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Low-income families can now apply for DESE's $1,500 education grant

Young students sit in a classroom at their desks as their teacher speaks to them at the front of the room.
Kenny Eliason
Low-income families that are 185% below the poverty line will now have the opportunity to apply for the Close the Gap grant program.

COLUMBIA — Low-income families can now apply for a grant to use toward educational expenses through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) Close the Gap grant program.

DESE is working with the vendor Odyssey to offer a one-time, $1,500 grant for K-12 public and charter school students. The grant funds can also be used to purchase products within the Odyssey marketplace.

The funds will be prioritized toward families whose income is below 185% of the federal poverty level.

Sara Williams, a Columbia resident, said she has eight kids so the grant would benefit her family tremendously.

"I think it's fantastic. I think that us and all sorts of families could benefit from having any sort of financial help for school and it definitely takes a weight off us," Williams said.

The allowable expenses the grant can be used for include: tutoring; academic day or summer camps; computer equipment; internet connectivity; before- and afterschool educational programs; instructional resource material; course fees and textbooks; online access for an academic app or subscription; education, learning, and study skills services; arts-related day or summer camps; and art enrichment, according to DESE's website.

Izzy Fisher, a Fulton middle school student, said the grant money would help her education because she needs a new laptop.

"It makes me feel excited, it makes me feel like we have a good community and we're surrounded by people who actually care," Izzy said.

Mallory McGowin, DESE's director of communications, said in the department's fiscal year 2024 budget, the Missouri General Assembly included $25 million for the grant program.

"It's important to note that these are federal COVID relief dollars so these are funds from the elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund," McGowin said. "The Missouri legislature included those dollars, that $25 million line item in the appropriation process, ultimately to work on accelerating learning post-pandemic."

Throughout the pandemic and post-pandemic, McGowin says the state worked with school leaders to offer a variety of programs and services to meet families where they're at, and provided students the services they need post-pandemic.

"Our schools are working to do that every single day," McGowin said. "Families, no matter what income level, are reaching out to schools for assistance with services and wrap around services."

She said the Close the Gap grant program is another way schools and education stakeholders have been working to provide the help each student needs.

"We talk about how important it is to personalize student learning and really meet students where they're at to move them forward in their educational path," McGowin said. "That's what Close the Gap works to do."

Kelsey Hammond, executive director of the Columbia Art League, said art can be used in all areas of education. The art league offers kid classes on Saturdays, as well as an after-school program. ,

"We talk about STEM a lot, but you can also think about art as being part of that," she continued. "You can use it in anything."

Hammond said art helps people learn visually.

"I learned art history because for me, history made more sense when I had pictures to go along with it," Hammond said. "I learned a lot more about history and all the things because I was looking at pictures about those things."

Applications for the grant are accepted through Oct. 25. The applications will be reviewed for eligibility criteria once it's submitted.

If approved, the funds will be available in the applicant's Odyssey account.

To report an error or typo, email news@komu.com.

KOMU 8 is a full-powered NBC affiliate operating as an independent commercial property. As such, KOMU 8 is the only major network affiliate in the United States that acts as a university-owned commercial television station utilizing its newsroom as a working lab for students.
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