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Colorado schools get nearly $121 million in federal emergency relief

Money for districts can be used for a wide variety of expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

COLORADO, USA — Nearly $121 million in emergency federal relief will be made available to Colorado school districts through the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes announced Tuesday.

U.S. lawmakers in March passed the CARES Act, a $2 trillion stimulus bill with the aim of blunting the impact of an economic downturn set in motion by the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Money for districts can be used for a wide variety of expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic, including purchasing cleaning supplies and educational technology, providing support for at-risk students and providing summer learning opportunities as well as activities already allowed under other federal education laws. 

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The funding is Colorado’s portion of the $13 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund designated for states under the CARES Act.

"We are going to endeavor to have that application up and ready to go by the end of the month and work extremely hard to turn over as they come in within one week", said Associate Commissioner of Student Learning Melissa Colsman.

About 90% of the funding will be divided among school districts using the Title I formula that allocates federal funding each fiscal year for low-income students. The rest may be reserved at the state level for statewide support to districts in response to COVID-19 or to provide additional grant opportunities.

"I think that the role of the federal government is to make sure that our kids from disadvantaged, underserved backgrounds have a fair shot," said Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass. "So, I think it’s entirely appropriate."

Glass said the COVID-19 has cost the Jefferson County School District between $12 million and $15 million. He said a lot of the lost revenue is tied to childcare and food services.

"Selling meals, selling food items is part of the revenue it brings in," Glass said. "Of course, none of that is happening now. But, we’re continuing to pay all those employees, so that creates a huge revenue shortfall."

Under the formula, JeffCo Schools would receive about $7 million in CARES Act funding. But, Glass points out that reduced state revenues overall due to COVID-19 have him and other districts anticipating big budget shortfalls for the 2020-21 school year.

"Right now, we’re planning on that being around $74 million," Glass said. "So, while we’re grateful for the support of Federal Cares Act money, it’s really a literal drop in the bucket."

He said programs will likely be cut and jobs will likely be impacted across the district.

"We are grateful and appreciative of the resources that we’ll get," Glass said. "We know that we have to make some really hard decisions for next year, but we’re gonna take what we have and we’re gonna find a way to serve our kids and our community." 

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