US Education issues ‘calculation error’; PSS funding increased to $23.2M

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — The CNMI Public School System will receive an additional $810,978, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan reported Thursday. The U.S. Department of Education informed the congressman that the department made a “calculation error” this week when dividing $27,940,945 in CARES Act Education Stabilization Funds between PSS and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres. After recalculation, funding for public schools increased from $22.4 million to $23.2 million. Funds provided to the governor for Emergency Education Relief were cut from $5.6 million to $4.8 million.

“This is good news for teachers, staff, and students at PSS,” Congressman Sablan said.

In the CARES Act Congress set aside up to $154 million for schools in the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — the so-called “outlying areas.” But the Department of Education has been slow to distribute the money. States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico began receiving Education Stabilization Fund grants two weeks ago.

“The Trump administration, also, decided to give the governor some of the money that Congress intended to go to our schools,” Sablan said. “That means PSS is still short $2.6 million of the amount the Commonwealth budgeted for this year and the governor agreed in signing the FY20 Appropriations Act.”

The FY 2020 Appropriation law mandated $37.7 million for PSS, but the Commonwealth has only paid out $11.9 million, leaving an unpaid balance of $25.8 million. As a result, teachers and staff have had their pay cut and been furloughed.

“As I wrote yesterday to Governor Torres, he should turn over all the money — now, $4.8 million — he was given and make PSS whole. Teachers and staff need to be paid,” Sablan said.

“And we have to help Marianas schools deliver online education and other services to our students, while physical schools are closed during the coronavirus crisis.” Sablan previously asked the governor to use some of the $36 million the Commonwealth government received in direct aid from the CARES Act to help pay for online learning.

Thanks to department for recalculation

In a phone call, Sablan thanked Frank Brogan, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the Department of Education, for taking a second look at the original distribution of the CARES Act money between the Public School System and the governor and for the resulting increase to PSS.

“With teachers’ pay cut and furloughed during the pandemic, the Public School System needs every penny it can get,” Sablan told Brogan.

The congressman also asked Brogan to expedite the paperwork necessary to get the CARES Act money to PSS, now that amounts have been allocated and announced.

Brogan promised the Marianas would have its money by next week.

Looking ahead to CARES II

Congressman Sablan informed congressional leadership, before he left Washington this week, that further federal funding for education needs to be a priority in CARES II, the next legislative response to the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus, currently being negotiated.

“If the governor hands over his money to PSS, that will take care of this fiscal year,” Sablan said. “I hope he will.

“But Commonwealth revenues are not likely to recover before the next school year begins. More federal relief will be needed, so teachers and staff get paid and students can continue learning.”

Congressman Sablan is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education with responsibility for education issues nationwide.

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