Updated education omnibus bill includes and earlier upcoming school year start date

RALEIGH — A draft omnibus bill was unanimously supported by the education working group of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 unanimously during their April 23 meeting.

The omnibus contains waivers and policy fixes to help districts and schools closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve reached out to teachers, superintendents, principals, everybody across the state,” said the working group co-chairman Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union). “This to me has truly been an example of how government works. It should work, and I hope it continues to work.”

Speculation about the possibility of calendar changes and students going back to school earlier than expected for the 2020-21 school year may become reality. Included in the draft proposal is a line item that would allow traditional-calendar schools heading back a week early on Aug. 17.

Education working group co-chair Rep. John Fraley (R-Iredell) indicated a “jumpstart program” for at-risk students or those who may have fallen during remote learning behind is also being worked on.

Any temporary school calendar change will have to be approved by the General Assembly when they return on April 23. Fraley said this is something the both the House and Senate are currently working on.

The draft bills will allow for remote instruction to satisfy the state-mandated instructional time requirement and attendance enforcement requirements will be waived for the school closure period.

New additions to the omnibus draft bill include certain budget flexibility is being given to local boards to transfer unexpended cash balances between allotment categories “with certain limitations” for the rest of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

K-12 scholarship waivers and funding flexibilities are included in the omnibus draft.

Children of War Time Veterans scholarship recipients will get a waiver from the limitation on the time period for scholarships for an additional semester due to the COVID-19 emergency.

Nonpublic schools with students receiving the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) grants to are granted a waiver from administering standardized tests. A one-month extension is being granted for annual reports on the OSP and the Disabilities Grant Program to be given to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

If a nonpublic school was unable to complete a parent endorsement for those funds for the spring semester of the 2019-2020 school year, the State Education Assistance Authority will be allowed to use carry forward funds from the OSP to remit scholarship grant funds by October 1, 2020.

As previously reported, the draft omnibus bill covers waivers for a variety of testing, licensure and graduation requirements.

In public schools, end-of-grade tests (EOGs), end-of-course tests (EOCs) and K-3 formative/diagnostic tests are waived for 2019-20. School report cards and A through F letter grades have also been waived as they are tied to student test scores.

Principals and teachers will be granted the ability to determine if students will be promoted to the next grade.

For non-public schools such as private schools and homeschools, standardized testing and reporting requirements are also being waived.

Summer reading camps are canceled and Read to Achieve reporting requirements for third-graders have been waived. All students advancing to the fourth grade will take a reading assessment sometime during the first 10 days of the 2020-21 school year.

K-3 class size will remain the same in the 2020-21 school year as the legislated reductions will be pushed back one year.

Funding requests were also discussed by the education working group. The requests for higher education and K-12 total over $518 million. ($518,586, 815):

  • K-12 – $377,096,215 million
  • NC Community College System – $25 million
  • University of North Carolina System – $45,490,600 million
  • NC Independent Colleges and Universities – $71 million

State Board of Education chairman Eric Davis said that the $380 million being requested from the General Assembly is needed to help the state face “its greatest education challenge since the Great Depression.”

A breakout of the funding asked for by the state board includes $99,715 for “oversight of state & federal COVID-19 funds” to hire an Auditor II position, $5.5 million for cybersecurity infrastructure and related services and $7 million has been requested for Summer Bridge/ Jumpstart programs.

Also included in the state board’s funding ask is $8 million remote learning, training and technology costs, $17.9 million for exceptional children, $55 million for “Re-entry Resources for Student Physical & Mental Health” and another $56 million for school nutrition with a $5 “incentive” pay increase for staffers.

The balance and largest portion of the funding request is $153.8 million for remote learning, training and technology costs.

Davis indicated that the state board has already begun working with state and county health officials to decide what is needed in order for schools to open in August. Sanitation and social distancing were both mentioned.

Higher education-related additions to the omnibus draft bill include halting interest on student debt and extending certain reporting dates for the UNC System.

UNC System schools “shall not accrue or charge interest to a past-due student account” between March 13, 2020, and September 15, 2020.

Students unable to participate in an apprenticeship program due to the COVID-19 emergency may be eligible for a tuition waiver for community college courses until December 21, 2020.

Materials and presentations for the April 23 meeting of the education working group of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 can be found on the committee’s website.