Education

Federal funds to pay for more school nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists

North Carolina’s public schools will receive $40 million in federal money to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists.

Because of COVID-19-related trauma, school mental health officials expect a greater number of students, teachers and other staff members will need their services when schools reopen.

Funding for the positions comes from North Carolina’s share of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, a part of the federal CARES Act.

The state received $95.6 million in GEER funds, which are intended to provide emergency support to school districts, postsecondary institutions, or other education-related entities for addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Learning during a pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for students and staff, whether in the classroom or remotely,” Cooper said in a statement. “This funding should help protect the physical and mental health at schools, and help bridge the gap for students with unique learning needs.”

Gov. Roy Cooper

The National Association of School Nurses and the National Association of School Psychologists joined several K-12 advocacy groups last month in calling on federal officials to spend $208 billion to ensure schools are safe for students and staff to return.

The organizations wrote to Senate leaders that schools need money to develop infectious disease readiness and emergency management procedures based on current public health guidance, implement sanitation and safety protocols, purchase adequate personal protective equipment and to hire and retain school nurses to coordinate health and safety procedures.

“These funds are necessary whether schooling is in-person, remote, or a hybrid of these approaches, and must not be contingent on face-to-face instruction,” the organizations said. “We ask the Senate to make that investment for the children and youth in America’s public schools.”

Most of North Carolina’s 1.5 million K-12 students will receive remote instruction when schools reopen Monday.

Cooper directed the state’s 116 school districts to reopen using a mix of remote learning and in-person instruction. He also gave districts the option to reopen using remote learning-only if coronavirus metrics indicate that’s best for students.

The State Board of Education and NC Department of Public Instruction will receive $20 million to support the academic needs of at-risk students and students with disabilities through additional in-school supports, such as after-school programming, tutoring, or hiring more teachers or teacher assistants.

“Increasing school-based health professionals, providing for the needs of our exceptional children, and expanding access to digital resources are critical in fulfilling our State’s constitutional responsibility to educate all of our children,” said SBE Chairman Eric Davis. “As we anxiously await returning to school, these resources are important initial steps in meeting the needs of every student impacted by COVID-19.”

Here’s how the remaining GEER funds will be divvied up:

  • $15 million will go to the NC Community College System to provide tuition assistance to students enrolled in short-term workforce training programs leading to a state or industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field.
  • $6 million will go to the UNC System for institutions to provide emergency assistance to North Carolina students whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.
  • $4 million is earmarked for the State Education Assistance Authority for independent colleges and universities to provide emergency assistance to North Carolina students whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.
  • And $566,000 goes to the UNC System for the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics and the UNC School of the Arts, each of which received limited to no federal higher education funding from the CARES Act because of the size of their high school student populations.

The $10 million remaining will be held in reserve to address K-12 and postsecondary needs that may arise later this year or next year. Cooper has until May 2021 to allocate the funds. Recipients have until Sept. 30, 2022 to spend the funds.

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