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Long Island schools getting $324 million in aid from federal stimulus package

Long Island schools getting $324 million in aid from
federal stimulus package 1

Long Island schools will receive nearly $324 million as part of Washington’s latest financial “rescue” of public education from COVID-19, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office announced.

Federal school assistance from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan will help districts with large numbers of students living below the poverty line. Brentwood is slated for nearly $28.9 million, Hempstead for $19.3 million and William Floyd for $15.5 million, with smaller amounts going to another 107 systems regionwide, according to figures released by Schumer’s office.

The share of dollars going to schools in Nassau and Suffolk, with about 17% of the state’s student enrollment, is relatively low, representing 3.6% of the more than $8.9 billion due to be distributed statewide starting this month. In contrast, New York City schools, with about 40% of the state’s enrollment, are expected to gain about $5.2 billion, or 58%, of the money, Schumer’s office said.

Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a prepared statement, said tens of millions of dollars from the package would be in the form of discretionary funds that the state could distribute as it saw fit. How the overall distribution of federal and state money will work out for the Island should become clearer by Thursday, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators are due to adopt a state budget.

“The coronavirus hit New York’s schools hard, which is why I fought so hard to pass the American Rescue Plan, and send more than $8.9 billion to our local districts so they could safely reopen and keep our kids learning,” said Schumer, the Senate majority leader. “The funds across Long Island will help ensure education here remains funded, safe and preserved amid the pandemic, and beyond.”

Some of the Island’s school leaders, who have complained in the past they were financially shortchanged by Albany, welcomed the extra focus on districts serving low-income families. Federal school aid distribution differs from state distribution systems, and is based on a legislative act known as Title I, which directs money to the impoverished.

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“When you see communities with greater needs getting more money, there’s a fairness to that,” said Bill Heidenreich, superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District.

Heidenreich, who also serves as president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, added that fresh federal money could go a long way in paying for summer classes and other programs aimed at helping students catch up academically. Several national studies showed students falling behind last year, especially in math.

In the William Floyd district, which enrolls about 8,900 students in southern Brookhaven Town, school officials voiced hope the federal support could help level the playing field, financially speaking, for families that have found it difficult closing the “digital divide” between themselves and those living in wealthier communities with greater access to Wi-Fi connections and other technology.

Robert Vecchio, the district’s board president, said he also was heartened to learn schools could spread out their spending of federal stimulus money over several years.

“We will be very cautious and very measured in how we handle the next two or three budgeting cycles, so we don’t go back to people three years from now and say, gosh all the money has run out,” Vecchio said.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that two-thirds of school money authorized as part of the latest stimulus package would be made available to states immediately, with the remainder to be released after states submit plans for reopening schools safely and meeting the needs of students. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said planning would include widespread establishment of summer learning and enrichment programs for all students, with a focus on those most affected by the pandemic.

New York State’s portion of money released immediately was $5.9 billion of the total $8.9 billion.

Some local fiscal experts noted that infusion of federal money has dramatically changed overall distribution of funding. In the recent past, federal aid generally played a minor role, and debate revolved around the Island’s “shares” of state assistance, which ranged between 12% and 13% of the statewide total.

This does not follow the idea of shares — it’s very different,” said Bill Johnson, a longtime school administrator in Nassau County who currently acts as state monitor for the Hempstead district. “It’s following the poorest kids, and this is good news.”

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