Car caravan participants drive next to the Gov. Ned Lamont's residence in West End on Thursday, July 30. Teachers, education personnel, students and advocates in 25 towns participated in ÒSchool Safety FirstÓ car caravans to ask for safety and health precautions and full, equitable funding when school buildings reopen this fall. Yehyun Kim / CT Mirror

Gov. Ned Lamont will dedicate $160 million of Connecticut’s $1.4 billion, federal Coronavirus Relief Fund grant to help school districts reopen safely this fall amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Those funds, coupled with another $106 million the administration previously committed to local schools, will make the $266 million allocation one of the largest school reopening assistance grants, per capita, in the nation, the governor said.

“These grants are an essential component to providing the best possible educational opportunities during this uncertain time,” Lamont said. “This global pandemic has changed the education paradigm and we are fortunate we have this funding to help our state and schools adapt.”

Districts will receive funds for several initiatives, with the primary focus on health safeguards. Nearly half of all funds will be used to purchase additional masks, gloves and other protective gear, to enhance cleaning and disinfecting of all facilities, and to make other modifications to promote social distancing and to keep students and staff safe.

“We know remote learning is not the ideal option for students,” state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said during a late afternoon briefing the governor.

About 55% of school districts will reopen with chiefly in-person programs, Cardona said, adding that alternatives would be made for students with health challenges or for families that feel in-person learning is unsafe.

Another 44% of districts have indicated they would offer a hybrid approach, dividing the week between in-person learning and remote classes.

Lamont said this allocation to districts also will help to pay for:

  • Computer tablets and connection upgrades to ensure all students have remote learning options.
  • Additional bus routes to allow for greater spacing of students being transported.
  • Additional academic support staff.

The governor said these funds are designed to help districts cover costs this fall through the end of December — but they also will assist with expenses incurred dating back to mid-March when the pandemic struck Connecticut.

Leaders of the state’s two-largest teachers’ unions hailed Lamont’s announcement as welcome news. 

“It demonstrates that the collective voices of teachers, support staff and communities during last week’s car caravans across Connecticut were heard,” Connecticut Education Association President Jeff Leake and AFT Connecticut Vice President Mary Yordon wrote in a joint statement. 

The two union leaders added that “Now is the time to also provide clear, updated safety guidelines rooted in medical studies and scientific research, especially since recent studies show that children and teenagers can spread COVID-19 to other students, adults, and to family and friends at home.”

Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said “we are glad that the governor has recognized the need for our districts to receive additional resources as we try to get our students back to school. We haven’t seen the details but we believe this is a good first step.”

Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said CCM appreciates the administration’s support for education and is still evaluating the overall funding plan.

Also Thursday, Lamont provided his latest update on COVID-19 spread in Connecticut , noting that an additional 20 people tested positive, but there were no new deaths. The state has recorded 50,245 cases, including 4,437 deaths, since the pandemic began.

The governor also announced 66 Connecticut residents were hospitalized Thursday for the coronavirus, an increase of seven from Wednesday.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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