NCSBA Legislative Update – March 12, 2021

 

Reopening Schools Bills

A compromise bill to reopen schools fast-tracked through the legislature and was signed into session law in just two days. SB 220: The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021/SL 2021-4 (primary sponsors: Senators Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga; Michael Lee, R-New Hanover; Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell) was introduced at a press conference of State leaders on Wednesday afternoon and took the “gut and amend” route through the legislature, replacing the bill’s original CPR graduation requirements. The unanimously approved bill does the following:

  • Requires all elementary schools to open under Plan A
  • Allows middle and high schools to open under Plan A or Plan B (Plan C is not an option)
  • Requires middle and high schools that open under Plan A to notify DHHS and describe their plan to open safely (DHHS does not have the authority to veto a plan)
  • Becomes effective 21 days after the bill becomes law (April 1)
    • Districts ready to open sooner do not have to wait the 21 days
    • School districts may add teacher workdays between the time the bill becomes law and schools reopen
  • Requires students with an IEP or 504 plan to have the option of Plan A, at the discretion of the student’s parent or guardian
  • Maintains the Governor’s authority to close schools on a district-by-district basis
  • Gives local districts authority to close a school due to an outbreak or quarantine
  • Requires middle and high schools that open under Plan A to partner with the ABC Science Collaborative to collect data related to reopening schools
    • Allocates $500,000 from the 10% DPI reserve of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II (ESSER II) funds for this study
  • Requires a virtual instruction option to be provided to families

As a reminder (DHHS Toolkit):

  • Plan A is all in-person instruction with minimal social distancing
  • Plan B is a combination of in-person and virtual instruction with six feet social distancing
  • Plan C is all virtual instruction

SB 220 only applies to traditional public schools and does not include charter schools. Senate Leader Berger stated that SB 220 makes the previously vetoed school reopening bill (SB 37) moot.

One day before the announcement of the compromise, the House Education K-12 Committee approved HB 90: In-Person Learning (primary sponsor: Representative Pat McElraft, R-Carteret). This is a local bill that gives 14 counties the option to provide full-time in-person instruction five days a week for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year, while continuing to provide a remote instruction option. With the passage of SB 220, it is unlikely that HB 90 will continue to progress through the legislature.

COVID-19 Relief Bill

On Thursday Governor Cooper signed the $1.7 billion COVID-19 relief bill into session law. HB 196: 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief/SL 2021-3 (primary sponsors: Representatives John Faircloth, R-Guilford; Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston; Kyle Hall, R-Rockingham; Larry Strickland, R-Harnett) allocates $145.3 million for K-12 public education from the 10% DPI reserve of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II (ESSER II), including:

  • $40 million reserve for in-person summer programs to address learning loss (HB 82)
  • $26 million reserve to address COVID-19 related needs in public school units
  • $12 million to contract with Voyager Sopris Learning, Inc. to improve student literacy
  • Up to $10 million to bring public school units up to $180.00 per pupil in ESSER II funds
  • $10 million for additional physical and mental health support services for students
  • $10 million for federal school nutrition programs
  • $10 million to improve the cybersecurity infrastructure of public schools
  • $15 million for extended learning and integrated student support for at-risk students

HB 196 requires public school units to provide quarterly reports to DPI on the use of these federal funds. Additionally, the bill extends the provision that allowed increased virtual charter school enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year through the 2021-2022 school year.

Capital Disputes Bill

A bill that removes local school boards’ ability to take county commissioners to court if capital funding disputes are not resolved in mediation was filed on Thursday. HB 284: Repeal Right of Action/Capital Outlay Fund (primary sponsors: Representatives Larry Potts, R-Davidson; Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck; Ben Moss, R-Richmond; Mark Pless, R-Haywood) prohibits local school boards from filing “any legal action challenging the sufficiency of the funds appropriated by the…county commissioners to the capital outlay fund.” If this bill becomes law, it will eliminate any meaningful negotiation because the bill states that “the decision of the county commissioners is final.” We have no knowledge of a lawsuit being filed solely on capital funding.

Status of Other Notable Bills

HB 82: Summer Learning Choice for NC Families (primary sponsors: Representatives Tim Moore, R-Cleveland; Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; John Torbett, R-Gaston; Jeff Zenger, R-Forsyth), which requires LEAs to provide a voluntary summer learning program for at-risk students, was referred to the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee with no additional action in the Senate.

HB 159: Education Law Changes (primary sponsors: Representatives John Torbett, R-Gaston; Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke) was approved by the House Education K-12 Committee and referred to the House Appropriations Committee. Highlights of the bill include:

  • Allows teachers and school employees to be paid in 12 monthly installments regardless of when the request is made (currently must be made on or before the first day of the school year)
  • Allows teachers employed for less than 10 months to receive their salaries in 12 monthly installments
  • Requires the State Board of Education to follow the rulemaking process (S.150B) when adopting course standards

HB 136: Encourage Healthy NC Food in Schools (primary sponsors: Representatives Julia Howard, R-Davie; Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba; Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin) requires public schools to ensure that 100% muscadine grape juice is available to all students beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, and appropriations are not included. The bill was approved by the House Education K-12 Committee and referred to the House Agriculture Committee.

Bill Chart

Click here for a chart of all education-related bills that NCBSA is tracking.

 

The nearly $1.9 trillion federal pandemic recovery bill passed the U.S. House and was signed by President Biden this week. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) includes roughly $122 billion for K-12 public schools, of which NC will receive $3.6 billion. Click here for a summary of the bill by the National School Boards Association.

 

The following additional education-related bills were filed this week:

Statewide Bills

Local Bills

 

Tuesday, March 16

1:00 pm – House Local Government Committee – Legislative Building, rm 1228/1327 (live stream)

3:00 pm – House Families, Children, and Aging Policy Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 423 (live stream)

Wednesday, March 17

11:00 am – House State Personnel Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 415 (live stream)

2:00 pm – Senate State and Local Government Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 544 (live stream)

 

 

 

Bruce Mildwurf
Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
bmildwurf@ncsba.org

Richard Bostic
Assistant Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
rbostic@ncsba.org

Rebekah Howard
Governmental Relations Research Specialist
N.C. School Boards Association
rhoward@ncsba.org

Rebekah HowardNCSBA Legislative Update – March 12, 2021