LEOMINSTER — Congressman James McGovern was joined by State Senator John Cronin, State Representative Natalie Higgins, Superintendent Paula Deacon and other local leaders to celebrate major new investments in schools in the city made possible by $11 million in federal funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund and additional state funding.
“Our schools are struggling, not just here in Leominster but across America,” McGovern said Monday at Bennett Elementary School, adding that teachers and educators who have had to “pivot to remote learning” last year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic deserve recognition.
“Their efforts have been nothing short of heroic,” he said. “We strive to reinvest in our education system…teachers are the key to our country’s success and children are 100% the future.
McGovern praised Deacon for his leadership in these unprecedented times, then Cronin and Higgins “for their partnership and leadership in securing this vital money.” He then thanked President Biden for funding ARPA which to date has provided more than $1.8 billion in direct funding to K-12 schools across the state “and more to cities and towns to distribute. as they see fit.”
According to a press release, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, McGovern played a key role in getting Biden’s ARPA through the House of Representatives and successfully blocked several amendments that would have reduced the funding from state governments. McGovern noted that ARPA’s $11 million in funding had come to Leominster schools through direct aid, and an additional $650,000 “investment” came from the state.
The press release says Massachusetts received more than $8 billion in direct federal aid and Beacon Hill that federal aid was used by Cronin and Higgins, who managed to secure the additional $650,000. for Leominster Schools for the following projects – $100,000 for HVAC upgrades at Bennett; $100,000 for a preschool education center feasibility study; $150,000 for water filtration upgrades in city schools; and $300,000 for portable classrooms for Leominster Elementary Schools.
“I am so thrilled that we are gathered outside the Bennett School to highlight how these funds are being used,” Higgins said. “We want to make sure some of the resources go back to the Leominster public school system.”
Higgins also acknowledged the hard work her colleagues put in to secure the funding, saying she is “very grateful to Congressman and Senator Cronin and their efforts.”
Cronin echoed his sentiments, saying he is “proud to work alongside (Higgins) and his team every day” and grateful for McGovern’s continued support.
“We have an incredibly wide range of complex issues,” Cronin said of the entire education system affected by the pandemic. “We are working on it every day to solve them. Thank you for your cooperation and your benefit for working families.
Deacon was last to speak and said she was “tingling inside” about how she feels about receiving the vital funding.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 35 years,” she said, before talking about teachers and students asking her, “When will we be a priority?” even before the difficult times of the pandemic.
“COVID has allowed us to sit down and consider some of that,” Deacon said. “What a privilege to have this kind of advocacy for Leominster Public Schools.”
She told the gathered crowd that she could hear ‘the little voices behind me’, referring to young students at Bennett School.
“That’s bliss,” Deacon said. “I hope the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this is hope.”
McGovern said “we all work as a team” and education in general is a priority for them.
“We have a lot more to do,” he said. “The federal and state governments are working hand in hand.”
When asked what exactly they would be spending the funding on, Deacon said the list was long.
“A lot of the updates we’re making in school systems include security camera systems, water filtration systems, HVAC systems, things on the edge of infrastructure,” he said. she declared. “It also allowed us to buy high-quality resources that are very expensive to bring in. So we were able to buy all of that.”
She went on to say that they “are also looking to take care of some of our own transportation needs” and purchase vans as they transport students to various locations in the area.
“As well, a lot of this is for nurses and special education counselors to help with the mental health of our students,” Deacon said. “Some students are doing really well, some are really struggling, so we have to make sure that all of those safeguards are in place. That’s what the funding is for.
Deacon said the long list includes many things they “could never have afforded.”
“We have to be very, very careful in our selection and we want things that are sustainable,” she said. “Eleven million dollars is a lot of money, but it goes very quickly.”