Biden picks former public school teacher as Secretary of Education

One big-ticket item Congress failed to tackle in the coronavirus relief bill? Student loan relief.

North Carolinians hoping the $900 billion COVID relief bill passed by Congress would include some help for those with student loans debt will be disappointed. The massive package failed to extend the suspension of student loan interest and payments, which will expire at the end of January.

Even before COVID-19, one in four student loan borrowers was in default or serious delinquency. Many worried about their ability to make student loan payments while covering other basic needs.

Rochelle Sparko with the Center for Responsible Lending joined Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield recently to discuss the crisis and the need for federal and state consumer protections in 2021 when it comes to debt-collection.

Click below to listen to the interview with Sparko and then make time to read the Center’s recent report: Road to Relief.

Center for Responsible Lending Policy Director Rochelle Sparko

New chancellor announced at ECU (again)

Dr. Philip G. Rogers was officially chosen as the 12th chancellor of East Carolina University Thursday.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously elected Rogers, who is now senior vice president for learning and engagement at the non-profit American Council on Education (ACE).

Rogers was raised in Greenville. Several generations of his family are ECU graduates. Rogers himself began his career in higher education at ECU, serving as chief of staff for former Chancellor Steven Ballard in 2008.

Dr. Philip Rogers

Before taking that position, Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Wake Forest University,  a master’s in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Dr. Rogers is a driven leader who brings energy and vitality to ECU,” said UNC System President Peter Hans at Thursday’s UNC Board of Governors meeting. “He has broad national higher education experience and deep local roots in Greenville. Philip is invested in ECU for the long haul and will bring steady, stable leadership. It’s my enormous pleasure to welcome Philip and his family home.”

Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey also praised Rogers.

“Dr. Rogers embodies the spirit of the Pirate Nation,” Ramsey said. “He is homegrown and fiercely loyal to eastern North Carolina. When he assumes his role at ECU’s helm, I’m confident Philip will lead the university and the region it serves to greater heights of innovation and success.”

Rogers will be ECU’s fourth chancellor in three years.

Two of those chancellors — Cecil Staton and Dan Gerlach —ended their tenures in scandal, political controversy and a lawsuit.

Staton was ousted from his position in 2019 in a conflict with the UNC Board of Governors over which he sued earlier this year.

Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach resigned under a cloud last October after video surfaced online of him drinking and dancing with students in local bars — and then stumbling down the street before getting into his car and driving away. An investigation into that incident exposed the involvement of UNC Board of Governors members in making the Gerlach footage public, which they claimed they were doing in concert with GOP leaders in Raleigh.

The school’s board of trustees has also been rocked by scandal. Earlier this year two of its members resigned amid controversy over their trying to influence a student government election.

Around the same time, several members of the board of trustees told Policy Watch N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore was pursuing the chancellorship at ECU. Earlier this year Moore said he declined an offer to interview for the job, though he had not officially applied.

Rogers will take the helm at ECU on March 15, taking over from Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson.


School districts, charters receive rapid COVID-19 tests as part of pilot program

Seventeen school districts and 11 charter schools have been selected by North Carolina health officials to receive rapid COVID-19 tests as part of a state pilot program.

The K-12 schools will use the tests when in-person instruction is occurring. All schools selected offer either full in-person instruction or a hybrid of remote learning and in-person instruction.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) believe the rapid tests will slow the spread of the virus by quickly identifying infected students and staff.

“This program gives us another tool in our toolkit to slow the spread of COVID-19 across our state and to keep children in the classroom, which we know is vital not only to their academic growth but also to their health and emotional development,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen. “We will learn from these pilot schools and plan to expand the program early next year.”

Mandy Cohen

NCDHHS sent the selected districts and schools more than 50,000 federally funded rapid antigen tests. Tests are to be used for students and staff who have COVID-19 symptoms or who are close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

To be selected for the first phase of the program, district and charter leaders had to confirm to local health departments that each participating school can:

  • Obtain parental/guardian consent prior to testing.
  • Maintain adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
  • Have trained personnel to administer tests or partner with a local health provider.
  • Report test results to state and local public health agencies.

