South Carolina school districts will have access to $56 million in federal funding to serve vulnerable student populations in the coming weeks.
The S.C. Department of Education announced the new pot of federal COVID-19 funds on Oct. 5. The money comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and can be used to help students who have disabilities or are experiencing homelessness.
School districts will have access to the money in the next few weeks, department spokesman Ryan Brown said. The money is in addition to the $3.3 billion that the state has received from the federal government in response to the pandemic.
Of the $56 million, over $43 million will go toward expenses that are approved under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including general services for students with disabilities, positive behavior and intervention supports, and mental health services.
Districts can also use the IDEA funding to pay for new technology that will better serve students with disabilities, transition services to help students after they graduate and to hire additional special education staff when needed.
Charleston County School District received over $2.4 million from the total $43 million allocation. Berkeley County School District received over $1.7 million and Dorchester School District 2 got over $1.2 million.
Brown said the money will be especially helpful for students with disabilities, who have struggled to keep up with schoolwork, to get access to the resources they need over the course of the pandemic.
"Throughout the pandemic, serving students with disabilities and ensuring they get the services that they are required to receive and they need to receive to be successful has been increasingly difficult and increasingly expensive," he said.
Another $10.4 million will go directly to school districts to support homeless youth. The districts will be able to use the money to provide wraparound services, including academic support, trauma care and mental health support. The money can also go toward needed supplies for those students, including personal care items and eyeglasses.
The districts are also able to use those funds to pay for transportation services for students and access to reliable, high-speed internet.
Another $3.4 million will go directly to the state department to support its McKinney-Vento Program. The federal program works to address challenges homeless students face in enrolling, attending and succeeding in school. It requires S.C. Department of Education representatives to ensure that every student has an equal access to education regardless of their housing status.
Around 12,000 students in South Carolina were experiencing homelessness during the 2019-20 school year.
"Your schoolwork comes second to knowing where you're going to sleep and eat," Brown said. "This allows school districts to provide them some stability and additional services that vulnerable populations need."
Of the $10.4 million, Charleston County received $531,054, Berkeley County received $363,176 and Dorchester District 2 received $109,350.
"These funds will be used by school districts to address the specific needs of students with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness so that they have every opportunity to be successful now and into the future," State Superintendent Molly Spearman said in a news release.