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March 07th, 2021

ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Remote learning continues to be the lone education option for many families due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last week, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced programs that received funding for remote learning are eligible to apply for extensions to support the continuation of online education through Spring 2021. The Remote Learning Grant program will continue to help address learning and supervision needs of school-age children who are not able to attend in-person school due to the pandemic.

“Our top priority is working to safely return our kids and teachers back to in-person learning,” Gov. Kelly noted in a release from the State of Kansas. “But until then, these Remote Learning Grants have made and will continue to make a huge difference for families juggling work and virtual school by supporting programs and facilities that provide safe, secure settings for remote learners. I am pleased they will continue into the spring, and I encourage all programs and facilities that qualify to apply.”

During the fall 2020 term, the State of Kansas release continued, 77 organizations in Kansas supported the remote learning needs of school-age children, funded with more than $8,493,000 from the Remote Learning Grants program. In-home child care providers, day care programs, child and youth serving organizations, and even community attractions such as a museum and a zoo, came forward to  help.

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Hearing the program would be extended was a great thing, Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund, said. 

“The legislation that extended it was actually passed Dec. 27 at the federal level, and then in January, we really needed to wrap up the 2020 version of the program and get our require reports done and then look at what was needed and make sure we were on track, and then we had to wait for some other approvals from the governor's office of recovery before we could reopen,” Rooker said. “It was at the beginning of February when we officially knew we had the green light to go ahead and reopen the grant portal, which requires a certain amount of work on the back end to make sure the legal agreements and grant application portal were open properly and were fully ready to go, and that's what we spent most of January doing. We've had our second wave of recommendations and the portal has been open since February. We were really pleased the program will continue because we know it's been helpful to many families coping with their individual situation as far as school, so this is another great way of supporting families and I'm really happy we're able to offer this for the spring semester for schools where school has to shift to remote or hybrid learning due to the pandemic.”

The application process for this time around, Rooker said, is the same as it was for the fall term.

“It's for programs that offer remote learning sites with Internet access so students can have a safe, supervised setting to connect to the Internet and attend classes virtually. And that's especially beneficial in instances when Mom and Dad both have to be at work and aren't there the whole time to supervise. We updated everything to fit the spring semester timelines, and we hope after this closes that it's not needed again and everyone's able to be back in school with face-to-face learning. I know Gov. Kelly shares that hope, she just announced late last week a program to prioritize vaccinations for teachers. We want this to one of those things that provides a safety net, but we also want to get students back in the classroom and learning safely. New applications for funding are also available to all KDHE-licensed early care and youth programs/facilities serving school-aged children; local programs with demonstrated experience and success developing and delivering quality, safe, out-of-home care and education services/programs for school-age children, such as schools, Boys and Girls Club facilitiess, Parks and Recreation departments, 21st CCLCs, and faith-based organizations; and other community programs that demonstrate the capacity and ability to establish or expand programs for school-age children.”

Expectations for the program’s extension, Rooker said, are a little hard to predict. 

“It's hard to say, I don't we'll have as many grant programs since a lot of schools are shifting back to in-person learning,” Rooker said. “However, we extended notice to the programs that received funding in the fall this was an opportunity that existed and in the past couple weeks, we've seen about 21 programs apply so far, and two of those are brand-new for the spring program with the remainder being 'renewed' from the fall, so to speak. We're going to keep the application open until April and at that point, we feel like it'll be late enough in the school year where there won't be as much need from people.”

Rooker added with remote learning still being the only option, this assistance is greatly appreciated. 

“We know from the fall that even school districts that are working to operate in person were being affected by staff shortages and things like that, which is really rough and creates scheduling issues, so that forced them to go back to hybrid or fully remote learning,” Rooker said. “This is the sort of thing where we want to be a safety net – we don't want to replace in-person learning, that's not the objective of this at all. It's important to be able to offer supervised, safe options for student during this time.”

The Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund will continue to be responsible for administering the funds, and applications will be evaluated on a weekly basis. All funding must be awarded, and spent by grantees, by May 28, 2021. Applications are available at https://kschildrenscabinet.org/remote-learning-support/

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