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Many Maine schools use pandemic aid to boost air quality

August 26, 2021 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine schools are using a one-time windfall in federal pandemic relief to add positions, improve ventilation and provide programs to help with mental health and wellness.

A large chunk went to air quality improvements, addressing a major problem in older schools at a time when health officials were worried about the spread of aerosolized COVID-19, officials said.

All told, state schools received about $596 million from several rounds of aid, according to an Associated Press analysis. The Maine Department of Education says the figure is even higher, closer to $730 million, when additional monies are included.

In Maine, total disbursements ranged from as much as nearly $44 million to Lewiston public schools, followed by $28 million to Portland schools and $20 million to Bangor Schools, to as little as $9,703 for Castine Public Schools.

On a per-pupil basis, though, rural districts were winners with tiny RSU 85/MSAD 19 in Lubec receiving $10,383 per student and Greenbush receiving $9,659. Those districts had 150 students combined.

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In Lewiston, about 22% of the federal money is going to improving ventilation in public schools, while money was also spent on tech improvements and efforts to deliver remote instruction and to ensure the emotional health of students, officials said.

Money also went to ultraviolet systems to clean library books, washers and dryers to ensure sanitation, and tents for outdoor instruction, officials said.

“At the end of the day, most of our funds were spent on projects that directly impacted teaching and learning,” said Jennifer Darigan, the district’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act federal program coordinator.

Also, money was used for summer learning-loss programs and personal protective equipment. Some was used to offset higher transportation costs on socially distanced school buses. RSU 60 used money to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The AP tracked more than $155 billion sent to states to distribute among schools since last year from several pots of money. That includes general pandemic relief that some states shared with their schools.

The aid averages nearly $2,800 per student, but it varies widely by district and state, according to the AP’s analysis.

But some of them, like RSU 4 northeast of Lewiston, gave some money back to taxpayers to lower property taxes.

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This story has been corrected to show that Jennifer Darigan’s title is Elementary and Secondary Education Act federal program coordinator, not director of instructional support.