Conn. (WTNH) — Governor Ned Lamont announced Thursday the State is making an additional $160 million in funding available to help school districts open safely for students in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding would go toward costs associated with responding to the pandemic and supporting local operations for the 2020-21 academic year.

The State Education Commissioner says they are well aware of the digital divide. During the pandemic, some districts were able to easily switch to online learning. Others faced serious challenges. But this money can also be used to help schools open safely.

The funds announced Thursday are in addition to the $15 million already committed from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) plus the $111 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Funds (ESSER).

“These grants are an essential component to providing the best possible educational opportunities during this uncertain time,” Governor Lamont said Thursday. “Through this program, we are going to be able to offer devices, platforms, and internet connectivity to help with distance learning in lower-income areas for students just beginning their education through college and graduate school, increase access to higher education by expanding scholarship opportunities, and help those seeking vocational training to launch a new career. This global pandemic has changed the education paradigm and we are fortunate we have this funding to help our state and schools adapt.”

He says the money will go for academic support, student support, personal protective equipment and cleaning, transportation, and technology, and connectivity.

The CT State Dept. of Education is developing an application process for school districts to determine areas of greatest need specific to schools’ strategies for education in the fall (i.e. hybrid, remote, in-person learning, ect…).

The state says 55% of school districts are planning for full in-person learning and 44% are planning hybrid classes. Now, districts across the state will have $160 million more to work with.

For months teachers unions have been expressing concerns about a lack of funding. They are praising this allocation.

In the video below, President of the Connecticut Education Association (the largest teachers union in the state) Jeff Leake joins News 8 to talk about this new funding and how teachers feel about the state’s school reopening guidelines.