Erie County partners with area school districts to create virtual learning support centers, investing approximately $14 million in education countywide
Additional funding targeted for existing child care providers, enhanced child care subsidy
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Monday announced county plans to invest approximately $25 million in U.S. CARES Act funding to support schools, child care providers, and caregivers countywide with critical grant funding. Approximately $14 million in grant funding will be used to assist 28 local school districts to create virtual learning support centers (“VLSCs”), places where children can be supervised in a safe and healthy environment while engaged in the virtual learning required by their school district. Additionally, approximately $4 million in grant funding will be used to directly support child care providers while additional funding will be used to replenish and expand the child care subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the state median income, bringing the total investment in child care and education to nearly $25 million.
“This investment in children, education and child care is unprecedented in our county’s history and underscores the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the lives of children. School districts, child care providers, and children’s caregivers countywide are all under pressure as they navigate the best ways to care for and educate our children in this new reality,” Poloncarz said. “This grant funding is a direct help to schools and child care providers and is an investment in our children’s future. I commend all involved in creating these virtual learning support centers from scratch, an effort that will positively impact thousands of children countywide.”
Five applicants covering all 28 school districts applied for VLSC funding, with 42 VLSCs being established in the City of Buffalo alone by Say Yes Buffalo. The YWCA of WNY (opening two VLSCs) applied on behalf of the City of Lackawanna School District while the Boys & Girls Club of the Northtowns (opening one VLSC) applied on behalf of the City of Tonawanda School District and the Charter School for Applied Technology.
Erie 1 BOCES (opening 16 VLSCs) applied on behalf of 16 school districts, including Alden, Lancaster, Williamsville, Sweet Home, Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda, West Seneca, Maryvale, Grand Island, Amherst, Cleveland Hill, Depew, Clarence, Cheektowaga, Tonawanda, Hamburg and Akron. Erie 2 BOCES (opening 10 VLSCs) applied on behalf of nine school districts, including East Aurora, Eden, Holland, Gowanda, Iroquois, Lake Shore, North Collins, Orchard Park and Springville-Griffith Institute.
The VLSCs are primarily for students between the age of 5 and 12 and will be free to attend for parents earning less than 85% of the state median income. Some VLSCs are expected to be open by Monday, Oct. 5, while others will be open sooner.
“We’re proud to help facilitate this critical program that will benefit the students and families who are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of this pandemic,” Say Yes Buffalo Executive Director David Rust said. “We applaud the creativity and flexibility we’re seeing in the hard work of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Deputy Executive Maria Whyte. Erie County is going above and beyond to assist students and families. We’re extraordinarily grateful to our partners in churches, afterschool programs and community centers throughout the community for answering the call and stepping up. This is a pivotal juncture in the history of our city and we need all hands on deck. At Say Yes Buffalo, we will do everything in our power to increase educational success in our community, and in tough times, that only means we work harder.”
Grant funding of $3.9 million is also in place for child care providers across Erie County, who will receive direct financial support to address the loss of revenue they suffered during the pandemic. With parents and caregivers returning to work, a recent study conducted by the Erie County Emergency Childcare Task Force and Erie 1 BOCES revealed 89% of respondents indicated they had a need for child care when school resumes, with 54% indicating they would need up to four days of child care and 21% indicating a five-day need for child care. In addition, 75% of all respondents are in need of child care for children ages 5-11. The Child Care Resource Network will serve as the grant administrator for the funds going to child care providers.
Child Care Resource Network CEO Kim Suminski said, “Child Care Resource Network is thrilled to be partnering with the Poloncarz administration and the Erie County Emergency Child Care Taskforce to bring much-needed assistance to families and child care providers during this trying time. The solutions put forth will not only help providers and families in our community, but will also provide a peace of mind for working families.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant stress on child care providers as well as parents. Many of these providers were stretched to the limit when the pandemic hit, or forced to close, and are now struggling to get back up to speed at the very moment they are most needed. Without child care, many families, including families supported by teachers, are contemplating extensive leaves of absence from jobs,” Whyte said. “Child care was and remains the backbone of the entire workforce system. This investment will help childcare providers meet the demand for their services.”
Erie County Legislator Lisa Chimera, a mother, educator and member of the Erie County Emergency Childcare Task Force, added, “These funds are vitally important for both our students and working parents across Erie County. I applaud the county executive and the Emergency Childcare Task Force for the diligent work they have done in addressing these urgent needs. No parent should have to choose between providing for their family and ensuring a quality education for their child. These grants will both enable our public education system and also our child care providers to meet the needs of families countywide.”
The Erie County Department of Social Services will also be allocating more Live Well Erie Cares Act funding to replenish and expand the child care subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the state median income. This funding helps working families with school-age children who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to bridge income gaps caused by loss of employment, loss of wages or fewer hours.
Commissioner of Social Services Marie Cannon said, “Boosting the school-aged child care subsidy will make a tremendous difference for working families and caregivers who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. This funding will help them to better provide for and protect children in their care.”