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Jackson County looks at coronavirus aid for schools

Jeff Fox
The Examiner

Jackson County appears set to allocate federal COVID-19 relief money to local school districts. Eastern Jackson County districts could each receive hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Legislators expressed support for the idea this week, and then on Thursday County Executive Frank White Jr. suggested dividing $5 million among the county’s 12 public school districts. The topic is on Monday’s County Legislature agenda.

The county got $122.7 million under the CARES Act Congress passed in the spring, and much of that money has been allocated to cities. Congress wants that money spent or at least allocated in 2020, and the county held $10 million back to deal with needs that arose in the fall.

Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit, said Monday that at first her thought was that school districts could ask their cities for money, but she came around to the idea of allocating some to schools directly. Budget Committee Chair Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, echoed that thought.

“We have to support them,” Galvin said. “If the cities don’t have the funding – after they’ve spent all their CARES Act funding they don’t have any funding left for the schools – then I would see that as the place, a valuable place to spend the money. It’s on our children.”

Legislators held off on acting Monday but expressed a consensus about dividing the money proportionally, and then on Thursday White outlined his proposal.

His office says this would be one-time money for such things as COVID-19 testing, nutrition programs, mental-health services and technology, including enhanced Wi-Fi. The money is divided proportionally, taking poverty into account, according to White’s office.

That funding includes:

• Independence – $849,507.

• Blue Springs – $587,069.

• Fort Osage – $254,569.

• Grain Valley – $163,956.

• Lee’s Summit – $647,496.

• Kansas City – $1.08 million.

In Monday’s discussion, Williams and Legislator Jalen Anderson, D-Blue Springs, immediately pushed back on a suggestion by Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City, that the county also give money to private schools. They pointed out that those schools can get Paycheck Protection Program money under the CARES Act, something public schools cannot do.

Legislator Tony Miller, D-Lee’s Summit, expressed support for helping out the schools and said the issue is urgent. 

“I mean, I think we’re in a crisis,” he said, “particularly where people can’t work and kids can’t get the services that they need – that if we can allocate funding that we have available to alleviate some of those needs then I’m all for it, in whatever form that takes now or later.”

He came back to that theme later in legislators’ conversation.

“I guess I would say there is a yearning for leadership and a yearning for communication and a yearning for guidance,” he said. “… The public wants to hear something, and they want to know what’s going to happen, and they need a path and they need something to follow, and they need it desperately.”