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Another $611 million for Massachusetts schools: Feds sign off on state plan for federal school relief funding

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell calls on district leaders to use the money to update HVAC systems

McGlynn Elementary School in Medford.
McGlynn Elementary School in Medford.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The US Department of Education signed off Wednesday on Massachusetts’ plan to use federal school relief funding to safely reopen buildings, support in-person learning, and assess the impact of lost instructional time, among other things.

Wednesday’s approval will release $611 million to state leaders, part of the total $1.8 billion the state is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. The Department of Education distributed two-thirds of the money earlier this year to all 50 states and the District of Columbia; the final third is made available to states once their plans are approved.

About 90 percent of the final disbursement goes directly to school districts, and the remaining 10 percent is controlled by the state, according to a spokeswoman for the state education agency.

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The US Department of Education also approved Rhode Island’s plan on Wednesday and released $138 million in funds to the state.

“It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities, particularly as we move into the summer and look ahead to the upcoming academic year,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

Massachusetts’ plan outlines three priorities for utilizing the funding: fostering a sense of belonging and partnership among students and families, providing culturally responsive support and expert instruction to all students, and continuing to keep students and educators healthy and safe.

State leaders highlighted plans to require school districts to open full time, in person this fall, create and expand opportunities for students and educators to get vaccinated, and invest in summer learning and afterschool programs. The state also plans to analyze data including chronic absenteeism, attendance, and discipline rates to identify and support students most impacted by the pandemic.

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“This funding is critical to supporting and re-engaging students and to accelerating learning,” state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said in a statement. “Districts’ careful use of this money can address many student needs that the pandemic exacerbated, including inequities in access to technology and high quality instructional materials.”

Read Massachusetts’ ARP ESSER State Plan

On Wednesday, Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell called for the district to use at least some of its $400 million in federal relief funding to fix HVAC systems and move hundreds of students off the waitlist for summer learning programs in the city. Her calls came after a Globe story this week found that only 29 of the 63 school buildings used for summer learning have air conditioning.

As of June 29, the story also found, 461 Boston students were waitlisted for their summer learning program of choice, and the majority of BPS-operated programs were at or near capacity.

“After a year of tremendous learning disruption and plenty of time to plan ahead for summer, more than 450 students are on a waitlist to take advantage of summer learning opportunities that began this week. And for those lucky enough to have secured a spot, many are sitting in sweltering buildings without air conditioning or modern, safe HVAC systems. This is totally unacceptable, especially when the district has received an additional $400 million on top of its $1.2 billion budget to help get students back in the classroom,” Campbell said in a statement. “I urge both Acting Mayor [Kim] Janey and Superintendent [Brenda] Cassellius to put this federal money to work immediately for the students and families who can’t wait any longer.”

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Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.