BISMARCK, N.D., Oct. 28, 2020 – State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler on Wednesday announced $33.8 million in new aid for North Dakota’s schools, which may be spent on mental health support, technology, building ventilation improvements, and other needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “resiliency grants” are the latest installment of a school pandemic aid package that has totaled almost $94 million to date. The sum includes $30.1 million that was distributed to schools in April; another $30 million endorsed by North Dakota lawmakers in September; and Wednesday’s approval of another $33.8 million in school assistance.
“The $94 million provided to schools by the state provides much-needed money for our teachers, and into the classrooms, where it can do the most good,” Baesler said.
Schools also may use the last two aid packages on a much broader range of needs, Baesler said. Originally, the $30 million September aid infusion could be spent only on school staffing expenses, such as salaries for increased custodial and public health needs.
“This money, and the flexibility in using it that the Legislature has provided, is especially welcome to our North Dakota schools,” Baesler said.
Baesler said the funds may be used to offer mental health counseling for students and staff; professional development for pandemic-related issues; to upgrade technology infrastructure, which is needed to improve schools’ ability to offer distance learning; and to improve school ventilation systems to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The money still may be used for personnel costs.
“I met with several local school administrators, and they indicated that technology and mental health supports were the most important priorities,” Baesler said. “There has been higher-than-expected demand on streaming, hardware capacity, bandwidth, and distance learning curriculum. The ability to provide meaningful distance learning is crucial to our students’ education.”
Each North Dakota public school district, regardless of size, will get at least $30,000 from the new $33.8 million aid package. Each district will also get about $251 per student. Under this formula, the Bismarck school district, for example, will get $3.42 million; Fargo, $2.91 million; West Fargo, $2.89 million; Minot, $1.96 million; and Grand Forks, $1.94 million.
The North Dakota Legislature’s Budget Section on Wednesday approved a request to allow the state Department of Public Instruction to allocate the $33.8 million to schools, and to provide added spending flexibility for the $63.8 million sum. The Budget Section is an interim committee that includes Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, and members of the state House and Senate appropriations committees.
The money comes from federal emergency pandemic aid that Congress approved in March. Some of that assistance was first allocated to other North Dakota agencies.