COVID-19, Education

“Must read” report calls for swift action to help public schools

In case you missed it last Friday, the good people at the Public School Forum of NC released a new and important policy brief entitled “COVID-19’s impact on public school budgets: Unstable funding requires quick action.” And as the headline indicates, the report highlights the grave danger currently faced by public schools as a result of the pandemic — particularly a potential loss of significant funding due to big drops in student enrollment.

As the report explains:

North Carolina’s public school leaders predict that they may be facing student enrollment declines of up to 20% for the 2020-21 school year due to COVID-19. Fewer students translates into potentially significant reductions to school budgets that are already substantially underfunded, and could result in teacher and staff layoffs that could come this school year — an already chaotic time for students.

The report goes on to explain in plain language how North Carolina’s school funding system works, how a temporary drop in enrollment could devastate a typical school system and how the federal relief received thus far are mostly going to cover the increases in costs schools are incurring to cope with the present crisis (e.g. purchasing PPE and cleaning supplies and coping with increases in expenses for transportation and student meals.)

It then spells out three commonsense solutions:

1) Hold school district budgets harmless for enrollment decreases in 2020-21: In August 2020, the North Carolina State Board of Education passed a resolution calling on the NC General Assembly to enact legislation that would hold public school district budgets harmless for declines in student enrollment that take place this upcoming school year because of COVID-19. This resolution, however, does not change anything unless the legislature reconvenes to take further action to support our public schools.

2) Push for additional federal COVID relief funding for public schools: State and local governments are facing an economic crisis due to efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while absorbing substantial losses in revenue. Support from the Federal government has helped, but additional funding efforts are required to address school districts’ needs that are arising due to COVID-19.

3) Allow districts to utilize state funding to address specific needs required by COVID-19: Local school budgets are comprised of various allotments funding different items, such as teachers, supplies, devices and more. Local district finance officers say that they need greater autonomy to use unspent funds from one allotment category to another, as needs shift unexpectedly during this pandemic. Currently, state legislation restricts local flexibility to allocate funds, limiting the ability to respond nimbly and efficiently to address swiftly changing local needs.

Click here to read the full report.

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