The North Carolina Senate passed House Bill 1105 on Wednesday, September 2 which includes $1.05 billion in federal funds for COVID-19 relief as well as a provision that will prevent districts from facing budget cuts due to a decline in enrollment, according to Bladen County Schools.
That provision — a hold harmless for average daily membership — has been sought by district leaders around the state in the lead up to this week’s session.
“We are the support system for so many students and families, especially in places where the economy of scale is not present to buffer shortfalls …” said Aaron Greene, superintendent of Polk County Schools, in response to a survey from EducationNC. “Our families need us more than ever in this uncertain time. Removing resources from our students and community would certainly be detrimental.”
Average daily membership (ADM) gives the state an idea of how many students are in schools. Districts are funded based on their projected ADMs. If the actual ADM ends up being lower, they can face budget cuts.
Aron Gabriel, superintendent of Newton-Conover City Schools, also responded to the EducationNC survey, explaining why the ADM hold harmless is essential for his school system.
“(It) would allow our funding to remain constant given the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves. As conditions improve relative to the virus, we anticipate more students returning to our schools. Because of the 10-day headcount occurring when it does, we won’t get credit for these students who enroll after that window going into the 21-22 school year. Because the majority of the COVID-19 relief funds will have been exhausted prior to the 21-22 school year beginning, the need for state funding to remain constant is even more important.”
The bill provides $10 million in additional funding for student connectivity, $20 million for personal protective equipment, and $1 million for the new teacher support program, but these allocations fall short of the additional funding requests the State Board of Education made to a House committee last week.
The bill provides temporary flexibility for the school transportation allotment. For the 2020-2021 school year, LEAs are allowed to use transportation allotment funds for the following purposes related tot he COVID-19 pandemic:
- School nutrition
- School- and community-based child care
- Sanitizing schools and buses
- To facilitate in-person instruction, PPE that meets applicable federal standards and guidelines from the CDC
- Remote instruction
The bill provided no funding for the State Board’s requests around transportation (DOT), the science of reading, school-based mental health, and the Space X Pilot program.
On the Senate floor, several Democrats argued that the bill was insufficient.
“We have an $85 million unused surplus in what we call our Opportunities Scholarship Fund. This is unused money. And, as we all know, state revenues are way down this year because of the pandemic. And the needs are so great, there are so many needs that we should be addressing,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg.
Senate Republicans praised what the bill does for public education. Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, noted that the bill allocates more than $50 million to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in addition to the $670 million that has previously been allocated by the state for education.
One of the most-touted aspects of the bill is $440 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to give $335 to every family that has at least one child, though this wasn’t a big topic of debate in the Senate.
The bill also includes increased funding and eligibility for school choice options and child care centers, both of which were a larger focus of the conversation.