Kilili: PSS CARES Act $23.2 million ready for drawdown

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(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — $23,163,734 for the CNMI Public School System is now ready for drawdown. The U.S. Department of Education in Washington reported to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan Thursday the transfer of CARES Act funds had been made. And the Congressman met the PSS leadership in Saipan to confirm the money was received.

“This should be a tremendous relief to PSS teachers and staff,” Congressman Sablan said. “The PSS leadership told me they will now be able to pay all their employees.

“This money also gives PSS more ability to provide online learning. Even sheltered in place, Marianas students have a constitutional right to an education; and we have a responsibility to make sure their schooling continues.”

It has been seven weeks since Congress passed the CARES Act with the funding for education in the Marianas and nationwide. State funding was quickly distributed under a 30-day timeline set in the law. But the Department of Education took more time with the money for the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.

Congressman Sablan would not leave Washington until last week, when the department finally announced the allocation for the island areas and sent the necessary application materials to PSS.

“In transit, I spoke with Assistant Secretary Frank Brogan to thank him, but I also got a commitment from him that the money would be at PSS disposal this week. And he kept his word.”

Sablan chairs the congressional subcommittee responsible for federal elementary and secondary education policy nationwide.

Governor: Make PSS whole

Sablan is not completely satisfied with how the Department of Education handled the CARES Act funding for island schools.

“Instead of giving all the money to help teachers and students, the Trump administration decided to carve off $4.8 million for Governor Torres,” Sablan said. Other island governors also got a special set-aside from the department.

“As I wrote Governor Torres on May 5, I think he should turn over all that money to schools in the Marianas and make PSS whole.”

The Commonwealth budgeted $37.7 million for PSS in the FY 20 Appropriations Act. Only $11.9 million has been conveyed to the school system, however, leaving a balance of $25.8 million.

The CARES Act funding of $23.2 million for PSS covers most of that balance, but there is still a remaining $2.6 million needed to meet the Commonwealth’s original commitment to teachers, staff, and students.

Sablan urged the governor to use all of his $4.8 million “to help cover the unbudgeted costs of providing online learning, while schools throughout the Marianas are closed by the pandemic.”

Sablan also announced that House Democrats have introduced new relief legislation that will help schools get through the coronavirus crisis. The HEROES Act contains additional funding of approximately $81 million for Marianas schools.

“These education stabilization funds could cover all of the next school year for PSS, NMC, and NMTI. And there is additional money in the HEROES Act just for colleges, which Northern Marianas College will also qualify for.”

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