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Relief funds from Biden administration helping school districts invest in students, buildings

Posted at 11:42 AM, Apr 23, 2021

From the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to President Biden’s infrastructure plan that will cost another nearly $2 trillion, you might be wondering, beyond stimulus checks, how is this money going to help you rebound?

For school districts across the country, the additional funds can go a long way. One school district plans to spend as much as $10,000 to $15,000 per student.

You won’t find many places like Hamtramck, Michigan.

In recent decades, thousands of immigrants have moved here from places such as Yemen and Bangladesh. There are more people who are Muslim here than any other religion.

“In our school district, we have 19 languages overall,” said Superintendent Jaleelah Hassan Ahmed.

She says while her students are a beautiful example of diversity, her district faces challenges that shouldn’t be found in the U.S.

“Having a school district that is high poverty, a community that is high poverty, it comes with a lot of challenges,” she said.

Ahmed says for the last 30 years the school has used portable trailers as classrooms to ease overcrowding. The trailers started at out as temporary, but they’ve never left because the building, which houses an elementary and middle school, isn’t big enough.

“This is not the perfect environment that anyone would want their children to be in,” Ahmed explained. “To be in a gated, one-room classroom, this is not America. This is not education in America.”

But her district is expecting a more than $35 million boost through President Biden’s COVID relief plan, which breaks down to about $15,000 per student.

“I wanted to cry when...I had a mix of emotions from crying to excitement, and I was like, ‘Tell me this is real. Is this real?’” the superintendent said when she heard the news

Money is allocated based on a community’s overall income level. Across the country, the average increase per student is about $4,000. That’s according to nonprofit education group Chalkbeat.

In neighboring Detroit, the city is expecting about $23,000 per student.

“You can’t say to school districts to go back to in-person when you know that you failed them. Basically, you failed them for all these years by not updating the deplorable facilities,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed says she can't use the money to buy a new building, but she can use it to update her district’s schools. Some are so old, they’re designated historical landmarks.

“This window is our rescue window. This is the extent of being able to open our window,” said teacher Patty Erwin while demonstrating how little the window opens.

Erwin taught in Hamtramck for the past four years.

“This building is 100 years old and it needs massive investment that our community can’t support,” Erwin said. “And it’s not that they don't care about education, it’s not that they don’t care about the investment, they don’t have the money!”

“It’s hard to see it took this crisis, this pandemic, to help them realize the deficit we were in when it came to provide the infrastructure that students are owed,” Ahmed added.

As we measure the first 100 days of a new administration, Ahmed says we need to look to the next 100 and past this pandemic, because when it comes to education, the work is far from over.

“I say we—I’m strong about the pronoun use—we educators, politicians, parents, students, everyone, needs to be at the table to discuss, reflect on what’s occurred, practices, things we could have done better and looking to see how we can better improve the field of education all together,” Ahmed said.