JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri’s schools are getting a new influx of funds from the federal government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Margie Vandeven, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, gave an overview of the new aid coming to schools, in a live-streamed press conference hosted Thursday by Gov. Mike Parson. There are two chunks of cash: $117 million from the USDA to reimburse schools for meals (1.3 million meals and counting) they’re giving out during the pandemic; and $208 million for an emergency relief fund to pay for remote learning and other COVID-19-related needs.
Vandeven noted that her department also covers vocational rehabilitation and disability education. Teachers have been working remotely each day with 14,000 people who have disabilities, she said – more than 100 percent of the normal workload – so those students aren’t being left behind.
With the summer coming up, Vandeven stressed the need for continued learning, still remotely in most cases. She cited scheduling flexibility and said that although summer school was optional for most students, this year was “a good time for more families to consider this.”
As for graduation ceremonies: “Get creative,” she urged. Obviously, some schools have may more students than others, so districts need to maintain social distancing even if in-person ceremonies are being considered. Another option is to postpone the ceremony to after the pandemic has eased its grip.
Parson reminded viewers that his own granddaughter is a 2020 high school graduate.
“As a grandparent … I’m kinda rooting for those graduation dates to make sure they get an opportunity to get those diplomas,” he said.
Zora Mulligan, Missouri’s commissioner of higher education and workforce development, also spoke. Her department is addressing immediate needs such as providing personal protective equipment, housing for health care workers unable to go home, and funds for schools to boost their students’ access to the technology they need during the pandemic and to “skill up” for the post-pandemic workforce. Fifty percent of CARES act funds must go to help students directly; the other fifty percent can be used to, for example, set up laptop labs and buy wi-fi hot spots.
“This is an opportunity to really rethink we way we do our business,” Mulligan said, “and we’re excited about this conversation.”
Parson noted that training programs would be vital as the economy starts back up, probably with new needs.
Another way Missouri is helping the workforce has to do with easing licensing rules.
Chlora Lindley-Myers, director of the Department of Commerce and Insurance, said the state was trying to remove regulatory barriers as much as possible, to get more health care workers on the job. She said her department had waived 114 statues for 41 regulatory boards in the professional regulatory division.
That involved extending or waiving license renewal deadlines, and postponing testing requirements as test sites are closed. Those working under temporary waivers must be sponsored by a licensed person, however.
Parson suggested that after the pandemic was over, some of those regulations might be dropped, although he would expect resistance from the regulatory boards.
As Missouri starts reopening its businesses – at least some of them – Parson sounded a note of caution: “I want to remind Missourians how important it will be to continue social distancing throughout the reopening process. We must continue to prioritize the health and safety of our families, friends and fellow Missourians.
“So remember, use common sense.”