The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a $1.6 billion spending package Wednesday that would send more than $300 million in federal aid to North Carolina’s public schools.
The bill also calls for spending millions more on health care, medical research, economic support for residents and business and state operations, as recommended by the House Select Committee on COVID-19.
A big chunk of the money for schools, about $80 million, would be used to reimburse districts for lost meal receipts or federal funds due to school buildings being closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The bill will go to the House Rules Committee next.
The state Senate is also working on a spending plan for more than $3.5 billion in federal aid and Gov. Roy Cooper revealed a $1.4 billion plan for spending the federal aid last week.
Another large chunk – $70 million – in the House plan for schools would pay for supplemental summer learning programs for students whose education has been negatively affected by the the virus.
The omnibus bill, House Bill 1038, would also provide $35 million to local school districts to buy computers or other electronic devices for students. The committee also recommended spending $21.2 million to improve internet connectivity by providing community and home mobile access points connections. And $1.3 million would pay for installation of internet access points in school buses.
State education officials estimate that there are more than 300,000 North Carolina children who don’t have electronic devices or internet connectivity to take advantage of remote learning opportunities.
“We have approximately 1.6 million K-12 students who have not been in school since about March 12,” said State Rep. Craig Horn, who co-chaired the House Select Committee on COVID-19 working group that focused on education. “That’s [school closure] resulted in significant learning loss so we have developed an appropriations proposal that will help our kids regain some momentum in learning, in particular with a summer bridge or jump-start program to help get them back on track, to provide kids with devices that they desperately need. As you all know, many families have multiple children and they can’t all be on one computer at the same time.”
HB1038, which is also known as the “Omnibus 11 COVID-19 Response Act of 2019,” grew out recommendations made by teams of state representatives working as part of the House Select Committee on COVID-19.
The committee approved an amendment to allocate $400,000 in nonrecurring funds to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services to buy opioid antagonists to combat opioid addiction.
The amendment was submitted by State Rep. Bobby Hanig, a Republican from Currituck County.
“Opioid users are at a higher risk of overdose during the COVID-19 emergency and the No. 1 recommendation from the American Medical Association is to ensure they have access to medicine that would reverse the opioid-related overdose,” Hanig explained.
Here are more highlights from the House’s proposal:
- Community colleges would receive $25 million to enhance online learning capacity, cover increased costs associated with moving to online education for students, cover expenses for resources and supports for faculty and staff, to provide small business counselors, to cover expenses for expanded demands on information technology, including devices for campuses in rural areas, and to provide facility sanitation and other necessary eligible expenses for services for ongoing campus operations.
- UNC campuses would receive $48.6 million to cover increased costs related to moving coursework and exams online, to implement a digital learning accelerator, to provide for facility sanitation prior to reopening campuses and during the operation of campuses and for other necessary eligible expenses for services for ongoing campus operations, and to cover expenses for assistance to students and employees, including counseling services and information technology support,
- The Duke University Human Vaccine Institute at the Duke University School of 11 Medicine, the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and Wake Forest School of Medicine will receive $25 million each to develop countermeasures to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections.
- The Department of Health and Human Services and the Division of Emergency Management within the Department of Public Safety for receive $50 million to purchase personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and aprons, surgical and respiratory masks, goggles, face shields and other protective clothing that meet CDC guidelines for infection control.
- The North Carolina Healthcare Foundation would receive $75 million to award grants to rural hospitals to offset expenses incurred for providing patient care in North Carolina to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The House approved $350 million for counties ineligible to receive direct funding from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Funding will be allocated per capita basis.