Liz McCormick Published

Salango Endorsed By WV-AFT, Calls On Justice To Outline Plans For Federal Dollars In Public Schools

West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango speaks to the public and media at a press conference in Charleston on July 20, 2020.

West Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Ben Salango, a Democrat, joined members of the state’s American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO chapters Monday to call on Gov. Jim Justice to outline how he intends to use federal money to help public schools open safely this fall.

Justice has made it clear he wants West Virginia’s public schools to reopen on Sept. 8 for 180 instructional days, and if possible, to be open, in full, to in-person learning. The West Virginia Department of Education has provided each of West Virginia’s 55 counties with a toolkit on recommendations for reopening and health guidelines.

On Monday, gubernatorial candidate Salango urged Justice to clarify how federal dollars will be used for schools at a press conference hosted by the West Virginia chapter of the AFT.

“If we don’t take proper steps now and plan, our schools are going to be a breeding ground for COVID-19,” Salango said. “We’ve got to make sure that we are protecting our children.”

Salango said he’s supportive of in-person school in the fall. He pointed to ways federal dollars could be used to pay for things like temperature scanners, healthcare professionals, revamping schools’ ventilation systems and purchasing sanitation products.

Salango also said $80 million would provide each student in West Virginia with an iPad that has cellular connectivity.

At the press conference, he urged Justice to pull this money from the federal CARES Act.

According to the West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia received more than $1 billion in CARES Act funds. From that, West Virginia’s elementary and secondary education received $86.6 million in a fund called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF), earmarked to address the needs brought on by COVID-19.

Ninety percent of this appropriation is directly distributed to school districts in West Virginia to use at their discretion, while the other 10 percent is retained by the Department of Education to address emergency needs.

In Monday’s virtual press briefing with the governor, Justice announced that an additional $94 million in federal monies would be distributed to all of West Virginia’s public schools. But he said this money is separate from the CARES Act funds.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with our CARES Act at all,” Justice said. “[It] has nothing to do with that, but they got $94 million right now to be able to use … with COVID related issues for K-12.”

At the press conference with Salango, both the West Virginia AFT and the AFL-CIO officially endorsed Salango for governor of West Virginia.

Both unions have been critical of Justice’s handling of public education issues in the past.