25 Investigates: Billions in relief aid heading to Mass. schools, how will it be spent

MEDFORD, Mass. — At the McGlynn School in Medford, first graders have wrapped up their first full week back in the classroom. They’re all masked up. Desks are surrounded by plexiglass. And students take part in routine pool testing for COVID-19.

It’s all part of the precautions to ensure a safe return to school during the ongoing pandemic. Those precautions add up.

“We’ve spent as a city, over four and a half million on our schools,” said Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn.

Mayor Lungo-Koehn says they’ve improved HVAC systems, purchased personal protective equipment, and upgraded technology. And, work remains to be done.

But Medford, like school districts across the state, is getting a big cash infusion through the American Rescue Plan.

The Biden administration’s massive COVID-19 relief plan is sending $3.1 billion dollars to Massachusetts schools.

Medford with get more than $5.5 million of that.

“It’s going to allow us to address academic needs, social-emotional learning needs, physical needs, to address all the needs of the whole child,” said Superintendent Dr. Marice Edouard-Vincent. It’s especially important now that kids are back in classrooms full-time, he added.

Assistant Speaker of the House, Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark, was in Medford Thursday highlighting the ARP funding for schools.

She spoke one-on-one with anchor and investigative reporter, Kerry Kavanaugh.

“Is there something that stands out to you as the most salient thing that get these kids back on track,” Kavanaugh asked.

“You know what, it is being in school, and it is being back with their friends back with their teachers,” said Clark.

And a return to school helps overcome the inequities of remote learning.

Clark said the rescue plan money for education, will address the cost of reopening safely and ensuring schools remain open.

25 Investigates examined the money and found it’s allocated, in part, based on a school district’s size and need.

  • For example, school districts in communities hit hard by the pandemic like Everett, Malden, Chelsea, and Revere are getting between $14 and $21 million dollars.

Congressional Research Service Figures

Everett - $14,251,000

Malden - $15,785,000

Chelsea - $23,121,000

Revere - $20,958,000

Boston - $354,326,000

The state’s largest school district, Boston with roughly 51,000 students is getting more than $354 million. States also have discretionary funding to support the hardest hit districts.

“They are going to be able to continue their testing program, they are going to be able to ramp up vaccinations, they are going to be able to further invest in technology and air filtration that will not only help schools come through this pandemic, but will really help them in the long term,” said Clark.

While the money will help address COVID-19 safety, Clark said at least 20% of it must fund helping kids make up for academic loss.

“That can be after school programs, summer programs, but it’s a realization that many children are going to need a lot of help to get back to where they were before this pandemic hit,” said Clark.

The American Rescue Plan had zero Republican support in either chamber of Congress. Opposition claimed it was due to its overall size, $1.9 trillion, and scope.

But there isn’t much opposition to funding schools, at least locally.

“I think you’ll find no argument from Republicans on the need for the federal funding to support schools and back to school efforts,” said Amy Carnevale, state committeewoman with MassGOP.

Carnevale said she supports the money for schools provided it keeps kids in classrooms.

“I think we’ll be watching to make sure that in our larger cities, in particular, the kids are back in school, at least have that option to go back to school now,” she said.

“There was concern that maybe this amount of money wasn’t necessary,” Kavanaugh said to Clark.

“We have to meet this moment of historic challenge with historic investment,” Clark said.

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