On Wednesday, Governor Cooper announced that the State will be providing COVID-19 vaccination prioritization for anyone working in childcare or PreK-12 schools. This modification moves teachers and school staff to top priority of Group 3 vaccinations, and they are eligible to start receiving the vaccine on February 24. According to a letter addressed to local leaders today, DHHS Secretary Cohen explained that this “does not guarantee they will get an appointment or get vaccinated between February 24 and March 10 because of very limited supply.”
Governor Cooper’s vaccine prioritization announcement comes amid legislative debate on the reopening of schools. SB 37: In-Person Learning Choice for Families (primary sponsors: Senators Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga; Michael Lee, R-New Hanover; and Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell) passed the Senate late Tuesday, then rushed through a House Education K-12 Committee meeting on Wednesday morning where no amendments were allowed. The bill was later approved by the House Rules Committee and reached the House floor for a vote only 24 hours after appearing in the first House committee. House Republicans rejected seven Democrat-proposed amendments on the floor, including:
- Modifying the requirement that ALL students with an individualized education program (IEP) or a 504 plan must be in Plan A
- Extending the bill implementation date to the first workday 21 days after becoming law
- Adding charter schools to the bill
- Requiring middle and high schools to only reopen under Plan B
Before SB 37 passed the House 74-44, it was amended to address reasonable work accommodations for certain classroom teachers. The Senate voted unanimously not to concur with the changes made by the House. Conference committees have been appointed and negotiations to work out a compromise are said to be happening this weekend. Additionally, SB 37 does the following:
- Requires local school boards to provide:
- An in-person Plan A option for ALL students who have an IEP or a 504 Plan
- An in-person Plan A or Plan B option for all other students in grades K-12 (boards may opt for all Plan A, all Plan B, or a combination thereof)
- A remote option for families that wish to have this option
- Allows local school boards to shift individual schools or classrooms to remote learning due to COVID-19 exposures that result in insufficient staff or required student quarantines
- Requires that the bill be implemented on the first workday that occurs 15 days after becoming law
It is unclear what action Governor Cooper would have taken had the Senate voted to concur. He has expressed concerns that SB 37 does not abide by DHHS’s health and safety guidance outlined in the Toolkit. The bill also takes away executive branch authority to take immediate action of closing schools, should another outbreak take place. Given the vote counts on SB 37 (29-15 in the Senate and 74-44 in the House), both chambers appear to have the numbers to override a veto, assuming each member votes the same way and the Republican Senators who were not present vote to override. We may have better clarity on next steps once the conferees publicly release their compromise bill.
On Wednesday, another school reopening bill was filed. SB 78: A Safe Return for In-Person Learning (primary sponsors: Senators Don Davis, D-Pitt; Dan Blue, D-Wake) would allow elementary schools to reopen under Plan A or Plan B, but middle and high schools could only reopen under Plan B. The bill incorporates many of the proposed amendments that were voted down on the House floor. SB 78 would also require DPI to examine and report the impacts of reopening schools to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. SB 78 will most likely not be heard in committee because the majority party is already moving forward with SB 37.
Bills in the Spotlight
- Signed into Session Law 2021-1 on Wednesday, February 10
The following are key K-12 education sections:
Section 3.2 extends the deadline for spending appropriations from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) from December 30, 2020 to December 31, 2021 for the following programs:
- DPI – National School Lunch Program ($75 million)
- DPI – Instructional Support Allotment ($10 million)
- DPI – Supplemental Summer Learning Program ($70 million)
- DPI – Extended Learning and Integrated Student Supports Competitive Grant Program ($5 million)
- UNC (SEAA) – Alternative educational option scholarships for disabled students ($6.5 million)
- YMCAs – Remote learning opportunities ($19.8 million)
Section 3.12 extends the deadline for State agencies to procure COVID-19 supplies, materials, equipment, printing, or services from the open market from December 30, 2020 to December 31, 2021.
Section 5 appropriates $1.6 billion to DPI from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II (ESSER II) in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, P.L. 116-260. DPI must receive approval from the Director of the Budget to spend the federal funds. Positions created with these funds shall terminate at the earlier of the funds being fully expended or the federal deadline for spending the funds. Recipient public school units must report quarterly to DPI beginning March 1, 2021 on the following:
- Amount of federal funds received
- Amount of grant funds expended
- How the funds were used, including program information such as number of people served and geographic distribution
- The amount spent on administration
- The amount of funds that remained unspent
- The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions established with funds received and, for each FTE established, a position number, position status, date the position was established, hire date, and date on which the position is to be abolished
SB 52: Sex Offender Residence Restriction/Clarify (primary sponsors: Senators Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; Jim Perry, R-Lenoir; Todd Johnson, R-Union)
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on February 10 to discuss a revised version of SB 52. Currently it is unlawful for a registered sex offender to reside within 1,000 feet of the property where a school or childcare center is located. SB 52 clarifies that a registered sex offender shall not knowingly reside on any point of a property whose line is within 1,000 feet of the property line of a property on which any public or nonpublic school or childcare center is located. The bill would become effective December 1, 2021 and apply to all persons registered or required to register on or after that date. It does not apply to a person who has lawfully established a residence prior to the effective date of the bill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet on February 16 at 11:00 am to vote on the bill.
