SPARK Board of Directors Allocates $ 154 Million for Economic Development and Education | Zoned

TOPEKA – On December 20, SPARK’s executive council made up of state officials and trade advisers agreed to move forward with the allocation of federal funding for $ 100 million of infrastructure projects of commercial buildings and $ 50 million in direct aid to children suffering educational setbacks in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The idea proposed by Lieutenant Governor David Toland to the seven-member executive council included the development of grants to businesses and communities for the expansion of construction infrastructure capable of attracting or retaining jobs in Kansas. In addition, Toland said the goal would be to provide a $ 1,000 voucher to low-income, high-need students particularly affected by the loss of educational opportunities due to the disruption of school.

In addition, the panel agreed to provide $ 4 million in state matching funds to help school districts install high-speed Internet services.

“During our listening sessions, we heard a clear direction from Kansans on needs and opportunities,” said Toland. “We have an imperative to try to act now.”

The package, which comes from federal relief funds made available to Kansas, has yet to be approved by the State Finance Board, which includes House and Senate leaders from both political parties and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly. At present, Kansas has yet to allocate $ 1.1 billion of the $ 1.6 billion designated by Congress. In addition to the $ 500 million set aside to bolster the state unemployment trust fund, the state finance council has allocated $ 50 million in premiums to retain nurses, $ 30 million for nurses. wages for hard-to-fill jobs in the state and $ 27 million to continue coronavirus testing until March 2022..

The proposals were approved by Senate Speaker Ty Masterson, Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, Secretary of the Department of State Administration DeAngela Burns-Wallace, businessman Jon Rolph and Toland. Opposition among members of the board of SPARK, or Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas, has been registered by businessmen Greg Orman and Bill Pickert.

Masterson and Ryckman requested additional details on how Kansas would determine recipients of individual learning loss grants of $ 1,000 per child. Documents provided by the Kelly administration indicated that approximately 50,000 students would be eligible for a program modeled on similar projects in Idaho and Oklahoma. Under the proposal, parents would seek to qualify through an online portal and, if eligible, could use the $ 1,000 to purchase educational materials, computers, software, tutoring services or cover other approved educational expenses. The program would be structured to allocate money on a first come, first served basis.

Burns-Wallace said the administrative cost of the education initiative would remain low, perhaps improving the 5% cost incurred in Idaho. She said existing metrics to determine the eligibility of Kansas students would be used, including guidelines that the Kansas Department of Education relies on.

“I’m actually a big supporter of empowering parents,” said Masterson, a Republican from Andover and president of the Kansas Senate. “I think it’s a step in that direction.”

Orman and Pickert voted against proposed grants for commercial construction and vouchers for needy students. Both said the business development grant idea did not include enough detail to be properly assessed.

According to the Kelly administration’s proposal, the Kansas Department of Commerce would consider requests for support for speculative building developments, modernization of business park facilities, and other infrastructure ideas. The lack of ready-to-rent construction space in Kansas is hampering the state’s ability to accommodate business opportunities, Toland said.

“I’m a tough no to all of this,” said Orman, who was an independent gubernatorial candidate in 2018, a race won by Kelly. “I’m just shocked that we went out and said we want to do an economic development program to build empty buildings. The idea that the state is somehow going to renovate a bunch of old buildings for the private sector, in my opinion, is cronyism at its best. We are talking about the well-being of companies here.

Toland, the lieutenant governor and secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce, said there was a shortage in Kansas of ready-to-fill space for logistics and distribution companies and for high-tech manufacturing companies. He said investing federal funds in a targeted fashion would help build momentum in the state’s economy.

“We don’t have that space in most places in Kansas,” Toland said. “There is a serious shortage.

Orman also criticized the recommendation to provide $ 1,000 for students who lack the resources or a support system to protect themselves educationally when they have not been in mainstream schools since the onset of the pandemic. COVID-19 in early 2020. He suggested the state should explore funding for summer school programs or special reading initiatives.

He alleged that the educational part of the package appeared to be an offer of votes in the 2022 campaign cycle.

“We might as well send out a mail-in ballot with every $ 1,000 voucher that comes out,” Orman said. “It feels like we’re buying votes here and not really focusing on the real issue. I understand the political appeal of sending $ 1,000 to a group of people.

Pickert, who also voted against the package presented to the SPARK executive committee, said he wanted a comprehensive proposal for the education spending plan. He also said the Kansas idea was far bigger than the $ 7.5 million Oklahoma initiative and the $ 20 million Idaho project.

Cody Friesen is the sports editor of Derby Informer. Contact him with sports advice at [email protected] and follow @Derby_Sports on Twitter for the latest updates.

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