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Federal relief could mean big bucks for education. But how will the money be spent?

On Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper released his plan on how to spend about $5.4 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, including more than $1 billion to address broadband, $835 million in college scholarships and grants, and $300 million for pre-K-12 public schools.

The proposal is a follow-up to the plan Cooper released in March on how the state should spend its own money in the upcoming two-year budget.

“This pandemic brought us a once-in-a-generation challenge, and these funds have brought us a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Cooper said during a press conference.

Pre-K-12

The $300 million for pre-K-12 public schools includes $75 million for science of reading literacy coaches in all low-performing elementary schools in the state. Cooper said the literacy coaches dovetail with a bill — passed by the legislature and signed by the governor this session — which seeks to improve the way literacy is taught in elementary schools. Also included in the governor’s plan is a little more than $65 million to bolster the state’s educator pipeline.

Another $101.8 million will go to early childhood education, and $57.9 million will go to home-based early literacy development.

Cooper’s plan refers to the total $300 million as an “Allocation of Funds to Support Sound, Basic Education,” a reference to the long-running Leandro court case and accompanying plans on how the state can improve the public education system.

“Every child in North Carolina deserves a sound, basic education,” Cooper said. “More than that, they have a constitutional right to it.”

Cooper’s recommendations also include statements of need that expand on the rationale behind some of his funding proposals. The governor says that his recommended state budget includes funding to “fully fund the first two years of the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan,” and that the federal funds in his current proposal will help “address additional needs.”

The pre-K-12 public education section of the governor’s plan can be found in this document.

Community college

The governor’s plan includes quite a bit of good news for community colleges and their students.

The biggest news is a proposal of $835 million for various scholarships and grants to help students wanting to attend the UNC System, independent colleges, or a state community college. The proposal guarantees at least $6,000 for families making $60,000 or less to cover expenses related to attending either a UNC institution or state community college.

Along with that is $270 million that will provide up to an additional $1,000 for students whose families make less than $35,000. The plan also includes $60 million more for Finish Line grants, which provide students in community college with up to $1,000 that can be used to address emergency situations.

Cooper referenced the state’s attainment goal of making sure that North Carolina has 2 million more adults with a college degree or high-quality credential by 2030.

“It’s now 2021, and with the American Rescue Plan, we can invest in our future to make sure this happens,” he said.

The community college system will also get $75 million for technology and equipment as well as $2 million to address food insecurity.

The funding for technology and equipment includes programs in STEM, health care, public safety, and other “high-demand workforce areas.” That money could also be used for things like broadband access and software.

The $2 million for food insecurity can be used for “on-campus food assistance programs,” including food pantries and emergency food funds.

You can read more about Cooper’s plans for community colleges in this section of his proposal.

Broadband

One of the biggest investments in the governor’s plan is for broadband internet, a service that started to look more like a utility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cooper is proposing spending $1.2 billion, including $600 million for infrastructure. See all the associated line-items below.

Cooper said he wants North Carolina to rank in the top five states for broadband internet adoption by 2025.

You can read more about his broadband plans in this section of his proposal.

The American Rescue Plan is providing $5.44 billion in relief to the state, with another $277 million set aside for capital projects. The General Assembly will come up next with its own plan for spending the federal funds. Assuming the House and the Senate can reach agreement, Cooper will then have to sign off on the plan, which may or may not include the proposals he laid out during today’s press conference.

The American Rescue Plan also includes $1.3 billion slated directly for child care in North Carolina. You can read more about it from reporter Liz Bell here.

Go here for Gov. Cooper’s complete proposal.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.