State Education Secretary Highlights Safe Return to Schools During U.S. Education Secretary Tour

student covidImage by Alexandra Koch

HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Dr. Noe Ortega joined U.S. Department of Education (USDE) Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona on Monday at Donegan Elementary School and Northampton Community College, both in Bethlehem, PA, to highlight plans in place and resources available to support a safe return to classrooms. The secretaries toured the schools and met with staff and educators as Pennsylvania prepares for the upcoming school year.

“I cannot be more appreciative of the hard work educators and school communities have done to support our students across the commonwealth,” said Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega. “We remain committed to doing everything we can to help schools create healthy and safe conditions for the upcoming academic year. We are so pleased that Secretary Cardona visited Pennsylvania schools today to see how we are making these efforts possible.”

While at Donegan Elementary School, Secretary Ortega also highlighted the $416 million increase in state education funding in the state budget, including the new Level Up initiative that provides $100 million for some of the most underfunded school districts in Pennsylvania. The Bethlehem School District will receive a $3.46 million increase in state funding this school year, including $1.6 million in Level Up support. Donegan Elementary School is a part of the Bethlehem Area School District.

In April, Secretary Cardona visited Philadelphia area schools and commended the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) on the Wolf administration’s special initiative that vaccinated more than 112,500 teachers and staff in three weeks. The administration supports efforts to vaccinate eligible students aged 12 and up across the commonwealth.

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The secretaries’ visit comes after the approval of Pennsylvania’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan to use the remaining $1.6 billion in one-time, emergency federal relief to support the long-term work of education recovery. At the end of March, the Wolf Administration announced nearly $5 billion in ARP ESSER federal COVID-19 relief for Pre-K-12 schools. These funds will bolster schools and districts to return to in-person instruction. Each entity will receive an amount proportional to the federal Title I-A funds received in 2020 under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Schools must use at least 20 percent of this money to address learning loss and the social, emotional, and academic needs of underrepresented students, including students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care. Additional information on the allocation of funds can be found on PDE’s website.

Last week, the USDE released its Return to School Roadmap to support school communities in preparing for the 2021-22 school year. Throughout the 2020-21 school year, PDE regularly provided technical assistance and guidance to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to support instruction while navigating the pandemic. This includes PDE’s online resource, the Roadmap for Educational Leaders. PDE will continue to support LEAs as they prepare for and navigate the upcoming school year through the latest chapter of PDE’s Roadmap for Education Leaders; Accelerated Learning through an Integrated System of Support. This toolkit features a professional learning series for school leaders and educators to help address students’ learning loss, social emotional learning, and other issues caused by the pandemic.

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