Selected schools will use the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test card, which uses a nasal swab to detect COVID-19 and provides results in 15 minutes without laboratory processing. The swab must be performed by trained personnel.

Students and staff will have access to more than 200 school-based testing locations across 17 counties as part of the pilot. Local health departments in each county participated in the application process and, in some cases, will help with testing.

More information on the COVID-19 testing pilot for K-12 schools is available at

Here’s the list of selected districts and schools by county: 

  • Alamance County: Alamance-Burlington School System (33 locations).
  • Albemarle County: Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies (1 location).
  • Bladen County: Emereau Bladen Charter School (1 location).
  • Buncombe County: Asheville City Schools (11 locations), Buncombe County Schools (44 locations), Francine Delany Charter School (1 location).
  • Cabarrus County: Cabarrus Charter K-12 (2 locations), Cabarrus County Schools (6 locations), Kannapolis City Schools (2 locations).
  • Catawba County: Catawba County Schools (29 locations), Hickory Public Schools (9 locations), Newton Conover City Schools (6 locations).
  • Durham County: Central Park School for Children (1 location), Healthy Start Academy (1 location).
  • Forsyth County: NC Leadership Academy (1 location).
  • Gaston County: Gaston County Schools (1 location).
  • Harnett County: Harnett County Schools (28 locations).
  • Johnston County: Johnston County Public Schools (1 location).
  • Lenoir County: Lenoir County Public Schools (17 locations).
  • Lincoln County: Lincoln Charter School (2 locations).
  • Madison County: Madison County K-12 Public Schools (6 locations).
  • Mecklenburg County: Lake Norman Charter (1 location), Sugar Creek Charter School (1 location), UpROAR Leadership Academy (1 location).
  • Surry County: Elkin City Schools (3 locations), Mount Airy City Schools (4 locations), Surry County Schools (20 locations).
  • Wilson County: Wilson County Schools (2 locations).                                                                     

UNC-TV expands ‘At-Home Learning’ initiative as school districts return to online instruction

UNC-TV is expanding its At Home Learning (AHL) initiative as some school districts prepare to return to online-learning only in the wake of record coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

In Phase II of the initiative, UNC-TV, in collaboration with N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and the Williams and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, will broadcast math and literacy-focused lessons and activities for students in Pre-K through third grade as part of a new programming block titled “Classroom Connection.”

Here’s UNC-TV’s description of the new program:

Classroom Connection will feature PBS KIDS favorites alongside North Carolina educators. This short-form learning series will deliver engaging math and literacy lessons with North Carolina teachers, aimed at Pre-K through third-grade students to support their at-home learning. The Classroom Connection programming block will be available over the air on UNC-TV’s main channel beginning in February and streamed online at Lessons will also be made available on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Digital Teaching and Learning YouTube channel and the #GoOpenNC digital repository.

Phase II will also include Teacher Time, a series of short-form STEM activities for early learners presented by North Carolina teachers. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund supports the series. It will debut this winter on UNC-TV and its Rootle PBS KIDS channel. UNC-TV and PBS have also curated free, standards-aligned videos, interactives, lesson plans and more at

UNC-TV launched At-Home Learning in March to serve students and families with limited-to-no access to broadband.

The N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office estimates that 261,000 households in the state don’t have any access to broadband and that 1.6 million families cannot sign up for service or can’t afford it.

UNC-TV hopes to address educational gaps by providing curriculum-based lessons over its broadcast channels, with supplemental online resources, according to a press release announcing the expansion.

Phase I was launched in March with two blocks of standards-aligned PBS programs that air each weekday on UNC-TV.

“It is our greatest hope that through our expansive statewide broadcast reach we will devotedly serve and impact all young learners but especially those who lack access to broadband in our state,” said Joy Potts, director of children’s media and education services at UNC-TV.

Angie Mullennix, director of K-12 academics and innovation strategy at NC DPI, said UNC-TV’s At-Home Learning project provides equitable learning opportunities for children across the state.

“With many students in a partial or full remote setting, the AHL teacher-generated lessons will be high quality, standards-based instruction for caregivers and teachers,” Mullennix said.