May 1, 2020

Legislative Update

The North Carolina General Assembly reconvened on April 28th. The House and Senate each approved competing bills in response to Covid-19.  The monies spent in these bills were federal dollars recently approved for the states as part of the federal Covid-19 response.  House bill H1038 and  Senate bill S704 were approved separately. These bills will move to conference on Friday.

The House bill included the provisions we have been following and that were previously referenced in last week’s legislative update concerning the Covid-19 Education Working Group Task Force.

The major differences in the competing bills are the spending amounts, with the Senate spending considerably less than the House. Even though these are federal dollars, there is no requirement that all funds are spent at one time, hence the lesser allocations by the Senate.

Below are summaries of the pros and cons and general concerns of both the House and Senate bills which deal with the state’s response to the Covid-19 crisis that is impacting K-12 education.

  1. Calendar Flexibility

Both chambers approved moving the school start date to August 17th (previous law states that schools cannot start earlier than the Monday closest to August 26th). There are also mandated online instructional days built into the legislation. This could be problematic given some of the issues regarding connectivity, technology access, and equity concerns that districts have seen arise since schools closed back on March 15th.

Given other factors that can affect the school calendar, such as weather, there are strong arguments in allowing for more flexibility on this matter.

  1. Funding and Budgetary Concerns

The House bill more adequately addresses the funding shortfalls faced by LEAs. The House legislation also allows LEAs to carry funds over from this fiscal year to the next. The Senate’s lack of flexibility will likely put LEAs in a difficult situation as they try to address the many uncertainties of the upcoming school year. Much of the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis is not yet realized and will show itself closer to the fall (needs for staffing, school resources, technology, staff development, etc.). Therefore, the Senate plan puts LEAs at a disadvantage in meeting challenges that are certain to arise in the coming months.

  1. Policy

We have followed the K-3 class size mandates for some time now. Given the ongoing crisis, the House included a 1-year postponement in requiring LEAs to meet the mandate this coming year. However, the Senate version does not allow for a suspension. This will be a concern for LEAs trying to make hiring decisions for the fall in elementary classrooms.

Other items related to changes directly caused by Covid-19 were the result of the House Education Committee workgroup and have been rolled into the larger House appropriations bill. We have followed these necessary waivers and adjustments and find them agreeable to educators and stakeholders.

We will be following this most recent legislation in the coming days and hopefully will have something final to report by next week.

Again, both bills have been voted out of their respective chambers, with conferencing likely to begin on Friday.

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