Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh Schools 'Disappointed' by Not Receiving Remote Learning Grant

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pittsburgh Schools 'Disappointed' by Not Receiving Remote Learning Grant

Article excerpt

The state Department of Education in April allocated about $5 million in grants to some of the schools that needed the most help providing remote instruction for their students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Pittsburgh's application was rejected.

Schools could use the state-funded equity grants to purchase devices, software, instruction and administrative supplies, as well as other items the Education Department deemed necessary for learning to continue during the shutdown.

The state awarded grants to 96 local education agencies, including school districts, charter schools and intermediate units. Grants of various sizes were allocated to schools with a wide range of demographics, but the largest amounts were provided to three urban districts - Philadelphia, Reading and Scranton - each of which received $500,000.

Pittsburgh Public Schools applied for a grant but did not receive one, which spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said was "disappointing" for the district.

"It would definitely have helped us," she said. "We were definitely concerned that we would not get one."

The transition from brick-and-mortar schools to remote education has been an expensive challenge for Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The district has spent about $2.6 million on remote instruction since schools closed in March, investing about $1.5 million on laptops for students alone. Printing and preparation of the first two rounds of work packets cost the district about $600,000. Other expenses include Wi-Fi hot spots and personal protective equipment for employees helping to prepare and distribute remote learning tools.

Beyond the expenses for remote instruction, Pittsburgh Public Schools officials this week said the pandemic could significantly harm the district's finances.

The Department of Education allowed schools to apply for two types of equity grants: Systemic Continuity of Education and Student Group Continuity of Education.

According to the criteria, local education agencies would be eligible for systemic grants if more than 10% of students were unable to participate in continuity of education. Agencies would be eligible for student group grants if more than 5% of students in a specific demographic were unable to participate in continuity of education.

Pittsburgh Public Schools applied for a systemic grant worth $565,000, according to Ms. Pugh. The district asked for the funding to help with several needs, including buying devices, printing packets, software, cost of postage and translation services.

Ms. Pugh said the state told the district that it did not receive a grant because of an issue with the application.

In a statement provided to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Department of Education said "PPS provided both systemic and student group-level data that could not be reconciled during the very brief application window. …

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