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$30 million available for tornado-impacted school districts, as ongoing recovery costs increase

Graves County High School
Liam Niemeyer

The Kentucky Department of Education has $30 million available to reimburse school districts for recovery costs impacted by the December 2021 tornadoes, allocated through legislation passed in January. Tornado-impacted school districts also potentially have access to tens of millions of dollars more set aside for recovering communities, but at least one impacted school district is seeking more guidance on how to use the funding.

Along with that $30 million specifically for school districts, House Bill 5 also appropriates $150 million for the West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) fund. The SAFE fund aims to help local communities rebuild, allowing community organizations and school districts to apply for additional recovery funds.

Kentucky Department of Education held a virtual meeting with the superintendents from school districts impacted by the tornadoes to discuss the details of House Bill 5 and the regulations for getting reimbursed from the $30 million fund.

Robin Kinney is associate commissioner for the office of Finance and Operations at Kentucky Department of Education. Kinney said the wording of House Bill 5 leaves enough flexibility to give schools options when deciding on how best to use the funding. .

House Bill 5 gives school districts three distinct areas that they can invest funding into. School districts can receive reimbursement from costs covering mental health counseling services for students, faculty, and family; outside-of-school tutoring or other services that advance student’s education; construction or repair of school facilities, and transportation.

Kinney said that there is no specific way of spending money in those categories, so what school districts choose to spend the funding on may vary. She said the funds will be available to school districts for the next two years.

“As far as those mental health counseling services, so whether they hire a contractor, whether they add an additional staff person,” Kinney said.

One school district, though, said it still needs more guidance on how to best utilize House Bill 5. Graves County Superintendent Matthew Madding in an emailed statement said there were “still several unknowns.”

Other school district leaders in tornado-affected counties feel that House Bill 5 is still not doing enough.

“We would likely primarily request reimbursement for additional transportation costs due to transporting students from our district and Mayfield that have been displaced,” Madding said. “We are still waiting on some specific guidance.”

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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