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Louisiana public schools are set to get $1.2 billion from the latest federal stimulus bill. 

Louisiana public schools will get $1.2 billion from the latest federal stimulus bill, about four times the amount schools landed last year to combat the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday.

"This is an incredible influx of funding into our state and we have to make sure it is used thoughtfully, transparently and effectively," state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said.

The money coming to the state is the 13th most among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Schools collected $287 million in the spring of 2020 from the $2.2 trillion federal rescue package called the CARES Act.

That package included $30 billion for both public schools and colleges and universities.

The latest round totaled $77 billion for education, including $54 billion for public schools and $23 billion for colleges.

Louisiana colleges and universities are in line to get $268 million from the latest aid plan, officials said in December.

Brumley said the money will go directly to school districts statewide.

"First and foremost the dollars have to be used to safely reopen schools and ensuring they stay open," he said.

"Beyond that we should have the opportunity with these funds to intervene in learning loss and hopefully to accomplish additional educational endeavors that will be important for kids."

About 720,000 students attend public schools in Louisiana.

Classrooms were shuttered in March of 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic, forcing districts to suddenly resort to distance learning amid major gaps in the number of students with laptops or tablets and internet connectivity at home.

Many schools reopened in August but there have been periodic closures in the Baton Rouge area and elsewhere amid spikes in the number of positive cases.

About 60 percent of students are attending in-person classes. The rest depend on either virtual learning or a combination of virtual and in-person classes.

The upheavals in the previous and current school years have sparked concerns about what impact the interruptions are having on student learning.

Some studies say students have fallen six months or more behind where they should be in some subjects.

Brumley, a longtime advocate of students returning to classrooms, said he does not think students here have suffered as much learning loss as other areas.

Like the first round of aid in 2020, the latest assistance is expected to help finance summer school classes aimed at addressing the academic interruptions.

Officials of the state Department of Education plan to unveil an aggressive tutoring program for the spring.

"We have to be aggressive to make sure that our kids recover from the school building closures," Brumley said. "They are critical years and we have to make sure we are intervening so that this does not create a generational problem."

Wes Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School District, said Wednesday addressing potential learning loss will likely be his district's top priority with the federal dollars.

The first round of education assistance in 2020 included $10 million for child care centers.

Child care is in line to get $193 million this time, according to Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.

Most centers in Louisiana have reopened after about two-thirds were closed last year because of the pandemic, sparking huge financial losses for operators.

How much private schools will get is unclear.

A Washington, D.C. group called Good Jobs First, which calls itself a national policy resource center that promotes accountability in economic development, said private and charter schools have gotten much more federal aid than public schools because they qualify for Payroll Protection Program loans in addition to direct aid.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.