COVID-related relief funds available for schools; broadband expansion

Federal dollars flowing to Kansas for COVID-19 relief could have a significant impact on K-12 funding but will require action by local education leaders. 

Counties have already received $400 million in Round 1 of Kansas’ $1.25 billion in the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF).  

Counties may spend these funds on a variety of COVID-related expenditures, which may include expenditures by school districts. These allocations are determined at the county level and are at different stages in different counties, so school leaders should consult with their county officials to determine what resources may be still available for school costs. 

Last week, the State Finance Council approved an additional $255 million in Round 2 of COVID expenses, including public health ($102 million); economic development ($78 million); higher education ($65 million) and early childhood support ($10 million).  

The State Finance Council balked at $60 million for broadband connectivity, seeking more details. On Monday, state officials briefed the Legislative Budget Committee, which includes two members of the State Finance Council, on a plan to allocate the $60 million to private internet service providers to expand broadband to improve tele-health, education and businesses and help low-income Kansans get high-speed internet.   

“The need for connectivity has never been more pressing and urgent,” said Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary David Toland. Toland was backed by business, health care and government officials.  

In addition, KASB has sent a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly and legislative leaders in support of the broadband initiative. Studies show more than 156,000 Kansas students — nearly one-third of the 500,000 students enrolled in K-12 schools — lack adequate broadband internet service. 

“KASB asked our member Boards of Education about the biggest challenges they faced regarding providing continuous learning when school buildings closed at the end of the 2019-20 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in their plans to reopen schools this fall. Following the primary concerns about health, safety and sanitation, our boards tell us the next biggest challenge is student access to broadband internet service,” the letter states. 

Legislative Budget Committee members agreed on the need to improve internet access and noted the current proposal could be expanded further in an upcoming round of federal COVID dollars. The State Finance Council is expected to take up the proposal again in the next few days. School leaders could contact the State Finance Council to support this proposal and work with local or regional cities, counties, businesses and other organizations to develop proposals to quickly expand services.  

With nearly $300 million remaining to be allocated in Round 3 of federal COVID funds, officials with the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce say they will seek input on the priorities for the final round, which could be higher if there are unspent funds from the first two rounds.  

School leaders and other community leaders should consider ideas for Round 3 expenditures, which could include, for example, additional broadband funding. These funds must be tied to expenditures related to the COVID pandemic and must be spent by Dec. 31, unless Congress changes the deadline.  

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