Taos Municipal Schools

New Mexico schools will receive $979 million in federal aid to help them fully reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Mexico Public Education Department will allocate 90 percent of the funding to individual school districts and state charter schools.

The remaining 10 percent will fund interventions to address learning loss, summer-enrichment and after-school programs, accelerated instruction, efforts to close the digital divide and support for disabled and at-risk students.

“This new round of federal support for our schools is a critical investment, and comes at an ideal time as New Mexico safely reopens all our K-12 schools,” said Ryan Stewart, Secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The aid is available through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund established by Congress on March 11.

The funds will be made available to the NMPED this spring, and will remain available through Sep. 2023.

Schools are required to use 20 percent of their share of the federal funds to address learning loss and students’ social, emotional and academic needs, as well as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on historically underserved students — Native American, children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness and children and youth in foster care.

Remaining funds may be used to address pandemic-related needs, with a focus on public health protocols that adhere to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As far as our new money goes, the one thing we don’t know is how much we’re going to get,” said Lillian Torrez, the Taos Municipal Schools superintendent. “But the one thing we do know is, when we do get the money, we’re going to help students and families with more mental health support.”

Torrez said she wants a plan in place when the money comes on board.

“Cleaning supplies, educational technology, summer school, school building improvements, PPE, implementation of public health guidance,” said Torrez, ticking off a list of needs she already had.

“Summer enrichment, we’re doing 10 extra days this year, comprehensive after-school programs, social-emotional learning activities,” Torrez continued. “You know, we have so many SEL ideas and we never have money for them.”

She also said the district will start culinary arts, music and mariachi again, and plans to take students outside for more outdoor learning.

“And just pay the bus-cleaning costs. Overtime for custodians is huge. Gas,” said Torrez. “We’re gonna start taking kids on buses, but we still have to deliver at least 1,200 breakfasts and lunches for remote students. So we’re kind of in a bind trying to do it all.”

The ARP ESSER funds will total $122 billion in the U.S — the third round of federal aid for public schools since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previous funding included the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, for which New Mexico received $130 million, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which brought $435 million to the state.

“You know, all of these things are good for kids,” said Torrez. “And as long as we’re focused on the kids, we’re going to make it through, and we’re keeping everybody safe.”

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