Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday he will use $125 million in federal funding for job training and to assist public universities in the fall.
The money, which was distributed from the federal government to help states deal with the coronavirus pandemic, comes with restrictions on how it can be used.
Colleges and universities will collect $80 million to help them prepare for students and faculty returning next month. Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan said the money will be used for a variety of purposes to make public spaces safe.
“We know that we need PPE,” Mulligan said at the press briefing on Thursday afternoon. “We know we need to modify our physical spaces. We know that we need testing capability. We know that we need resources to comply with local health orders.”
The money can be used not just for classrooms and dorm rooms, but also at athletic facilities and “anywhere that students, faculty and staff congregate and bring guests onto campus,” Mulligan said.
An additional $10 million from CARES Act funding will go toward the expansion of remote and online learning for higher education. As evident after this spring, colleges and universities are able to adapt to the needs of online learning, but Mulligan said this funding will help for long- and short-term needs — “to make sure that students have access to the internet and also institutions have the hard and software they need to do so successfully,” Mulligan said.
The funding will be administered on a reimbursement basis, meaning that institutions will pay for the costs up front, then show the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development that it was used for resources covered under federal guidelines.
“There is an additional $23 million that’s allocated to the public colleges and universities from the GEER Fund, the Governor’s Emergency Education Fund,” Mulligan said. “This will be used to ensure that colleges and universities have the faculty and staff they need to successfully serve students in the fall and beyond.”
The state received $54 million in GEER funding from the federal government. This funding stream is specifically for K-12 and higher education, but Parson said he is not sure where the additional funding will be used in Missouri yet.
Additionally, $9.7 million will be allocated toward job training and getting Missourians back to work: $6 million will be used to help those who are recently unemployed due to the coronavirus, another $2 million will be used to train for high-demand positions in information technology, and $1 million will support the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program.
“This is a program that covers the full cost of tuition for an adult who goes back to school and pursues a high-demand degree or certificate,” Mulligan said.
Mulligan said short-term and online training can be accessed at local job centers or at jobs.mo.gov.
In lockstep with President Donald Trump, who said this week he would put pressure on governors to open schools, Parson urged Missouri administrators to prepare for in-person learning in the fall.
“We highly encourage our Missouri schools to do whatever they can to reopen and get our students back in the classroom,” Parson said.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a five-page document on Thursday that “clarifies questions and key topics regarding school reopening guidance.”
It says that schools should implement a daily screening process for COVID-19 symptoms. It also encourages social distancing in schools and suggests students and teachers be grouped together to limit exposure in the building.
It encourages the use of face masks for administrators, teachers and older students, but said they are not recommended for young children.
“Young children may have difficulty complying with the proper use of face coverings and may have increased face touching, mask chewing, mask trading, and other behavior that could increase risk of infection,” the document said. “For this reason, continuous usage of face coverings is not recommended for young children.”
A guidance document published the same day by St. Louis school administrators and public health officials goes a step further than the state’s guidance by requiring masks be worn by all school staff and any student in fourth grade or higher.
The guidance says that rather than have students move through the building, specialty subject teachers could float between classrooms. It recommends physical education and music classes take place outdoors.
Transportation will also be a challenge. Both documents recommend masks be worn while all students are on buses and bus windows be kept open if possible. They also suggest adding buses and routes and staggering arrivals.
St. Louis County superintendents released a guiding document Tuesday. The county’s guidance discusses students being in school part-time or on certain days but says it’s only something to consider, not a requirement.
School systems in both the county and city say more detailed plans will be announced on July 20.
Despite not revising school reopening guidelines under pressure from the president, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Thursday that not reopening schools would pose greater health risks to students across the country. Just hours later, Parson echoed that sentiment.
“There’s a lot of things that occur by not having them in school that could be far worse than going there and fighting a virus that we know is happening there,” Parson said.
Ryan Delaney contributed to this report
Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR