Kent ISD leader hopeful about funding to combat pandemic effects

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The interim head of West Michigan’s largest intermediate school district is optimistic about support for schools going forward, but it’s up to lawmakers in Lansing to get allocated dollars to educators.

Ron Koehler, interim superintendent for Kent ISD, told News 8 federal and state relief thus far has been instrumental in helping schools navigate COVID-19. More could be on the way if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed increase in school spending can weather budget negotiations in Lansing. 

“We’re looking at investments now, not cuts, and that’s very important to our schools,” Koehler explained. “Especially at a time when we know our students may need additional instruction and additional academic opportunities over the summer.”

Allocated federal funding from the most recent relief package will be used to support summer learning, he said. Added programming was previously identified as one way to combat the intellectual impact that virtual learning has had on students. 

“Those programs have to be attractive, they have to be interesting, they have to be exciting for students to be a part of,” Koehler added. “We’re going to have to do whatever we can to make sure those programs are engaging and that they’re fun and participative and they also reinforce the academic needs that students have.”

Currently, the Republican-controlled Legislature is using the earmarked federal dollars as a bargaining chip, trying to give counties individual control over ongoing mitigation efforts.

Whitmer, other Democrats and educators have asked legislators to finalize the appropriation process to ensure schools have the financial support necessary to maintain ongoing changes in the classroom.

Koehler foresees virtual options and other mitigation protocols staying in place through at least the rest of the year.

“I think we can all expect that it’ll look a whole lot more like normal next fall than it looks right now. That said, we probably still will have mitigation practices in place until we can ensure the safety of all students and staff,” the interim superintendent said.

Late last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for school safety. The main change from previous guidance, which also covers the general public, is that people who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine no longer need to quarantine if exposed to the virus. 

Koehler noted it’s up to the local and state health departments to adopt that recommendation change before schools change their approach.

“Once they do, that will eliminate some of the disruption felt in our schools because much of the impediment to normal instruction over this past year has been quarantining of staff or students. If we’re able to cross that hurdle, interruption in normal face-to-face learning will be diminished,” he added. 

Teachers and staff are included in the current priority phase for the vaccine rollout. As providers around the state have pointed out, a shortfall in supply continues to hinder the process. 

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