NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Nearly two months after President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has announced the grant amounts being awarded to individual school districts through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF).

Under the CARES Act, the ESSERF was established with the purpose of providing direct funding to K-12 school districts to support areas impacted by the disruption and closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the $310 million provided to the state, more than $200 has been awarded to individual districts with some districts, such as Newark, receiving as much as $19 million.

The amounts being awarded to the Caldwell-West Caldwell and West Essex-area school districts are specified below:

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  • Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools: $153,135
  • West Essex Regional Public Schools: $34,778
  • North Caldwell: $55,056
  • Fairfield: $35,277
  • Roseland: $28,361
  • Essex Fells: $0

The NJDOE explained that the relief funds are meant to assist public schools with unexpected costs over the last several and for the remainder of the school year, such as funds needed to provide devices to students and resources for teachers.

West Essex Superintendent Damion Macioci, for instance, expressed that the allotted funds would mostly likely be used to support summer school programs within the district and to offset the cost of technology needs and supplies needed to disinfect and clean district facilities.

“[The ESSERF] will be an important factor in helping school districts to close the digital divide—that is, differences in the access to technology among communities and families because of their economic status,” said Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association. “This is a critical issue. During the current school closings, remote learning has been central to the continuity of instruction.

“In addition, when schools finally reopen, virtual instruction will continue to play an essential role in the delivery of education. Many of the strategies now being discussed to accommodate social distancing and remediation involve distance learning.”

The CARES Act also includes specific funding sources for Local Education Agencies (LEA).

According to the NJDOE, these grants are based on the funding formula used for “Title 1” students, meaning that the more students who receive free or reduced lunches, the greater the amount of the grant is available for the districts to apply for.

Districts must apply for the funds no later than June 19, 2020, and the funds can be used for allowable costs incurred on or after March 13, 2020.

The ESSERF provided guidelines for allowable expenditures of the funds, which have been categorized as follows:

  1. Activities authorized under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act or the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.
     
  2. Coordination of preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies with State, local, Tribal and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses among such entities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
     
  3. Providing principals and others school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools.
     
  4. Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.
     
  5. Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies.
     
  6. Training and professional development for staff of the local educational agency on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
     
  7. Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
     
  8. Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures, including for how to provide meals to eligible students, how to provide technology for online learning to all students, how to provide guidance for carrying out requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1401 et seq.) and how to ensure other educational services can continue to be provided consistent with all Federal, State, and local requirements.
     
  9. Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the local educational agency that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and students with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment.
     
  10. Providing mental health services and supports.
     
  11. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
     
  12. Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff of the local educational agency.

The one-time appropriation may be used to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools, which includes:

  • Continuing to provide educational services while schools are closed, such as remote learning; and
     
  • Developing and implementing plans for the return to normal operations.

As per the CARES Act criteria, the ESSERF must also be administered by the LEA to the non-public schools directly within its borders. The NJDOE has determined that, under the CARES Act programs, the LEA in which a non-public school is located is responsible for providing equitable services to students and teachers in the school, as it is under most ESSA programs that require an LEA to provide equitable services.

“Control of funds for services and assistance provided to non-public school students and teachers under the CARES Act programs—and title to materials, equipment and property purchased with such funds—must be in a public agency, and a public agency must administer such funds, materials, equipment and property,” the NJDOE states on its fact sheet. “In addition, services for non-public school students and teachers must be provided by a public agency directly or through contract with another public or private entity.”

See the photos above to read the distribution list provided by the NJDOE earlier this week.