On December 21, 2020, Congress passed a COVID-19 relief bill that included $82 billion in funding for schools and universities to assist with reopening. This funding will remain available to schools through September 30, 2022. The bill that provides this funding specifically lists investments in cleaning programs that will help schools prevent infection outbreaks and open safely during the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for this funding.
As a school facility manager, you will want to connect with school administration and leaders in your local and state government to make the case for using a portion of this stimulus money to pay for building upgrades and investments in cleaning departments that will help create a safe and healthy learning environment.
The stimulus money is easier to access for schools, particularly for higher education institutions, than the money that was released in March of 2020. Schools will need to take time to understand the Education Department’s new guidance on allocation of funds, complete paperwork and create models and plans to get the money as quickly as possible to benefit student safety in the classroom this school year. There is also the promise of more money coming to help schools reopen, as President Biden recently proposed an additional $175 billion to reopen schools.
The December 21 stimulus bill included amounts to close to $54 billion for K-12 schools and nearly $23 billion for higher education, with $1.7 billion set aside for minority-serving institutions and close to $1 billion for for-profit colleges. The K-12 money will be divided among states and then passed to districts in the same way that Title I funds are, with priority going to high-poverty schools. This state-by-state breakdown shows more specifically which states get how much money. It is estimated that each school will receive about four times the amount of money they received from the CARES Act in the spring of 2020. This money can be used for a variety of expenses, and for a full list of the details of how this funding may be used please read the full text of the covid economic relief bill.
Whether your educational institution is currently open but looking to improve safety, or if you are part of a district or system that has been closed to in-person learning and wants to reopen safely, this money will be crucial to providing a healthy and safe learning environment. There are specific investments your school can make with this stimulus money to increase safety, from ventilation upgrades, to plexiglass shields for reception areas, to investments in tools that help your school achieve physical distancing and new cleaning equipment and products.
A clear and thorough cleaning and disinfecting plan that prioritizes health and safety will protect students, staff and custodial personnel while the pandemic persists. Stimulus money may help your custodial and maintenance department better prepare for reopening by providing the funding necessary to train additional staff on infection prevention or to invest in the supplies necessary to clean and disinfect for the coronavirus. When investing in disinfectant products to destroy COVID-19, it is important to choose products on the U.S. EPA’s N List, which indicates which products are effective against COVID-19.
Hygiene should be a cornerstone of any school’s reopening plan. Investing in hand sanitizer stations or additional sinks and soap dispensers can complement protocol that requires students and staff to wash hands constantly throughout the day.
Training and professional development for staff on minimizing the spread of infectious diseases is always a worthy investment, and there has never been a more important time to invest in your staff. This money can also be used to supplement staff and provide the additional help needed for added cleaning and disinfection protocol and steps throughout the day.
Consider school building upgrades and repairs for reducing COVID-19 transmission, including improving ventilation. If your school is interested in updated ventilation, there is plenty to spend money on. Public health experts provide detailed guidance on recommended ventilation upgrades, including portable air cleaners, high-efficiency filters (those rated MERV 13 or higher) and ultraviolet technology to help inactivate the virus through ventilation systems.
For further reading:
“Colleges, Students Will Have Easier Access to Second Round of Stimulus Funds” (The Washington Post)
10 Questions About the New Stimulus, Answered (Chalkbeat)
Biden Proposes $175 Billion to Reopen Schools