As Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland prepares for what the fall might look like for its students, funds attained through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act specifically for education may help offset the costs of making potential in-person classes safer or distance learning more accessible for students.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, schools can receive emergency funds to help cover the costs of the impact of COVID-19. In a July 1 interim final rule, the US Department of Education decided that the allocation of funds will be based on the decision of local education agencies (LEAs) who can allocate the funds based on Title I numbers of low-income students at designated Title I schools, or base funds off of total enrollment numbers for both public and private schools.

Because of this interim final rule, the Maryland State Department of Education issued new guidance for LEAS. Maryland LEAS where Archdiocese of Washington Catholic schools are located each decided to distribute CARES Act education funds based on a total enrollment count. This will allow Archdiocese of Washington schools in Maryland to receive Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) funds through the CARES Act.

“This will ensure that all of our schools can participate and will receive funding under the CARES Act,” said Brian Radziwill, director of government and grant programs for the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools Office. “All students will be able to benefit.”

For schools such as Don Bosco Cristo Rey, because Montgomery County Title I public schools are all elementary schools, a private high school’s students would not be eligible for CARES Act funds if the LEAS chose to direct funds to Title I schools, Radziwill said.

“Without this change, some schools would have received no funding at all,” Radziwill added.

Don Bosco Cristo Rey, a Catholic college preparatory high school, offers students, most of whom are from low-income and minority families, the opportunity to help pay for much of their tuition costs through the school's Corporate Work Study Program, where students get to work during the week for leading businesses and other institutions in the Washington area. When local Catholic school campuses including Don Bosco Cristo Rey closed in mid-March as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus and transitioned to online learning, the question arose how that shutdown would impact the school’s corporate partnerships.

“The big unknown entity for us at the time was with the shutdown of the economy, what would that mean then for our partnerships and with their businesses relative to their ability to pay us and support our schools,” said Salesian Father Michael Conway, the president of the school, which is part of a nationwide network of Cristo Rey schools. Don Bosco Cristo Rey is co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco.

By utilizing the CARES Act and applying for the Payroll Protection Program, Don Bosco Cristo Rey was able to continue paying its teachers and staff throughout the shutdown, using the funds specifically what they were designated for by the government, Father Conway said. 

“It’s been a great support for us,” he said. 

The ability of Catholic schools to work with the government allows such schools to continue to “make a difference” in the community, Father Conway said. 

“Catholic schools historically have been significant contributors to the educational well-being of many students, particularly of those who have been the most poor and needy,” Father Conway said. “For us as Catholic schools not to be able to have the opportunity to provide those services that will really prepare our kids well for the future would be a great detriment not only to those students, but to the wider community as a whole.” 

Father Conway added that he considers it his responsibility to ensure that funds received are used in the right ways. “We don’t take for granted what we’ve been given.” 

“We’re giving underprivileged kids the opportunity to be able to get a very strong college prep education that is going to position them for the future and to better their families,” he said.

In a 2018 photo, students at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland show what colleges they will be attending during the school's annual College Signing Day. Since Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program was founded in 2007, 100 percent of its graduates have been accepted into college. Many Don Bosco Cristo Rey graduates are the first members of their families to attend college. (CS file photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)