Catholic schools to be included in federal relief funds

Paula Samuels, a math teacher at Presentation Academy, led her finite math class in a lesson using Zoom last month. In this lesson, Samuels used Desmos, an online graphing calculator, to demonstrate how to explore the empirical rule for normal distributions. Private schools in Kentucky, including Catholic schools, will be eligible to receive a portion of federal funding for technological needs, such as remote instruction. (Photo Special to The Record)

Kentucky’s non-public schools, including Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville, will be eligible to receive federal relief from the CARES Act for such things as technology and food programs.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act — which stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, passed by Congress and signed into law March 27, is part of the federal government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One portion of the Act is meant to alleviate the burden on schools and students.

Gov. Beshear said in a press release last week that the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet has been awarded more than $43.7 million from the CARES Act for education programs that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The emergency block grant will fund the needs of students, schools (including non-public schools), postsecondary institutions, and other education-related organizations in Kentucky,” the release said.

The Kentucky Department of Education is working directly with school districts to allocate $30 million for “their specific food costs and technology needs,” the release said.

The remaining funds will be administered by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and used for relief in public and private higher education institutions, the announcement said.

Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the relief aid will primarily supplement schools’ efforts in remote learning.

“We will be looking at things in the area of technology, whether that be devices for schools that students will be able to use both during in-person instruction or if we are back out on remote learning,” she said in an interview May 18.

Schulz commended the Kentucky Department of Education and Gov. Andy Beshear’s directive to provide “equitable services” to private schools, which the CARES Act calls for.

“I think everyone realizes that this is truly an investment to allow all Kentucky students to continue to learn, whether they are in school or have to be at home for health and safety reasons.

“It shows the commitment of the state of Kentucky to really take care of all the students here within the Commonwealth,” she said

Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said the CCK was encouraged with how the state interpreted the directives of the emergency relief act. The CCK is the public policy arm of the state’s four bishops and advocates for matters important to the Catholic Church.

“The inclusion of non-public school families in the CARES Act was a major victory. COVID-19 does not distinguish between the type of school a student attends and neither should the response to the virus. All students deserve the opportunity to have a safe and quality education during the crisis,” an announcement from the CCK said.

Vandiver noted that the CARES Act funding could be jeopardized by a proposal being considered in Congress now.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, includes a provision that would rescind funding of services to nonpublic schools, including Catholic schools, that had been established in the bipartisan CARES Act package.

The CCK urges Catholics to contact members of Congress to ask for continued inclusion of nonpublic schools in the HEROES Act.

“Our requests include: equitable access to K-12 federal funds for nonpublic schools, direct funding to families for tuition aid and tax relief for K-12 tuition payments,” a message from the CCK said.

Vandiver said there are many good things about the HEROES Act, but as it pertains to education “it is a step backwards.”

“Unlike the CARES Act, it excludes nonpublic schools at a time when our families are facing an unprecedented crisis.  Some schools across the country have already closed permanently and many others face an uncertain future.  The last thing that our students need right now is to be deprived of the schools where they are growing spiritually and academically,” Vandiver said.

The CCK encourages Catholics to contact their federal lawmakers to ask that they include non-public schools in relief funds or to use their online form at https://www.votervoice.net/CCKY/Campaigns/74397/Respond.

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