Saipan-- The CNMI's Public School System may now use $23.2 million in federal assistance under the The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the U.S. Department of Education has remitted. However, Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan, the CNMI's delegate to Congress, said the education system could use more.
Sablan said he 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 Gov. (Ralph) 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 2020 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.
“This should be a tremendous relief to PSS teachers and staff,” 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.”
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 yesterday 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.”
It has been seven weeks since Congress passed the CARES Act with the funding for education in the CNMI 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.
Sablan was still in Washington 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,” said Sablan, who chairs the congressional subcommittee responsible for federal elementary and secondary education policy nationwide.