school libraryChicago – State Senator Bill Cunningham is announcing southwest suburban schools within the 18th Senate District are set to receive more than $78 million in additional funding to help address the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been so impressed by how well our students, teachers, and other school staff have navigated the difficulties of the pandemic,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “As we continue our recovery, this funding will give our schools more resources to help their students get on track and return to full-time, in-person learning.”

The funding comes as part of the two most recent federal COVID-19 relief packages. Schools, students and parents have overcome challenges that no one could have imagined before the pandemic began, including remote and hybrid learning, digital connection issues, new processes for receiving state and federal aid that normally flow through schools, and more.

The majority of the funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, which gives local schools a great deal of flexibility in how they can use the money over the next 3 ½ years. At least 20% of the funding must be used to address learning loss, but beyond that, school districts can use the money to address many different issues and costs. For example, it can be used to better equip schools for safe learning, to prevent layoffs, to address students’ social and emotional needs, to fund summer programs, or to ensure all students have access to reliable Wi-Fi and technology.

“Schools can use this funding not only to pay down costs associated with the pandemic – they can use it to build for the future,” Cunningham said. “They can help bridge the digital divide for lower income families and build robust tutoring programs to help students who may have fallen behind during the pandemic catch up with their peers.”

The State Board of Education, in collaboration with other state agencies that address education, has produced a guide for local school districts to help them decide how to best use their resources. While the guide and other state-sponsored services are completely voluntary, the state aims to support local districts during this difficult time.

Suburban school districts in the 18th Senate District include North Palos School District 117, Palos Community Consolidated School District 118, Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123, Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124, Worth School District 127, Chicago Ridge School District 127-5, Orland School District 135, Community High School District 218, Oak Lawn Community High School District 229, Consolidated High School District 230, and Evergreen Park Community High School District 231.

In total, Illinois received more than $7 billion to support local school districts.