Biden 'rescue plan' promises big bucks for local schools
President Joe Biden's stimulus package aims to provide a major boost — and big bucks — to Oregon school districts as they struggle to reopen safely.
While some may be focused on the $1,400 direct stimulus payments that will land in most individuals' wallets as part of the proposed American Rescue Plan, the gigantic $1.6 trillion package also would offer hundreds of millions of dollars to local schools. The Newberg School District stands to get $5.7 million via the plan.
Budget resolutions have passed both the House and Senate, but in mismatched form. Therefore, the plan must undergo a budget reconciliation process before the 600-page bill lands on Biden's desk for his signature.
"We're all eager to get students back in the classroom as soon as possible," said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland. "These funds are essential to providing school districts the tools and resources they need to keep kids, teachers and support staff healthy in the process. It's yet another reason why we must pass the American Rescue Plan."
Portland Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, would be the top-line recipient, with a proposed payment of $74.1 million, according to a new assessment from the Congressional Research Service — but many other districts stand to gain as well.
On the west side, Beaverton School District would net $50.4 million, and Hillsboro School District would get $27 million.
In east Multnomah County, Gresham-Barlow would get $20.8 million, Centennial would receive $17.2 million, Parkrose would pocket $6.7 million, and the tiny Corbett district would get $500,000.
In Clackamas County, the North Clackamas District would get $16.7 million, the Oregon Trail District in Sandy would get $3.5 million, while Estacada School District would receive $1.9 million.
St. Helens School District is in line for $4.6 million and Scappoose would get $1.7 million. Riverdale School District would net $100,000 as well.
Those numbers could be tweaked as the legislation is finalized, however.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, who is chairwoman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services, said the money can be used to purchase personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and to increase ventilation, among other things, in order to bolster in-person education during an age of illness.
"Some schools in Northwest Oregon have been able to reopen, but many have not," said Bonamici, who represents much of the metro area's west side, including Newberg and Dundee. "We all want students and educators back in schools, but they need resources to make sure everyone is safe."
Newberg School District communications coordinator Gregg Koskela said that when the district has received federal dollars during the pandemic, it has often covered expenses that have already been accounted for. The money had already been spent on things like PPE and classroom safety, and much of the COVID relief was used to cover those costs.
A $5.7 million influx of cash would be a big financial boost to the district as it continues to navigate the challenges of the pandemic and steadily bring students back to a classroom setting.
"If it does come through over that $5 million level, that will allow us more flexibility to be able to use that money," Koskela said. "We're going to use that extra money that'll be left over to help make the experience next fall easier for students, who will likely be coming back into a full-time classroom setting. There will absolutely be gaps in learning and support that exist for students since they've been out of the classroom, and we will look to fill those gaps."
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