West Virginia’s prekindergarten to 12th-grade public school system is getting roughly $87 million from a previous federal coronavirus economic relief act.
That money could be used to provide internet access and computers and other aid to students who are struggling to participate in ongoing distance education that began after schools were shut down because of the virus.
A U.S. Education Department news release Thursday said it may be used for “immediate needs, such as tools and resources for distance education, ensuring student health and safety, and developing and implementing plans for the next school year.”
At least 90% of the money must go to county school systems, the release said. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that it has “very few bureaucratic strings attached.”
The money is from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The West Virginia Department of Education didn’t provide a breakdown Friday of how much each county will receive.
“Guidance on the use of those funds is provided by the federal government,” state education spokeswoman Christy Day wrote in an email. “County funding is based on their fiscal year 2019 Title I allocation.”
Title I funding is broadly for educating kids from low-income backgrounds. Kanawha County Schools spokeswoman Briana Warner wrote in an email that the school system doesn’t yet have a plan for the money, which it hasn’t received yet.
There’s also another $16 million set aside for West Virginia education from another part of the CARES Act, but it could go to either preK-12, higher education, their students or some combination.
That money was announced April 14, but Gov. Jim Justice’s office hasn’t decided what to do with it. Jordan Damron, with the Governor’s Office, said Justice, in consultation with the state schools superintendent and Sarah Tucker, “is still considering how to best allocate” the money. Tucker is chancellor of the state higher education oversight agencies.
Also regarding higher education, the previously announced more than $65 million — also from that same act — that’s going to West Virginia colleges has finally begun to arrive at those schools. There have been nationwide delays.
But it’s less clear when students will get the money they’re due from that $65 million-plus.
Colleges must give at least half of that directly to students to offset their expenses from COVID-19 shutting down campuses, including dorms and cafeterias, and shifting in-person courses online.
“It is literally a grant to our students to help them offset some of the costs that they’ve experienced because of this crisis,” Tucker said. “So it can go for food or housing allowances, child care, help to offset lost wages, etc.”
A U.S. Education Department FAQ on the grant money for college students includes possibly useful information for students and others who want to ensure their colleges don’t misuse the grant money.
For one thing, it says, colleges can’t pay themselves for what students already owe for things like past-due tuition and then claim that self-reimbursement counted toward the minimum requirement that at least half of the money must go directly to students.
“The disbursement of the emergency financial aid grant to the student must remain unencumbered by the institution; debts, charges, fees, or other amounts owed to the institution may not be deducted from the emergency financial aid grant,” the FAQ says. “The emergency financial aid grant may not be made to students through the use of a credit card that can be used only on campus or in a retail outlet affiliated with the institution.”
Colleges must report to the federal government how they calculated which students would get money and how much they would get, the FAQ states.
West Virginia University — which received the largest chunk, $20 million, of the funding going to the state — has already announced that it plans to give out $10 million as direct grants to students. That’s only the minimum 50% required by law.
WVU President Gordon Gee wrote in a letter to students that the remaining $10 million will go to the school itself for refunding students for the housing and dining plans they bought before WVU’s campuses shuttered.
“However, let me be clear those funds will not protect us from financial hardships” Gee wrote. “Just as our peers across the country are experiencing, the end of this fiscal year will be a challenging one for our University. Even with the significant support under the CARES Act, we must be prepared for serious declines in several of our major sources of revenue including tuition and fees, summer camp revenues, gifts, grant activity and athletics.”
Concord University has so far only received its half that must be given directly to students, officials there said. That half is $1 million.
President Kendra Boggess and Chief Financial Officer Chuck Becker said the university hasn’t decided how it will distribute the money. But Becker said he envisions something like automatically giving money to all qualifying students (some students don’t qualify, such as those who took only online classes before the coronavirus came to the United States) who are eligible for federal Pell Grants, which are based on financial need. He said more money could go to those who are eligible for full Pell Grants and less to those who are eligible only for partial grants.
Then, he said, students who aren’t Pell eligible at all could still receive funds by filling out an online form in which they would generally describe what expenses they have faced because of the coronavirus, and the university would then provide them individualized amounts.
As for the $1 million Concord expects later, Becker said, “We’re going to use a substantial portion of that to pay for the room and board refunds that we are making to students.” The amount left over might go out as additional grant money for students or it could pay for other things, such as needed technology, he said.
Becker and Boggess provided no estimation of when students will actually get the money.
“We want to get it to them as soon as possible,” Boggess said, “because we know that they need that.”