U.S. Senator Doug Jones has joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in introducing a bill to help Alabama schools and colleges cover the costs of protecting students and educators from COVID-19. The Reopen Schools Safely Act will establish a new federal grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to help school districts and colleges reopen this fall.
“With school systems and universities across the country and in Alabama announcing their plans to bring back in-person learning this fall, we need to make sure schools can keep students, teachers, and other education staff safe and healthy. School budgets are already being cut due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, leaving schools with complex changes and adjustments to make without much funding to do it. It’s time for Congress to step up to fill the gap so students can safely get back to the classroom and parents can return to work with some peace of mind,” said Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Education Committee.
“We appreciate very much the bipartisan sponsorship of this bill which strives to keep students safe at such a crucial time in their lives and college careers. Senators Jones, Stabenow and Cassidy are to be commended for their efforts. We are deeply grateful for their support through this bipartisan legislation.” said Dr. John W. Stewart, III, President of the University of Montevallo.
Ryan Hollingsworth, Executive Director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, said “Superintendents support the efforts of Senator Jones, Senator Stabenow and Senator Cassidy to pass legislation to help our schools open and operate safely in August. Alabama recently released guidance on the reopening of schools and one of the highest priorities is to provide a safe environment for learning. To provide safe classrooms and school environments, during this pandemic, our schools will have a tremendous increase in costs and at the same time, we are experiencing a loss in local revenue. This proposal would go a long way in providing the resources for keeping students, teachers, classrooms and schools safe.”
With the grant funding from this bill, school districts and colleges will have flexibility to use these funds for any expense needed to meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state, and local guidelines for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. These expenses include personal protective equipment, sanitation supplies, temperature-screening equipment, certified COVID-19 tests, and more. A conservative analysis by the School Superintendents Association found that an average school district needs up to $1.8 million to reopen safely. Governors, who will apply for the funding, will have the flexibility to determine the distribution of funds to local school districts, colleges, and universities based on the needs of their state. The program is intended to be temporary and includes a sunset provision for 2023.