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House and Senate committees took up COVID-19 spending bills today that include funds and provisions related to education. The House bill will be heard on the House floor tomorrow. The Senate bill passed the full Senate chamber this afternoon.

The Senate ultimately voted to spend about $148 million on K-12 education. The House bill plans to spend more than $291 million, according to Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a chair of the House education and education appropriations committees.

Neither of those figures include federal relief funds allocated directly to school districts and to the governor. Districts will receive $396.3 million from the federal government and the governor is getting $95.6 million to use for education-related purposes.

Let’s take a look at the respective House and Senate plans.

House plan

Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, senior chair of the House appropriations committee, told lawmakers that this appropriations bill is only the first on COVID-19 relief and that House members will have future chances to address COVID-19-related spending.

“There will be opportunities,” he said. “Don’t feel like this is the last chance.” 

These are some of the major education spending items in the House appropriations bill.

  • $80 million to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for school nutrition.
  • More than $21 million to DPI to improve internet connectivity for students by providing community and home mobile internet access.
  • $35 million to DPI to purchase computers and electronic devices for local districts, charter schools, and regional schools.
  • $35 million to DPI for school health support personnel.
  • $70 million to DPI for students “whose learning has been negatively affected by the impacts of COVID-19” (includes the summer learning program).
  • $17.9 million to DPI for extended school year services for exceptional children.
  • $25 million for the community college system office to distribute to community colleges for online learning associated costs related to COVID-19.
  • More than $7 million to DPI for computers and electronic devices for school personnel.
  • $6 million to DPI for the Extended Learning and Integrated Student Supports Competitive Grant Program.
  • $5 million to DPI for non-digital remote learning instruction.
  • $5.5 million to DPI for cybersecurity.
  • $4.9 million to DPI to buy digital curricula.
  • More than $1.4 million to DPI to help and support districts in providing remote instruction.
  • More than $1.3 million to DPI to improve internet connectivity for students by creating access points on school buses.

Peter Hans, president of the North Carolina Community College System, presented to the House education working group of the House select committee on COVID-19 earlier this month. In addition to money for transitions to online learning, he also told lawmakers the community college system needed $25 million to draw down from to meet shortfalls related to COVID-19 tuition loss.

Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell, a chair of the education working group, said during the appropriations committee meeting today that the federal funds being used by the state for COVID-19 relief cannot be used to combat lost enrollment in the state’s community colleges. When asked if the state would have its own funds to address the tuition loss if needs be, he said that would certainly be a request made.

“On our community college budget ask, that would probably be the number one thing that we would want to deal with,” Fraley said.

Here is the bill that passed House appropriations today.

Senate appropriations

The Senate appropriations bill contains many of the same education waivers as a bill moving through the House, though the Senate bill does not contain the K-3 class size restriction delay that the House bill does.

“If you talk to educators, I think they would tell you that remote learning presents a threat to our children’s academic process,” he said. “From my perspective, and I think if you talk to educators … they would say that that’s an unrealistic standard.” 

Ballard said the restrictive language was “just a starting point.”

Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, later put forward an amendment that deleted the controversial language. He replaced it with direction that one of the components of districts’ remote instruction plans should be to ensure “that remote instructional time, practice, and application components support learning growth that continues toward mastery of the standard course of study. The Plan shall include work measurement guidelines appropriate to each grade level, including deadlines for submission of assignments and methods to assess and grade learning during remote instruction.”

The amendment also changed the date by which district plans had to be completed from June 30 to July 20.

Ballard said in the committee that she worked with Davis and Chaudhuri on the language and that she supported the amendment. The appropriations committee approved it.

When the bill hit the Senate floor, Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, put forth an amendment that added a number of appropriations, including one for education: $22 million to DPI that could be used for incentive pay for school nutrition and transportation staff involved in the making and giving out of meals. In addition to the $56 million for school nutrition, the $22 million was a request made by the State Board of Education and DPI to the General Assembly.

The amendment passed and was added to the budget.

The appropriations bill passed the Senate 48 to 0. The House will decide on its spending bill tomorrow, then the two chambers will negotiate a compromise.

The Senate bill is below.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.