Project costs likely to rise as federal tech ed dollars are delayed

Nov. 23—GRAND FORKS — For approximately eight months, more than a dozen schools across North Dakota have been waiting for a combined $68.3 million in federal funding for the creation of career and technical education centers.

In March, 13 schools were awarded grants of up to $10 million for CTE projects by the state of North Dakota, but federal funding to power the state grant has not yet been approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

In Grand Forks, the delay in funding means the proposed Career Impact Academy could cost at least 6% more than originally expected. Eric Ripley, executive director of CTE and technology for Grand Forks Public Schools, says the district expected the funds to arrive by the end of May, and in the six months since then, the district's construction manager estimates inflation has driven the project's price up by 1% to 1.25% per month.

"When you're talking about a $20.5 million project, that's pretty significant," said Ripley.

Other projects waiting for funding include Grafton's

North Valley Career and Technology Center

and Devils Lake's Lake Area Career and Technology Center.

Like in Grand Forks, leaders of other projects across the state are concerned about the increased prices projects are expected to face, said Wayde Sick, state director of the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education. To address this concern, Sick says he intends to request an inflationary impact grant from the North Dakota Legislature in its 2023 session.

"These projects that were awarded would have the ability to apply for more dollars so they can actually deliver on what they said they were going to deliver a year ago," he said.

In total, the Coronavirus Career and Technical Education Capital Projects Grant promised more than $88 million to CTE projects across the state. A

portion of the total was $20 million

from the state's allocation of American Rescue Plan funding, which has already been awarded to projects in Dickinson, Watford City and Minot.

The grant also required projects to match state awards with local funds, which could come from within a school district or from outside donations.

The delayed $68.3 million was applied for at a federal level through the Department of Treasury's Coronavirus Capital Projects Plan. The program has a primary focus on funding for broadband infrastructure, but funds can also be used for other capital projects like multipurpose community facilities for work, education and healthcare monitoring with remote options.

In August, the Department of Treasury approved $45 million for broadband infrastructure in North Dakota, but the Department of CTE is still waiting to hear back on funding for CTE centers.

"What we have been told by the Treasury is that because the law is complicated and limited staffing at the U.S. Treasury, it is just taking more time to review grant plans that are not specific to broadband," said Sick.

The Capital Projects Fund has a federally-mandated spending deadline of Dec. 31, 2026. However, at a state level, lawmakers set the spending deadline as June 30, 2023. Sick says he also plans to ask the Legislature to extend the spending deadline.

Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, says because the funding is tied up at the federal level, there is little state legislators can do to make it arrive faster. Monson, a longtime Republican lawmaker, chaired the education and environment division of the House appropriations committee in 2021 and served on the interim education policy and funding committees.

Any new money appropriated by the state government for projects would still be delayed because it has to go through the usual process, Monson said — a bill would have to pass the House and Senate, then be signed into law by the governor.

"We've got extra money in the budget in North Dakota, the problem is we can't just appropriate new money overnight," he said.

Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, said the delay in federal funding should be the first CTE-related issue the Legislature addresses in the 2023 session.

"Before we look at expanding any of these CTE programs, I think we need to make sure we're funding our obligations that we've made promises on already," he said.

The delay in funding also means that local businesses, organizations and governments that contributed to the matching dollars required by the grant application have been in limbo.

In Grand Forks, Ripley says the project still has a strong momentum in the community, with donors ready to contribute when funding does arrive. The city of Grand Forks, which pledged $2.2 million to the project, has the donation prepared and ready to go when grant money is released.

"Our industry partners are still in lockstep with us," he said. "I just keep telling people we're in a waiting game, in a holding pattern, until those matching funds get released, whichever way they come, whether it's the state level or the federal level."

According to a Department of Career and Technical Education release, the 13 CTE projects awarded funding from the Career and Technical Education Capital Projects Fund are as follows:

* Southwest Area Career and Technical Education Academy — Dickinson — $3,333,334*

* Bakken Area Skills Center — Watford City — $3,333,334*

* Minot Area Workforce Academy — Minot — $3,333,334*

* Career Impact Academy — Grand Forks — $10,000,000

* Cass County Career & Technical Education Center — Fargo — $10,000,000

* North Valley Area Career & Technology Center — Grafton — $4,752,290

* Williston Basin Career and Technical Education Center — Williston — $10,000,000

* Heart River Career and Technical Education Center — Mandan — $10,000,000

* Southeast Region Career and Technology Center — Wahpeton — $2,979,975

* Bismarck Public Schools — Bismarck — $5,372,203

* Lake Area Career and Technology Center — Devils Lake — $1,241,074

* James Valley Area Career and Technology Center — $798,700

* Sheyenne Valley Area Career and Technology Center — $3,131,986

*Applications were previously partially funded. This award fully funds the project.