Montgomery County commissioners on Tuesday approved pandemic relief grants totaling $18.71 million for schools and other programs that support education and put an additional $10 million toward helping impacted county residents pay their utilities.
Much of the educational funding is going to help thousands of students bridge a digital divide made starker by the pandemic, said Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge.
“We can’t be having a division with poor children not being able to learn just as well as a child that lives in a home that can afford Wi-Fi,” she said. “This is so important to put everybody on the same step, on the same page, so they can all learn at the same rate.”
Commissioners approved 21 educational grants, including three for the Montgomery County Educational Service Center (ESC) totaling $5 million.
The ESC’s funding will be used to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, Chromebook devices and help “upskill” teachers, said Shannon Cox, superintendent of the ESC.
“This has been a very huge blessing to the educational system,” she said. “That helps leverage it across the county versus making the school districts compete with one another.”
Cox said a study conducted between March and May found thousands of students lacking internet connectivity, and schools surveys revealed more than 24,000 devices were needed. The ESC supports 16 public school districts in the county as well as other charter and private schools.
A grant of $1.1 million will help reimburse the ESC for about 4,500 Wi-Fi hotspots and 22 extenders already provided to county students. Another grant of $2.1 million will allow for the purchase of 6,883 devices. About 900 have already been purchased in an effort spearheaded by Learn to Earn Dayton, but the total remains well short of 24,000. “We knew that that was going to be quite a lofty task, but we decided to just kind of chip away at it,” Cox said. A third grant of $1.8 million will provide teachers special training for remote instruction, Cox said. “There’s a lot of teaching skill that has to happen in that remote environment to have one-on-one check-ins or small groups,” she said. “It’s way beyond just being able to turn on a computer or use a certain program.” Other grants are going directly to districts to help defray unforeseen pandemic expenses. To date, the Montgomery County Office of CARES Act has approved 32 educational grants, including those for private and charter schools, although the balance is awaiting formal approval by county commissioners. Montgomery County has put aside just over $25 million of its initial $92.77 million federal CARES Act allocation toward educational grants, according to the county. Dayton Public Schools received $3 million, support Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli called “invaluable.” “The grant was extremely helpful in providing support for technology purchases and important PPE supplies during the pandemic,” said Lolli. A grant of $2 million approved for Centerville City Schools will help with the unexpected costs of the pandemic, but also a potential reduction in state funding, said Sarah Swan, a district spokeswoman. “This particular grant will help us offset expenses related to technology purchases, supplies and equipment for cleaning and disinfecting, personal protective equipment, as well as teacher planning and preparation,” Swan said. Cox said technological investments made using the grants will outlast the coronavirus. “This is transforming education — and not all for the bad. Some of it is very good,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re really equipping teachers to be able to teach in the 21st century, and schools to educate in the 21st century and beyond the pandemic.” Help with utility bills
County commissioners also approved a new utilities payment program Tuesday to electric and natural gas customers who are struggling to cover bills due to the coronavirus pandemic. The $10 million program split evenly between DP&L and Vectren will allow customers to receive a bill credit for qualifying past due balances. Credits will cover any amount more than 30 days past due for any service billed on or after March 1, 2020. The maximum benefit is $10,000 per account. Customers can apply for bill credits on their DP&L bill, Vectren bill, or both, according to the county. “This one-time benefit will bring relief to residential customers during a time when it is needed most,” said Richard Leger, vice president of regional operations for Vectren, a CenterPoint Energy company. Lisa Krueger, the U.S. strategic business unit president for DP&L’s parent company, said the program provides a simple way for customers impacted by the pandemic to avoid having service disconnected for nonpayment. “We encourage those who need assistance to apply so they can continue receiving safe, uninterrupted electric service,” she said. Requirements for these bill credits include:
■ Must be a residential customer of DP&L and/or Vectren (business accounts are not eligible)
■ Applicant must reside in Montgomery County
■ The property’s service address must be in Montgomery County
■ Have a balance at least 30 days past due with either or both utility companies
■ Credits will only cover charges billed on or after March 1, 2020
Anyone who has applied for utility assistance through other local entities are eligible for these grants provided they still have an amount at least 30 days past due. No applications will be accepted after Nov. 30. More information on the program and a link to the online application are available at www.mcohiocares. org. Customers can also text the word “Power” to 937- 496-7969 to receive a link to the application on a mobile phone. Montgomery County has additional pandemic relief programs available including mortgage and rental assistance for individuals and families as well as grants for small businesses, nonprofits, healthcare institutions, agriculture businesses, daycares and preschools. For more information and how to apply, visit www.mcohiocares.org.