By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Gov. Brian Kemp has issued a first wave of federal funding to help prop up K-12 public schools and universities in Georgia aiming to restart in-person classes and continue online instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor’s office is distributing more than $80 million for Georgia schools to bolster internet connections for virtual learning, mental health services, support for independent colleges, online classes for technical colleges, a construction-training program and funds for early child-care assistance.
Those funds mark a large chunk of the $105 million Kemp has on hand to give schools through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“These are challenging times for our state, but we will continue to work around the clock to support our students and teachers, improve outcomes, and get people back to work,” Kemp said in a statement. “Together, we will protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
More than $29 million will go to Georgia’s 2,300 K-12 schools for broadband signal extenders and support for distance learning on campus as many schools labor to hold classes online during the pandemic.
Also reserved for online options is an allocation of more than $10 million for the Technical College System of Georgia to bolster online courses and programs.
Additionally, $11 million will go to the University of Georgia to administer mental health services in schools, $10 million to the Georgia Independent College Association for relief efforts and more than $3 million to the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia to expand a workforce training program.
The state Department of Early Care and Learning will receive between $17 and $19 million to boost child-care options for parents who need to return to work and have children between ages 5 and 12 whose schools are holding classes virtually.
Many Georgia students began returning to in-person classes this month for the 2020-21 school year, following statewide school closures in March that prompted students to complete courses online.
As the fall semester kicks off, state officials have left it to local school districts whether to hold classes in person or start off with virtual learning. Public K-12 students are not required to wear masks to school, while the University System of Georgia is enforcing a mask mandate.
The state Department of Education released guidelines over the summer to help local districts decide how to hold classes in the fall via a mix of in-person classes and online instruction options. Some schools have paused in-person classes after outbreaks of COVID-19 positive cases.