Utah is prioritizing mental health and social emotional needs, engaging missing or disengaged students and addressing K-12 literacy as the Utah State Board of Education seeks applications for a new round of competitive grants supported by more than $200 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding.

As one of the first seven states to have its plan for federal relief funds approved by the U.S. Department of Education, Utah will receive $205.5 million in funding under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief.

“The board will award competitive grants to school districts and community-based organizations to support students’ academic and social, emotional and mental health needs,” according to a U.S. Department of Educations press release. Grant applications are due Aug. 20.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education distributed two-thirds of the education relief funds totaling $81 billion to 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

The remaining third of the funding to states is being made available once their plans are approved. Utah’s plan was approved along with South Dakota, Texas, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

In total, Utah has been appropriated nearly $616 million in emergency relief funding between the funding announced Wednesday and funding released to the state in March, which was a $410 million.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in a statement, said it was heartening to see how states plan to use federal relief funding as schools ramp up for the start of the next academic year.

“The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic,” Cardona said.

Highlights of Utah’s plan include:

• A safe return to in-person learning this fall.

• Assessing the impact of lost instructional time.

• Reengaging students who missed the most in-person instruction during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years and did not consistently participate in remote instruction.

• Investing in summer learning and after-school programs.

Granite School District’s recently concluded summer school program served approximately 7,200 students, more than half of them elementary school-age students.

According to a report to the Granite Board of Education Tuesday night, the district’s elementary school program focused on literacy and numeracy while programs for secondary students were designed to assist them with credit recovery. All instruction was offered in person.

Jadee Talbot, Granite School District’s director of family and community engagement, highlighted two programs, both of which were accomplished with the support of community partners.

Cottonwood High School’s “Jump Start” summer school for multilingual learners offered face-to-face instruction in math, writing, language arts, biology, earth science and world civilization. The program was offered in partnership with Promise South Salt Lake.

South Kearns Elementary School’s program collaborated with Salt Lake County Youth Services to offer a full-day experience based upon community needs.

Talbot said educators, administrators and support personnel including school bus drivers, school nutrition workers and crossing guards played a role in the logistics of the summer program across the district.

“It was just a huge lift and a great collaborative effort to make this happen,” he said.

Cardona said the “unprecedented” infusion of federal resources in schools stemming from the pandemic “will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better.”