The state will put $3.9 million in federal coronavirus aid funding toward schools who expand their internet, technology and remote learning access.
The money comes from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year.
The funding will go to schools around the state that educate students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We’re committed to expanding distance learning opportunities, closing the digital divide in our rural classrooms, and creating a better learning environment for students in every corner of our state,” Gianforte said in a press release. “Nothing replaces in-person learning, but throughout the past year, we’ve seen how technology can enhance learning opportunities, especially in rural Montana. We look forward to continuing to support technological innovation that ensures our students have access to the best education possible to prepare them for the future.”
The funding will be awarded to schools who apply for the governor's Emergency Education Relief II (GEER) grants. The deadline to apply is Aug. 20. The $3.9 million represents the full amount in the emergency fund. Other types of entities such as private schools, libraries, community centers and more are also eligible if they were affected by the pandemic.
There is also similar funding available from federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.
Any purchases through the grants must be one-time only or have identified future funding to pay for ongoing costs. The money can be used for things like broadband connection enhancements; hardware, software or other things to support remote learning or enhance digital in-classroom learning; create remote learning opportunities beyond what a school already offers or professional development for remote instruction.
Between three rounds of ESSER funding and other federal packages, schools in Montana will receive more than $618 million in aid.
Education-related entities that are eligible can apply for funding or get more information athttps://governor.mt.gov/geer.
Responses to a survey conducted by the Office of Public Instruction earlier this year showed varying degrees of what students said they learned during the most recent year and how teachers felt their students performed with remote learning. While districts around the state were shut down for a period in the spring of 2020 in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, there have been varying degrees of in-person and remote learning and options offered at districts around the state since then.
Another commission is working to address how the state will spend $275 million set aside to expand broadband access around Montana. That funding is part of the $2 billion Montana received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act that became law earlier this year.