PORTLAND — Subsidized child care programming for 600 Portland students that was in danger of ending this week will get a month’s reprieve while the school district waits to hear how much money it will receive from the new pandemic stimulus package from the federal government.

Superintendent Xavier Botana hopes to have information on the district’s share of the $900 billion stimulus package on Jan. 19 in advance of school board action Feb. 5.

Botana had previously recommended that the programs that provide after-school care or full-day care on remote learning days be unfunded at the end of 2020. Those funds were needed, he said, to cover the costs of retaining the 120 additional staff members hired this year to offer safe in-person and remote instruction for students.

With additional pandemic aid on the horizon, Botana decided on the reprieve.

“The recommendation is that we continue to provide the community-based programming for an additional month in anticipation of the fact we will know more about what the funding looks like, what it can be used for and what the timelines are in the coming month,” Botana said.

Botana said his preliminary understanding is that the relief package, which includes $54.3 billion in aid to school districts, could be used for coronavirus-related educational expenses. That figure, he said, is four times what schools received through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security (CARES) Act and could be used by the district through September 2022.

“We spent all fall saying we need to spend the money now,” Botana said of the district’s $10.5 million in CARES funding. “This is different in that it allows us to extend it over a significant period of time.”

The school district used two-thirds of its CARES funding for one-time costs, such as technology upgrades for at-home learning and facility improvements for safer in-person learning, with the remainder going to staffing and child care programming.

The new relief bill may be able to cover the $1.8 million cost of offering child care at the 13 community partners through the end of the school year and could allow school districts to extend use of the previously allotted CARES Act funding through Dec. 31, 2021. The CARES funding had set to expire Dec. 31.

Board member Anna Trevorrow said she is happy to support the superintendent’s new recommendation until the details of the new coronavirus relief funding get ironed out.

“I am really happy we will be able to continue with it and provide that stability for our families,” Trevorrow said of the community child care programs.

The programs, board Chairperson Emily Figdor said, are a “lifeline to families in our community.”

“As someone with an elementary school student, I know how disruptive and challenging it can be the juggle work responsibilities with having kids home in a way they have never been there before,” Figdor said. “I appreciate the superintendent pivoting so quickly once news came that the deal in Congress had been reached and pivoting so quickly to see if we can move forward with this stopgap measure to provide families with continued care at least through January.”

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