SB 59: Restore Master’s Pay for Certain Educators (primary sponsors: Senators Danny Britt, R-Robeson; Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; Jim Perry, R-Lenoir)
This bill would reinstate master’s pay supplements for teachers who spend at least 70% of their classroom instruction time on the subject area of their master’s degree.
The following additional education-related bills were filed this week:
HB 69: Education on the Holocaust and Genocide (primary sponsors: Representatives Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Julia Howard, R-Davie; Wayne Sasser, R-Cabarrus; Robert Reives, D-Chatham)
HB 70: Historic School Preservation Act (primary sponsors: Representatives Jay Adams, R-Catawba; Kristin Baker, R-Cabarrus; Jon Hardister, R-Guilford; Harry Warren, R-Rowan)
HB 71: Living Donor Protection Act (primary sponsors: Representatives Phil Shepard, R-Onslow; Pat Hurley, R-Randolph; Marcia Morey, D-Durham; Larry Potts, R-Davidson)
- This bill provides State employees, including public school employees, up to 30 days of paid leave for an organ donation and up to seven days paid leave for a bone marrow donation.
HB 72: Audiology Modifications (primary sponsors: Representatives Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth; Kristin Baker, R-Cabarrus; Donna White, R-Johnston; Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg)
- This bill updates definitions and responsibilities of audiologists, which includes school-based screening programs and management of students with hearing impairments and central auditory processing disorders.
HB 74: ApSeed Pilot Project/Funds (primary sponsors: Representatives Harry Warren, R-Rowan; Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke; Julia Howard, R-Davie; Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth)
- This bill establishes a pilot project to prepare preschool-age children for kindergarten through an interactive learning device.
HB 77: School Calendar Flexibility/Moore County (primary sponsors: Representatives James Boles, R-Moore; Allen McNeill, R-Moore)
HB 78: Report on K-12 Computer Science Data (primary sponsors: Representatives Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke; Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford; Jefferey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Pat Hurley, R-Randolph)
HB 79: Student Digital Learning Access (primary sponsors: Representatives Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke; Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford; Jefferey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Pat Hurley, R-Randolph)
SB 81: Teacher Diversity/PED Study (primary sponsors: Senators Don Davis, D-Pitt; Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland)
SB 86: Medicaid Recs./CWBTC (primary sponsors: Senators Joyce Krawiec, R-Davie; Jim Burgin, R-Harnett; Jim Perry, R-Lenoir)
SB 87: Medicaid Reimbursement/Charter Schools (primary sponsors: Senators Joyce Krawiec, R-Davie; Jim Burgin, R-Harnett; Jim Perry, R-Lenoir)
Local Bill Filing Deadline
The local bill filing deadline is quickly approaching for both the House and the Senate. If a local bill is needed this legislative session, the proposed bill must be submitted to legislative staff for drafting by:
- Thursday, February 25 in the Senate
- Wednesday, March 3 in the House
A legislator must file a local bill by:
- Thursday, March 11 in the Senate
- Thursday, March 25 in the House
Click here for a chart of all education-related bills filed so far during the 2021 legislative session, including NCSBA’s stance on each bill.
State revenues have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic better than anticipated. The Governor’s Office of State Budget and Management released a Consensus General Fund Revenue Forecast yesterday that shows revenue for this fiscal year (2020-2021) will be $4.1 billion greater than was forecast in May 2020. This surplus can be attributed to several factors:
- $1.08 billion was shifted from last fiscal year to this fiscal year due to a delay in tax filings
- Federal stimulus funds underpinned the State economy with consumer spending from unemployment funds, business loans/grants, and checks to families
- Many businesses adapted to working under COVID-19 restrictions
The good news is that the recurring revenue forecast for the next biennium is greater than the current year budget of $24.48 billion. Revenues are projected to be $27.35 billion in FY 2021-2022 and $28.46 billion in FY 2022-2023. This forecast assumes that new COVID-19 cases decline as the population gets vaccinated and that Congress will provide additional stimulus funding.
North Carolina’s Education Cabinet met on Wednesday to discuss findings and recommendations of a NC Longitudinal Data System (NCLDS) study, as well as a report from the DRIVE Task Force on diversifying the State’s teacher workforce. The NCLDS links student data from early childhood through the workforce, which aids the creation of policy and improvement tactics regarding student outcomes. The Education Cabinet is chaired by the Governor and is comprised of numerous State education leaders with the goal to “resolve issues between existing providers of education and developing and maintaining a strategic design for a continuum of education programs, from early childhood into the workforce.”
NCSBA has been maintaining a chart containing each LEA’s reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year. We know that many school districts’ plans are constantly changing, so please let us know if our chart does not reflect your district’s most updated reopening plan information. Click here to access the chart.
Tuesday, February 16
11:00 am – Senate Judiciary Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 544 (live stream)
1:00 pm – House Education K-12 Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 643 (live stream)
Wednesday, February 17
8:30 am – House and Senate Appropriations Committees – Legislative Offices Building, rm 643 (live stream)
Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
Assistant Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
Governmental Relations Research Specialist
N.C. School Boards Association