U.S. Department of Education approves spending plan for emergency relief money

The U.S. Department of Education has approved the state’s spending plan for $1.2 billion in aid from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) Fund.

The money is the second installment of $3.6 billion awarded to North Carolina to help K-12 students recover from pandemic-related disruptions, and to improve academic outcomes.  The state received the first $2.4 billion in March.

The state will use the award to launch “evidence-based initiatives” to support schools statewide, including $30 million for high-impact tutoring, $19 million for a competency-based assessment and platform, and $35 million for a competitive grant program for summer-school and after-school extensions, according to an NC Department of Public Instruction news release.

Superintendent Catherine Truitt

“North Carolina’s plan for this funding isn’t just about recovering from the pandemic – it’s about rebuilding and re-envisioning the education landscape in our state,” said State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.

Districts and schools are receiving 90 percent of the state’s total $3.6 billion allocation, based on the same proportions used for allocating federal Title I funds keyed to census poverty estimates.

The remaining 10 percent, or $360 million, will support statewide initiatives to help schools and students recover from pandemic-related disruptions and to also improve outcomes long term.

Here are the highlights of North Carolina’s spending plan:

Total ARP ESSER allocation for North Carolina: $3,601,780,364

Top Priorities within North Carolina’s plan:

• Academic recovery in reading and math.
• Addressing the social-emotional health and well-being of children throughout the state.

Highlights of North Carolina’s Plan:
• Returning to In-Person Learning in 2021: Public schools in North Carolina are required to offer in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.
• Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) will consider specific evidence-based interventions, including $30,000,000 for high-impact tutoring statewide, $19,000,000 for a competency-based assessment and platform to be used across the state, and $35,000,000 for a competitive grant program for school extensions.
• Investing in Expanded Afterschool Programs: NCDPI has proposed allocating ARP ESSER funds to support extended learning recovery after school enrichment.
• Staffing to Support Students’ Needs: The Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration is working with health care professionals to improve health and educational outcomes for children in North Carolina. The team is currently working to expand an existing model that provides elementary schools with access to pediatricians via telehealth technologies. Early indications show this telehealth option reduces barriers to care for students resulting in improved health outcomes for children, reduced chronic absenteeism, and a decrease in the impact of health care-related costs on parents or caregivers.
• Community Engagement and Consultation: NCDPI held stakeholder engagement sessions in July and August 2021. NCDPI received formal approval from the State Board of Education to create an ARP ESSER Advisory Group. The ARP ESSER Advisory Group will convene regularly and provide suggestions to improve implementation and further development of the ARP ESSER State Plan.

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction

Watch veteran advocate Les Bernal explain the dangers to NC of legalized online sports betting

(Photo illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If you missed last Thursday’s fascinating and informative NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation in which veteran national policy expert Les Bernal (at right) of the group Stop Predatory Gambling explained “Why progressives should be working to keep state-sponsored sports gambling out of NC,” don’t despair.

The Zoom recording of the entire hour long conversation, can be viewed by clicking here.

Union County School Board rejects quarantine measures, halts contact tracing, orders students back to school

Union County Board of Education. (Photo: ucps.k12.nc.us)

One of the only school districts in North Carolina not to require masks in its schools, went a step further Monday in its approach to dealing with the coronavirus. In a specially called meeting, the Union County Board of Education voted effective immediately, to halt all staff responsibilities regarding contact tracing and quarantining for students and staff, except as required by law.

“Due to the lack of legal authority, UCPS students who have been contacted by UCPS staff via contact tracing, are no longer obligated or under orders of quarantine that have been communicated in writing or by phone contact, since we do not have the legal authority,” said board member Gary Sides.

“And they can come back?” asked at-large board member Rev. Jimmy H. Bention, Sr.

“They need to come back,” responded Sides.

“As long as they have no symptoms,” offered board chair Melissa Merrell.

“And this includes staff as well,” said Sides.

Only Rev. John J. Kirkpatrick voted against the amendment, which easily passed 8-1.

For the week of September 6-10, Union County reported 479 positive COVID cases with 7,381 students and staff in quarantine. Quarantine is a precaution recommended for an individual who has been identified as a close contact to someone with COVID-19.

The statement from the school district reads in part:

All students and staff who do not have a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms, should return to school or work immediately.

If a student or staff member has the following symptoms: fever or chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, headache, they should stay home, stay away from others and call their health care provider.

Students and staff who have been isolated due to a positive case or COVID-19 symptoms, should not report to school or work until they have completed 10 days of isolation, symptoms have improved and fever free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.

Face coverings will remain optional for students and school staff.

Roughly 46% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated.

Watch Monday’s full school board meeting below:

Editorial: Start of school shows the need for common sense on guns and COVID

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out this morning’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com. As is spelled out in “Going to school shouldn’t be life risking. Common sense, not politics, is the remedy,” state legislative leaders need to stop pandering to their narrow right-wing base and take strong action to tackle two enormous public health crises that threaten our kids: gun violence and COVID-19.

Gun violence and inexplicable resistance to basic health precautions are putting our children and school workers in jeopardy. It doesn’t need, and shouldn’t, be this way….

…North Carolina’s legislative leaders need to wake up to the realization that what they may see as a political game – and appealing to a narrow partisan base – has consequences.

Failure to be serious about firearms safety does matter. North Carolina teenagers are buying guns on the internet.

The new school year has hardly started. COVID-19 is already disrupting efforts to return to much-needed classroom instruction.

Legislative leaders need to stand up for the safety and health of everyone in the state. Mandate COVID vaccines for all students and school personnel. This is nothing new. Vaccinations have been state health policy for 82 years.

Vaccines are patriotic. George Washington ordered soldiers in the Continental Army to be vaccinated against smallpox.

The editorial concludes by praising a recent Cooper veto and reiterating the call for mass vaccination:

The governor’s veto of legislation to do away with state background checks for pistol purchase is no attack on the Second Amendment – it is a small effort toward keeping guns out of the hands of those who present a real public danger. Back the veto.

Schools should be places where public health and safety are a top priority. Legislative leaders need to stand up and support safety mask mandates, rather than look for ways to stifle these policies. In fact, they need to go further and support mandated vaccinations for ALL eligible students and school personnel.

The security and well-being of North Carolina needs to be their top priority.

Amen. Click here to read the entire editorial.

Billions of dollars in federal rental aid remains stalled in slow-moving states, localities