VALDOSTA – Sen. Jon Ossoff said the federal government is supporting a “full and safe reopening” of schools in 2021 by giving millions of dollars to the Valdosta and Lowndes County school systems.
Meeting with Valdosta’s local representatives, Ossoff announced Valdosta City Schools will receive $46.8 million and Lowndes County Schools will receive $23.2 million
This will be through the American Rescue Plan Act which President Joe Biden enacted in 2021 to provide direct relief from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also helps schools reopen by providing the necessary resources to a majority of K-8 schools in their first 100 days, according to The White House’s site.
Ossoff said this funding should make the next school year “the best in history,” and help educators, parents and students who’ve struggled throughout the pandemic.
“Local education officials have a lot of flexibility with this funding because local officials, parents and educators know best what this community needs,” Ossoff said.
He said he’ll work with local education officials to help them access the resources and creatively put them to use. According to him, local officials will have a lot of discretion in using the funds.
Valdosta State University will receive $27.8 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act as well. VSU President Richard Carvajal said this is exciting news.
This will be the third round in similar aid.
In the past, funding has directly supplied aid to students, as well as supplying the school with personal protective equipment, and other emergency equipment to keep people safe while hosting classes.
“Those funds were instrumental ... to keep the university going and open this year,” Carvajal said.
With this aid, VSU will be thriving instead of just surviving, he said. Carvajal said the university will wait for guidelines from the University System of Georgia before officially using the funds.
“I would anticipate again for us to help our students directly as well as make some significant investments in the long term,” he said. “Obviously, our students, like so many others during this pandemic, have been struggling. We have a chance here to make a difference.”
Ossoff also received the chance to ride Valdosta On-Demand, which he called “truly impressive” as he rode in one of its vehicles on the way to a local press conference.
Mayor Scott James Matheson announced last week at On-Demand’s debut that Ossoff’s office held high remarks for Valdosta’s transportation initiative.
He said Ossoff’s office acknowledged Valdosta as the first community in the country to have its entire public transit based around an on-demand service.
Matheson, District 2 City Councilwoman Sandra Tooley and City Manager Mark Barber said they were ecstatic to show it off to him during his visit. Ossoff said he was ecstatic to take the ride.
“This is the kind of imaginative, creative leadership to provide the people of Valdosta to make such a valuable public service – this new transit service,” he said. “It’s flexible, it’s already raising the quality of life and standard of living for folks here in Valdosta.”
Ossoff said it was an eye-opening ride, too, as On-Demand is a sort of generational infrastructure investment in clean energy.
It’s one of many he saw on his way down to Valdosta this week, such as the Q Cells facility in Dalton.
“Georgia hosts the largest solar manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. “We then went to an electric vehicle battery production facility in Commerce – this is technology of the future.”
He said he also saw the harbor deepening in Savannah.
These are worthwhile investments in Georgia’s infrastructure and innovation, ones that help people live better and more affordably.
“It’s so important that we really unite as a people to support the kind of historic investment in infrastructure that we need at this moment,” Ossoff said.
During Ossoff’s visit, Suwannee Riverkeeper John Quarterman asked about the proposed heavy mineral sands mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
This refuge is the largest east of the Mississippi and carries a hefty amount of wildlife biodiversity. The mine could potentially impact the refuge’s native species, basin hydrology and overall integrity.
An environmental review process was attempted but has since been encumbered because of a change in interpretation of the Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction, according to a U.S. Senate letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s principal deputy director, Martha Williams.
Ossoff said he and fellow Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock have already asked the USFWS to “engage and support” the Environmental Protection Division’s permit review of the mine.
“We will be monitoring closely this process and urging federal participation in this process to ensure that proposed commercial developments don’t damage the refuge and swamp,” Ossoff said.