Alaska uses CARES Act funds to prioritize distance learning

Getting new technology into schools in rural villages is very costly, so school districts must be very careful in stretching every dollar received.

Making sure all students have devices, adapting curriculum to be delivered via distance learning, and resolving connectivity issues were some of the ways Alaska Department of Education and Early Development prioritized the use of CARES Act funds for SY 2020-21.

Alaska has 54 school districts. It received $38,296,056 in CARES Act funding, of which $34,567,200 were ESSER funds and $3,728,856 were GEER funds.

Anchorage School District, the largest school district in the state, serves 48,000 students. It received $12,069,484 in CARES Act funds and most was used for distance learning preparation. The school district began distance learning on Aug. 20. And it is planning to start offering in-person classes beginning November 16.

According to Courtney Preziosi, ESEA federal programs administrator with Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, one of the challenges was to reach schools located in rural areas. The state has 94 preK-12 schools located in the rural fringe, while 149 are considered rural remote.

“Bringing things into these rural villages, the cost is astronomical, and for one district something for $5,000 is going to cost another district $20,000,” she said. “We try and help districts stretch their dollar as much as they can, but for some of the districts the high cost of operating is a unique challenge in itself.”

While some Alaskan districts used CARES Act funds to support digital learning, such as buying Chromebooks and tablets, Preziosi said that in some rural communities where internet might not be accessible for everybody, the districts also had to ensure they had paper packets to send out to students.

Each school district was responsible for creating a reopening plan based on the state’s plan Alaska Smart Start 2020 Framework Guidance. The plan had to focus on what teaching and learning would look like in a low-risk environment, a middle-risk environment, and a high-risk environment.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for TitleIAdmin, a DA sister publication.

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