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Georgia schools seek to boost education with $5.9B in aid

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ATLANTA (AP) — Students in one of Georgia’s largest school districts will be spending an extra five days in school this year, thanks to federal pandemic aid, while teachers in a fast-growing charter school have been getting additional professional development and teaching materials.

Those are just two examples of how Georgia school leaders plan to spend the more than $5.9 billion in aid that’s meant to help schools through the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have already used the money to buy protective equipment and computers for students to take home. Some are now making heating and air conditioning upgrades and spending to help students make up ground academically.

“It has been just a battle for schools,” said Emily Castillo Leon, founder of the Ethos Classical School charter in Atlanta. “We have been fighting nonstop, but having the additional financial aid makes that one worry that is not on our list.”

The AP tracked about $155 billion sent to states to distribute among schools since last year, including general pandemic relief that some states shared with their schools. The biggest recipient in Georgia is DeKalb County, the state’s third-largest district with 93,000 students, which got $486 million.

The average amount per district and independent charter school in Georgia was about $27.9 million, compared to $2.3 million nationwide. Georgia’s average district is larger with poorer students than the average district nationwide.

Aid was nearly $2,800 per student nationally, but varies widely by district and state, according to the AP’s analysis. Districts that have larger shares of impoverished students got more per student. The district that got the most per student in Georgia was Clay County, at $14,000. The district that got the least was Forsyth County, at $405 per student.

The district is expanding preschool, offering Saturday school, summer programs, and tutoring. It’s training teachers in virtual instruction and in how to integrate technology into the classroom. Burbridge said DeKalb County’s enrollment is smaller than expected, but that it may leave extra teachers in classrooms to cut class sizes.

Burbridge said much of DeKalb County’s first round of money was spent on personal protective equipment and improved sanitation. Part of the second round has been spent on heating and air conditioning upgrades at a number of schools. The district also bought laptops for all students and is spending to upgrade networks at schools to handle sharply increased demand for internet.

The latest and largest round of funding, totaling $123 billion nationwide, is still being distributed and gives schools enormous flexibility in how to spend it. While 20% must be used to address learning setbacks, the rest can be used on nearly any cost school officials deem “reasonable and necessary.” Schools have three years to spend it.

Castillo Leon said Ethos Classical, which opened in 2019, has added extra teachers so some can teach only virtually and some can teach in-person. She said the school has also invested in professional development and materials for teaching math and reading.

This content was originally published here.

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