HOWARD CO. MD. — "We all want the best teaching and learning environment possible and we want our students to return safely to school as soon as possible," said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.
That’s the goal of new funding to support the Howard County Public School System.
Wednesday, Ball announced nearly $6 million in CARES Act funding that will help offset the $22 million in costs the county school system has incurred from the pandemic.
"Due to significant unbudgeted costs occurred to meet the needs for technology, PPE and other responses to COVID-19," said HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano.
The Howard County School Board voted that students will learn remotely at least through Easter so the biggest chunk of this funding will go towards supporting virtual learning and closing the digital divide. Right now, all pre-k through 5th grade students have Chromebooks and Martirano said they hope to get to a one-to-one technology ratio for all students.
"This money will assist us in the ongoing support of our Chromebook initiative, our replacement costs associated with that, our internet connectivity and also providing supports to our teaches that they the devices necessary to deliver," said Martirano.
The school board has also tasked the Martirano with exploring ways to expand and enhance existing opportunities for small groups of students including special needs, so some of this funding will be used for public health and safety supplies, with the goal of preparing for a move to a hybrid model.
"Facilities modifications for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and enhanced air filtration," said Martirano.
The rest will be used to support meals for students and cover increased unemployment costs.
To increase transparency, Howard County is also launching a dashboard to track actual and projected spending of its allocated CARES Act funding that the county has to use by the end of the year.
"We believe this dashboard should provide public confidence in our plan to spend the funds that we have received to date to help us all get through this," said Ball.
With rising cases, Ball is also calling for another round of federal stimulus funding to local governments so they can work to continue keeping people safe.