Illinois is expected to receive $569.5 million in emergency school funds from the federal government to spend on its coronavirus response, the state’s top educator has told district leaders. 

Now that it has become clear that school closures could span weeks, even months, the state “strongly” encouraged district leaders to use the money to “strengthen your infrastructure for remote learning,” Superintendent Carmen Ayala said in a message to districts Tuesday night. Earlier Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended school closures to April 30. 

The money is part of the federal government’s coronavirus stimulus bill. In all, the Trump administration has said it is sending $13.5 billion to schools for meal programs, technology purchases, remote learning infrastructure, distance mental health programs and counseling for students, sanitization and deep cleaning, and summer programs to help address the learning gaps. 

Chicago, which is the state’s largest district with 355,100 students, is slated to receive $205.7 million, according to preliminary figures. Rockford School District 205, which has 28,700 students, will receive $11.7 million. Springfield School District 186 and Elgin U-46 will each receive about $7.8 million, and Peoria School District 150 will receive $6.3 million.  

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According to federal guidelines, the money is distributed by the number of low-income students in each district. The grants will increase by 75% the amount of federal money districts usually receive each year to serve poor children. The money can be used for any school within a district, the feds have said, and public school districts must allocate some of their share to students and teachers in private schools and charters.

Ayala told leaders that it’s not clear when the money would be available. She plans to apply for the funds as soon as the application is available, expected to be within 27 days. 

Chicago has already estimated it will spend at least $75 million on its response to the shutdown, including major device purchases and bonuses for frontline cafeteria and security workers and school administrators who are distributing food at campuses. Last week, Chicago’s Board of Education granted district leaders spending authority for the emergency fund, to respond to unexpected needs that have cropped up during the district’s emergency coronavirus response

Illinois will distribute 90% of the funds to individual districts; the remaining 10% will be spent at the state school board’s discretion, Ayala said Tuesday. She said the discretionary funds will benefit districts whose students have the greatest need for technology and internet access. 

Two-thirds of Illinois school district leaders have said they cannot roll out e-learning plans because of lack of access to the internet and technological devices and lack of teacher training. 

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