Prince William to use federal relief funds for bus driver recruitment, homeless students

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

Prince William County schools are getting some extra help from the federal pandemic relief bills to bolster its learning recovery plans.

Last week, the division budgeted and appropriated grant money for two new programs, one to help recruit new bus drivers to help with getting students to tutoring appointments and the other to help provide a suite of services for the division’s homeless students.

The latter will total more than $278,000 in new funding for the division’s existing homeless education program that will come from the American Rescue Plan Act Congress passed in March of 2021. According to application documents the school system submitted, money will be used for everything from additional tutoring support, store cards for an emergency supply of food, clothes and other essential needs, transportation services, prepaid cell phones, school supplies for homeless high school seniors and more. The tutoring provided through the grant will be in addition to what students in homeless shelters can already access through Project HOPE.

“Students who are struggling with academics and need additional support beyond the scope of Project Hope tutoring will be offered additional tutoring supports in person or virtually through contracted services,” the division’s grant application reads. “Progress will be tracked, and the tutoring will cater to individual needs for the students. This will help close the achievement gap created by the pandemic.”

Money will also go to funding summer academic and enrichment programs for seniors, visits to prospective colleges and 250 “comfort kits” for students who become ill and can’t come to school temporarily.

The application doesn’t specify how many PWCS students are considered homeless, but it includes funding for 100 phones for seniors over the next two school years.

Padreus Pratter, a member of the county’s human rights commission, came to the school board’s March 2 meeting to support the funding for homeless students.

“There is funding that’s there to make sure [homeless students] maintain some type of semblance of home. There’s additional funding that’s there to make sure they have hot meals at night. There’s additional funding that’s there to make sure they have …any type of supportive educational needs,” Pratter, who works for the U.S. Department of Education and volunteers at the Hilda Barg homeless shelter in Woodridge, told the school board.

The school system is also set to receive more than $59,000 in new funding to help recruit new bus drivers. The money will be awarded through the Virginia Department of Education but comes as part of the second pandemic relief bill passed in 2020.

Like school districts and transit agencies around the country, PWCS has continued to struggle to fill bus driver positions since the pandemic took hold, forcing drivers to make double or triple runs and delaying drop-offs and pickups for students. According to the division’s application to VDOE, PWCS currently has 610 bus drivers on staff and 916 yellow buses in its fleet, with 121 job openings for drivers. The grant money will go to offering $500 monthly stipends (to supplement hourly wages) for new or existing drivers who take on bus runs bringing students to their tutoring sessions.

The increased high-dosage tutoring is a key component of Superintendent LaTanya McDade’s unfinished learning plan, but right now the division says it needs more drivers to take on tutorial activity bus runs to 24 different schools.

“These runs allow students to participate in tutorial sessions to address areas of learning need as a result of the learning loss experienced during the pandemic,” the division’s request to VDOE reads. “Students and schools have been impacted by the overall shortage of drivers which has required drivers to double and sometimes triple runs during the day. They cannot provide dedicated tutorial bus service removing the option of remediation and tutoring to all students because of the need to transport students for the normal daily runs which is outside their contractual time.”

At the upcoming Wednesday meeting, the school board is also expected to approve funding from the 2021 relief bill for supplemental virtual tutoring, purchasing 90,000 new K-12 student licenses for online tutoring services through Paper Education Company Inc.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

 

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