Editor's note: The above video on historic staffing shortages at Washington state schools originally aired Nov. 12, 2021.
OLYMPIA, Wash. – The U.S. Department of Education is giving Washington state’s education department the remaining $618 million of the $1.8 billion it was allotted through the American Rescue Plan.
The funding comes after the state’s plans for the money were approved by the federal government. The new money totaling $618,787,310 is aimed at helping the state continue to operate schools safely amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and offer expanded opportunities for all students, especially those impacted by the virus.
“I am proud of the work our schools are doing to support our students’ well-being and in-person learning recovery and acceleration,” said Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. “As a state, every decision we’ve made has centered our students.”
Washington is the 48th state to have its plans approved since June.
As states brought students back to schools, the government released the Return to School Roadmap, which states' education departments used to appropriate funding to support a safe and consistent in-person learning experience for kids.
The additional funding will be awarded to schools throughout Washington via grant programs.
These programs will focus on addressing lost instructional time, expanding afterschool programs and supporting emotional, social and mental health needs of students.
Washington’s education system, like states across the country, has suffered from not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also the fallout of Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate and burnout among school staff.
Despite nearly 90% of school staff complying with the mandate, the state lost 188 teachers along with nearly 300 other workers who were employed at schools and district buildings.
Meanwhile, teachers say their mental health is suffering amid staffing shortages.
Reykdal's office is expected to invest a portion of the new funds in creating multiple pathways to recruit and retain more educators.
“Nearly 90% of our school employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, our students are learning in-person full-time, and our educators are working incredibly hard to support our students as we emerge through this pandemic,” said Reykdal. “I am grateful for the investments made by the federal and our state governments, which have provided our schools with the support they critically need during this unprecedented time.”