by Robin Kemp

U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA), along with Clayton County School Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasley and members of the Clayton County School Board, Clayton County Legislative Delegation, Clayton County Board of Commissioners, and other metro Atlanta school systems, announced a massive infusion of $1.6 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds for education.

Among other dignitaries present were:

  • Board of Commissioners Chair Jeff Turner
  • State Rep. Mike Glanton
  • State Rep. Rhonda Burnough
  • State Rep. Sandra Scott
  • State Sen. Gail Davenport
  • State Rep. Kim Schofield
  • CCPS District 7 Board Member Sabrina Hill
  • CCPS District 4 Board Member Victoria Williams

Clayton County will get $198.2 million.

Of that, CCPS spokesperson Jada Dawkins said later, “As a part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) ESSER III, Clayton County Public Schools was awarded an initial allocation of $110,830,441. After the ARP application is approved, Clayton County Public Schools will receive $59,677,930.”

“The biggest thing that I want to get across, and this is every metro Atlanta school district, is preparing for a full return to in-person learning this fall,” Ossoff said at a press conference held at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center Monday afternoon. “These federal funds that we’ve provided through the American Rescue Plan give local school districts tremendous flexibility as to their use to ensure that we can return fully to in-person learning this fall,” Ossoff said.

However, Ossoff sidestepped a question from CW69’s Valencia Jones about state Board of Education officials banning the use of federal funds to teach what it broadly considers to be critical race theory–a college or graduate-level specialty most likely encountered in area studies, philosophy, or literature courses, not K-12 classrooms, and one that is demonstrably more complex that the state Board of Education resolution banning it.

“One of the things that has been a major topic in these schools lately is concerns about the implementation of critical race theory,” Jones said, “and then some ties into some federal funding and the requirement of getting these federal grant funds to implement this curriculum. What are your thoughts? There’s been a lot of pushback in these districts concerning that.”

Ossof replied, “Well, these federal funds that we’ve provided through the American Rescue Plan give local school districts tremendous flexibility as to their use to ensure that we can return fully to in-person learning this fall. I’m not here today to comment on any local discussions that are happening about curricula. Those are, I know, vigorous conversations that are happening at local PTAs and school boards. What I’m here to do is to confirm for families in the metro Atlanta area that they can plan and expect that every single school district in the metro Atlanta community will be returning to full in-person learning this fall.”

CCPS Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasley (center) welcomed federal education recovery funds from U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (fifth from left) at a press conference in Jonesboro June 14, 2021. CCPS will get $198.2 million from the American Rescue Plan for learning support and physical plant maintenance, as well as maintenance and school nutrition worker salaries. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Beasley said the money would go towards “learning opportunities. Helping with, of course, maintenance. Salaries for maintenance and school nutrition workers. Some PPE, even though we feel like we’re really resourced up kn that area. Maybe a few HVAC situations but not many, because all of our facilities, we have some pretty good HVAC systems. Some literacy support to literacy coaches, et cetera. And I just think in general, just really making sure that the students have access to accelerate learning, so I’m looking at making sure that if they need to take dual enrollment, they can be supported with dual enrollment. 24/7 tutorial opportunities, so parents will know they don’t necessarily have to wait for a teacher who might not have but a limited amount of time, so they can have access to tutorial resources 24/7.”

Beasley added that summer learning is “going great. I think we lead in the metro area, I would say. From acceleration, to advanced learning, to STEM opportunities, to reading, math, and writing camps, I mean, it’s amazing.”

For this fall, he said, “We’re going to let schools submit a proposal for their programs that they want to do, and then we’re just going to fund those programs. I think that schools know exactly what their kids need, and so we want to support them in that effort.”

Meal support will change this fall, Beasley said.

“As a matter of fact, since most of our kids are coming back face-to-face, we think we’ll be fine. Back in the cafeteria.” He added that CCPS provides groceries and food pantries for students in need, “so we’ll continue to do all those efforts. We have to be very nimble. If we see that there is a need, our school nutrition staff, they’re prepared to make whatever adjustments that we need to make.”

Clayton County elected officials welcome Sen. Jon Ossoff’s June 24, 2020 announcement of $198.2 million in federal education funding from the American Rescue Plan. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

CCPS Board Chair Jessie Goree said the additional funding was welcome.

“Money’s always great,” Goree said. “We’re just trying to use it to help everybody, you know–to help our students. We can do things to offset costs within the school district. also provide new learning opportunities for our students, also to help our staff, our employees. So we’re using it in any way we can, anything that’s going to enhance Clayton County Public Schools.”

As for summer school, Goree said, “Everything is in full force. I see the school buses out, I think we started everything, I believe, last week. We haven’t missed a beat. I don’t think anybody has really had time to just sit down. I wish our staff could have had at least a week to just sit and relax, because you know it has been a very stressful year, but everything’s up and running and everything’s going fine.”

Goree said the board just got back from the Georgia School Board Association conference and pointed out several CCPS nurses already at work, “so we’re trying to do our very best. If we can get everybody vaccinated, you know, things could be back to normal. Because I know it was good for me to be with my colleagues and for us to even see each other in person, I can only imagine how our students feel.”

She added, “We did a great job, I believe, with our graduation ceremonies, because our seniors had never seen each other at all this year, so it was great. It’s been a great year, despite the stresses.”

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....