Pandemic prompts $40M tech-focused education plan

Sequoyah High School's athletic and activity center is seen April 8, two days after students began distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

TAHLEQUAH -- Cherokee Nation officials plan to infuse $40 million worth of federal funding into education to help students "stay on track" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Respond, Recover and Rebuild Education Initiative, announced July 2, features technology grants and stipends, along with expanded clothing vouchers.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has hit students and schools hard in lots of ways," Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. "The very nature of education, how it's safety delivered in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in generations, has changed dramatically. Distance learning has taken on an even greater importance. Technology is also needed to keep students and teachers safe as the virus continues to spread in our communities."

Because of the pandemic, students at CN schools and across the state spent the final months of their 2019-20 school year distance learning. Under the Respond, Recover and Rebuild Education Initiative, Cherokee students age 5-18, "regardless of income and regardless of where they live," Hoskin said, will be offered a $400 education technology stipend.

"Most of our programs, of course, are limited to within Cherokee Nation's 14-county borders," he said. "But our At-Large Council members often remind us that in a health crisis that impacts the whole country, we should look for ways to help people both inside the Cherokee Nation and outside the Cherokee Nation."

Those funds may be used for Wi-Fi, specialized software required for distance learning or related items.

The 5,000-plus recipients of the CN's fall 2020 scholarship will receive an additional $750 grant for technology-related expenses while attending college during the pandemic.

"Year in and year out, we invest in Cherokees both here at home and at large to get their college degrees," Hoskin said. "These funds will help them to stay on track during this difficult time."

The 107 public school districts across the CN jurisdiction will receive $10,000 grants for education technology, health and safety projects and other related needs.

"When public schools are strong, communities are strong," Hoskin said. "We will also stand ready with funds totaling more than $1 million to assist the neediest schools across the Cherokee Nation. We'll also hire some student advocates to identify learning obstacles related to truancy, such as technology barriers."

Also part of the plan are expanded vouchers for school clothing and winter coats.

"For years we've helped low-income public schools across Cherokee Nation with a $150 voucher for school clothes and winter coats," Hoskin said. "This year, for families that have been impacted by COVID-19, we'll double the amount for low-income students to $300, and for the first time ever, offer a $150 voucher to students across the Cherokee Nation without regard to income and without regard to type of schooling."

All efforts are "thanks to our successful fight for federal funding" and the Tribal Council, Hoskin said. The CN's larger Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan utilizes several hundred million dollars worth of federal CARES Act funding earmarked for tribal governments.

Hoskin said additional information would be available soon via the CN's Facebook page and