After a recent court ruling, Longview private schools are expecting to receive thousands of dollars less than expected in federal coronavirus relief funding.
Public school districts were ordered to distribute a certain percentage of the federal money they received to private schools in their geographic boundaries. But a federal judge ruled earlier this month that a rule that gave private schools a larger share of those relief funds is illegal, The Washington Post reported.
Originally, private schools' funding was based on enrollment of students between the ages of 5 and 17.
However, the ruling by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., means private schools' share of federal funding is based on the number of students who qualify for free-or reduced-cost meals.
For St. Mary's Catholic School, that means about $45,000 less funding — from almost $55,000 to about $9,300, said Principal Darbie Safford.
Trinity School of Texas Head of School Mellissa McCreary said the rule change will reduce her school's funding from about $64,000 to about $3,800.
Both schools were planning to use the money to make needed pandemic-related purchases.
"We needed to provide PPE for faculty and staff, purchase thermometers, upgrade water fountains to bottle-filling stations, make sinks touchless, update the Wi-Fi network, provide Chromebooks to all teachers and students," McCreary said. "We had to buy more remote learning tools, purchase video equipment to livestream classes, more teacher training, purchase carpool and lunch ordering apps to limit contact in drop-off, signage and social distancing markers, plexiglass barriers for reading groups and conversational groups in Spanish, cleaning supplies, outdoor tables and chairs, more supplies and books because students can’t share."
Safford said St. Mary's planned to use the funding for technology purchases, specifically for iPads for all students between kindergarten and fifth grade.
"Longview ISD is still trying to get us our original funding because we turned everything in before Sept. 10 deadline. There’s no guarantee it will work, but they are trying," she said. The school already had submitted purchase orders for the technology.
Though the school will apply for grants or try to raise money other ways, Safford said that funding would not be available anytime soon.
"We’re going to continue to move forward with what we currently have," she said. "We pulled out every old computer, and our IT guy just rebuilt them all. We’re using 10-year-old technology and they’re all different brands, all different kinds. We don’t have the funding to go buy across-the-board computers that are all the same, so all kids have the same technology to teach the same way. So in addition to having to teach both in the classroom and online, our teachers are also having to troubleshoot technology."
McCreary said Trinity had to cancel its spring fundraiser because of COVID-19 but it still trying to find ways to raise money.
"The (federal relief funding) act was originally meant to benefit all students," she said. "Because all schools were affected by the pandemic, not just low-income students."
A lot of students live in places without good Wi-Fi or in homes with siblings, and not all of them have their own computer, McCreary said.
Trinity offers an indexed tuition based on income and other factors and set the rate for families early, so many already had their tuition rates before spring, she said.
"We can’t go back and say, 'We need you to pay another $500,' " McCreary said. "We had quite a few families that were directly impacted by the pandemic. It’s been difficult, but we are doing fine. Our kids are very positive our parents and teachers are very positive. We kept all our employees on. We actually had to hire a few to have split classes for social distancing."
Safford said St. Mary's, which also offers indexed tuition, is at least a year out from solving funding problems caused by the pandemic.
"We just have to make do with what we can," she said. "We’re not in a position where our parents are able to just go out and purchase the technology their kids need. A lot of families were impacted by the pandemic with either job losses or reduced income."