which received a direct $200 million payment under the law as the state’s most populous locality.

“All local governments support this action,” said Neal Menkes, fiscal consultant to the Virginia Municipal League. “These are particularly challenging times for local schools, with hybrid methods of educating students and extra challenges in sanitizing classrooms and providing access to tele-education activities.”

“So this is a big boost, and we appreciate it,” Menkes said.

“This funding is critical as we continue to provide safe, high-quality education for Virginia students,” Virginia Superintendent of Instruction James Lane said in an announcement from the governor’s office that included expressions of support from the Virginia Education Association and state legislators.

“I am grateful to Governor Northam for his continued support of public education,” Lane added, “and I can assure you that his funding will immediately be put to good use.”


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