More state aid headed to schools to help with COVID 

Monitor staff
Published: 10/16/2020 1:48:26 PM

Public schools will receive an additional $45 million in aid as the state works to disburse the last of its $1.25 billion share of federal coronavirus funds by the end of the year. 

Gov. Chris Sununu said the state will put aside two batches of money for schools: $35 million to be divvied up among all schools and spent as they see fit, and a $10 million reserve to help specific schools that need it for COVID-19 purposes. 

The first fund would amount to about $200 per student across the state, Sununu said. 

The move is an attempt to help balance out a lapse in promised funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In early September, FEMA notified schools that it would not help them pay for personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 expenses, reversing months of earlier indications that it would do so. Some school districts expressed concern that their budgets took into account that assistance, and without it, budget cuts would be necessary.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers had been working toward recommending a solution to the FEMA funding gap this week while getting a better estimate of need. 

Sununu’s announcement Thursday preempted those recommendations. 

In distributing the aid to schools, the state is relying on federal guidance that allows up to $500 per student to be distributed in COVID-19 money with few strings attached. 

It remained unclear whether the $45 million would completely fill the gap in funding, and how much New Hampshire schools have racked up in COVID-19 expenses as they've moved to re-open this year.

In an earlier legislative advisory board meeting Tuesday, Executive Director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association roughly estimated that schools have incurred around $70 million in total additional expenses due to the pandemic. That number was based on an extrapolation of a survey of about 25% of school districts across the state, Ladd said.

In an interview Tuesday, Ladd warned that without getting state or federal reimbursement for COVID-19 preparation costs, school districts may need to cut additional programs to make their budgets whole. 

“It’s going to end up being programs primarily,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of shifting of personnel. There’s going to be some positions that either have to be eliminated or not filled. These are pretty dramatic numbers that districts are faced with that they were not anticipating at all when they built their budgets 18 months ago.”

On Thursday, Sununu announced other expenditures from the state’s $1.25 billion pot of federal money. The state will distribute another $100 million round of “Main Street Relief Fund” business aid, available to any business to apply for, whether it already received aid in the past. 

And New Hampshire will be moving $50 million in federal money into the state's unemployment trust fund, allowing that fund to stay solvent and heading off a potential tax trigger that would raise the contribution rate from businesses, Sununu said. 

Before Sununu’s press conference, about a billion dollars of New Hampshire’s share had been spent or allocated. The state must expend all funds by the end of the calendar year or the remainder returns to the U.S. Treasury. 

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307, edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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