INDIANAPOLIS — As schools start the new academic year, K-12 schools and higher education institutions approved for support for online learning will begin receiving grants from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief, or GEER, fund.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced at his weekly virtual news briefing Wednesday that the $61 million fund, which is provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, will begin to go out to schools whose applications were accepted.
Holcomb first brought up the GEER fund in June, with applications being accepted until July 17. Any school, both K-12 and higher education, could apply for the grant to help students and teachers deal with the challenges of remote learning created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applications had to include detailed plans for use of the funding, including purchasing devices such as Chromebooks or iPads for students, upgrading laptops and other devices for teachers, and single-home Wi-Fi routers for families without reliable internet access.
Schools in 81 counties around the state will begin receiving grants. Nearly $50 million will be going to devices and connectivity for K-12 schools, while 12 colleges and universities will get the other $11.2 million for professional development and specialized training to help K-12 teachers, families and students.
Grants will go to 1,366 public schools, 64 public charter schools and 124 non-public schools. In total, the GEER fund will help nearly 675,000 school children.
With some schools and universities starting the school year in person, there have already been outbreaks of COVID-19 within student populations. Multiple K-12 schools have had positive cases in their buildings — several of them involving student athletes.
“I cannot say this enough — your actions that you take outside of school are just as important as those that you take inside the school building,” said Dr. Kristina Box, commissioner of the state health department. “Please don’t put yourself at risk of being isolated or quarantined; follow the guidance that we’ve been sharing for months.”
That guidance includes socially distancing from other people and wearing a mask in public spaces to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus, which continues to spread across Indiana.
Holcomb also announced that the state of Indiana will be applying for FEMA’s federal Lost Wage Assistance Program, which would give eligible unemployed Hoosiers $300 per week in addition to their regular unemployment.
The program set aside $44 billion for unemployed people across the country and will end when it runs out of money, said Fred Payne, commissioner for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. The federal government had been providing an additional $600 a week in supplemental benefits but that program expired at the end of July and Congress has yet to act on proposal to extend it.
Payne said that while the eligibility for the program is for people to be receiving at least $100 in unemployment benefits, the average unemployed Hoosier is getting around $285 per week in benefits, which would give them just under $600 per week if they are accepted for the program.
Payne said that it could take two to four weeks to put in place a new system needed for this program and to then start making payments.
Indiana’s rental assistance program has been receiving applications since July 13, but the portal to submit an application will be closing Aug. 26.
Out of the more than 30,000 Hoosiers who have submitted applications, more than half came the first week alone. However, Jacob Sipe, executive director of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, said that because of the high demand, it may still take about seven days for renter to be contacted after submitting an application.
Renters are eligible if their current income is less than it was on March 6, but they also had to get approval from their landlords. The program provides renters with $500 per month for four months, up to $2,000 total.
Payments to landlords first started going out the first week of August, and so far, more than $7 million has been paid. This does not include Marion County, which has its own rental assistance program.