Gov. Laura Kelly and legislative leaders unanimously agreed Monday to dedicate $154 million in federal stimulus funding to support economic development with construction of commercial buildings and to improve resources available to low-income students struggling in school.
Members of the State Finance Council, which includes Republicans and Democrats from the Senate and House, adopted a recommendation to set aside $100 million for expansion of structures needed to expand or attract businesses and jobs. The council also directed $50 million at a new program of $1,000 per-child grants to be used by families in the way most useful to students struggling through the pandemic.
In addition, $4 million was approved to help school districts upgrade internet connections to high-speed broadband services.
The spending plan was recommended by a public-private board known as SPARK, or Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas. Two SPARK members raised sharp objections to the Kelly administration’s plan to support business and education, but were outvoted.
Lt. Gov. David Toland, who also serves as secretary at the Kansas Department of Commerce, said a shortage of commercial space existed in some areas of the state. No decisions have been made about which communities or businesses would receive the funding, he said.
“It will be a competitive pot of money that businesses, communities and others will apply to for their individual projects,” Toland said. “This fund would also support economic development infrastructure, including the extension of utilities to business and industrial sites.”
Houses Speaker Ron Ryckman, a Republican from Olathe, sought more details about how the state would decide which 50,000 students in Kansas received $1,000 grants for social and mental health services, tutoring, books, school supplies and other educational aids.
Ryckman estimated there were 250,000 students in Kansas receiving free or reduce lunch who might be eligible for learning recovery assistance.
“How are we going to pick 50,000 students?” Ryckman said. “How do we select those 50,000 parents or families?”
Kelly said established metrics tied to household income would be relied upon to identify eligible families, who would be responsible for applying for grants.
“The grants will be allocated for the lowest income folks, households at the beginning,” the governor said. “We open up the grant process. There is a deadline to apply for that. At the end of that deadline, if that income level had not applied for all of the grants to use up the $50 million, then we would open up to the next higher tier of income.”
She said the state’s COVID-19 recovery office would work on selecting a vendor that would provide families with an online portal to gain access to approved expenditures.
“We will put up the guardrails to ensure we don’t get scammed here and don’t overpay a vendor,” Kelly said.
The appropriation was drawn from about $1.6 billion in stimulus aid sent to Kansas by Congress. In the past, the State Finance Council agreed to spend $27 million for coronavirus testing, $30 million to enhance salaries of hard-to-fill state jobs and $50 million for compensation bonuses to nurses.