Norfolk Public Schools will be receiving its largest sum of federal COVID-19 relief funding since the pandemic began.

The district is slated to receive more than $6.5 million from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March. The Nebraska Department of Education recently announced how much districts will get from the $491.3 million intended for K-12 schools in the government’s third round of funds to alleviate the impact of COVID-19.

The state is mandating 20% of American Rescue Plan funds be reserved to address learning loss caused by the pandemic. Matthew Blomstedt, the state’s education commissioner, said districts need to discuss how to use the funding to serve vulnerable student populations, including students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged.

“I think folks kind of have to quickly assemble their plans and understand where they can make that difference right now, understand their strengths and weaknesses in their (school) system — which I can tell you they probably already really know — and start attacking those,” Blomstedt said in a webinar about the plan. “I think that’s our chance right now in this moment.”

Bill Robinson, associate superintendent for NPS, said the use of the funds wouldn’t be finalized until later this fall. But the main purpose of the money would be continuing initiatives funded by the second round of funding, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was approved in December.

NPS received about $2.9 million in the second installment. Robinson said the district has submitted its grant and is waiting for approval to start the reimbursement process. The money is funding several efforts, including summer school and the newly formed Transitions Strategic Action Planning Committee, which is developing initiatives to address the district’s learning gap and provide data management, equitable access, professional development, social-emotional learning and more.

The committee, which consists of a select number of teachers and administrators, also wants to focus on continuing the NPS curriculum and assessment work related to target-based grading.

NPS’ share of the American Rescue Plan will help continue all of the committee’s goals through 2023.

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, which was the first round of funding Congress approved in March 2020, allocated about $825,052 to NPS. Robinson said a large chunk of the money was spent on COVID-19 supplies for the past year, including sanitation equipment, and it was used to pay staff members who were gone because of the pandemic.

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