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House passes COVID-19 spending bill

The full House passed its COVID-19 appropriations bill today which amounts to more than $291 million for K-12 education, according to Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a chair of the House education and education appropriations committees. The bill passed 117 to 1. The Senate passed its appropriations bill last night.

Now, leaders in the two chambers have to work out a compromise. A compromise package could be taken up as early as tonight, according to House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Included in the House proposal are millions for school nutrition, internet connectivity for students, school health support personnel, summer learning, and more. Go here for more on what’s in the bill.

The education dollar figure in the House spending plan is much closer to the $380 million legislative ask from the state Department of Public Instruction and State Board of Education than the Senate’s spending plan, which dedicates about $148 million.

But part of the lower amount from the Senate might have to do with other federal funds the state will receive for education. So far, the state has received about $3.5 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help combat COVID-19. That money is the funding being used by the legislature during this portion of the short session. However, the CARES Act is also providing about $396.3 million in relief funding directly to school districts, and the governor is getting $95.6 million to use for education-related purposes.

In a press release sent out by Senate Republicans today, Senator Harry Brown, R-Onslow, chair of the Senate appropriations committee, said that federal relief such as the $396.3 million for school districts is directly targeting education, and the money the legislature has access to should be allocated to other things where there isn’t a dedicated federal funding stream.

“It is not prudent to use the CARES Act funding, which may be the most flexible assistance we have, to pay for an area already covered by a different federal funding stream,” he wrote.

In the press release, Brown also said that right now CARES Act money can’t be used to fill state budget holes, but that this guideline might change in the near future.

“When it does, the CARES Act funding will become the most flexible resource we have to avoid cutting critical government services or laying off teachers,” he said in the release. “But if we spend all or most of the CARES Act money now, we won’t have enough left to help fill the multi-billion dollar budget shortfall we expect next fiscal year.”

The House appropriations bill that passed today also included the legislative changes and waivers for education that were once contained in a separate bill. Included is language that would waive requirements related to testing, school performance grades, the Innovative School District, summer reading camps, third-grade retention, educator preparation programs, teacher licensure, K-3 class size restrictions, and more.

Here is a summary of the education items in the bill from when the education portions were in separate, standalone legislation.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.