SB 37: In-Person Learning Choice for Families: On Friday, February 26 Governor Cooper vetoed SB 37 (primary sponsors: Senators Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga; Michael Lee, R-New Hanover; Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell), stating that it violates DHHS health and safety guidance and fails to protect State and local emergency authority. The Senate was quick to respond with a veto override vote on Monday, which failed to pass by one vote (29-20). But Senate leadership refused to take no for an answer. Two days later the Senate approved a motion to reconsider the veto override without objection because one of the bill sponsors, Senator Ben Clark, D-Hoke, was not present for the Monday vote. Senator Clark was one of three Democratic Senators who voted in favor of SB 37. Senators Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland, and Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, were the other two, but Senator Lowe changed his vote to uphold the Governor’s veto. Prior to the next veto override vote, Republican leaders are required to give Democratic leaders 24-hour notice.
HB 90: In-Person Learning: In response to Governor Cooper’s veto of SB 37, a local reopening schools bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education K-12 Committee next Tuesday. HB 90 (primary sponsor: Representative Pat McElraft, R-Carteret) would require all public schools in Asheboro City, Carteret County, Haywood County, Randolph County, and Yancey County to reopen under Plan A, while still providing a remote instruction option. A press release from the House Speaker says that “additional counties and provisions are expected to be added through the legislative process.” According to the State constitution, education policy included in local bills can affect up to 14 counties, and no more than half of the State’s counties can be impacted by the same policy over the two-year biennium. Local bills also do not require the Governor’s approval. Click here to live stream the House Education K-12 Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 9 at 1:00 pm.
State Board of Education Resolution to Reopen Schools: On Thursday, the SBE approved a resolution that requires all NC public schools to begin providing the option of in-person instruction by the end of the month, in accordance with the updated DHHS StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. The updated and approved DHHS guidance removes the option for LEAs to stay in Plan C (remote instruction only), except for higher-risk students and families that want a remote option. Middle and high schools are still limited to reopening under Plan B.
New COVID-19 Relief Bill
The week kicked off with House Republicans filing a bill that would provide $1.7 billion in COVID-19 relief. In just three days HB 196: 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief (primary sponsors: Representatives John Faircloth, R-Guilford; Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston; Kyle Hall, R-Rockingham; Larry Strickland, R-Harnett) sped through committee hearings, unanimously passed both chambers, and landed on the Governor’s desk. The bill 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. Despite unanimous House approval, many House Democrats claimed that HB 196 did not go far enough and pushed for some of the State’s funding reserve to be used for additional needs like bonuses for school employees. House Republicans rejected several Democrat-proposed amendments and instead encouraged quick bill approval with the sentiment of addressing these additional needs in future legislation.
Athletics and Graduation Attendance Bills
Multiple athletics attendance bills progressed through their originating chambers this week, with one now including increased graduation attendance. The following are two Statewide bills that crossed over:
- HB 128: Increase Access to Sporting Venues in Schools (primary sponsors: Representatives Kyle Hall, R-Stokes; Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Destin Hall, R-Caldwell; David Willis, R-Union)
- Allows up to 50% occupancy at indoor and outdoor sporting events, graduation ceremonies, and other outdoor activities
- Passed 77-42
- SB 116: Let Them Play and Let Us Watch (primary sponsors: Senators Todd Johnson, R-Union; Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; Danny Britt, R-Robeson)
- Allows up to 40% occupancy at outdoor sporting events
- Passed 34-15
The following are two local bills that crossed over:
- HB 118: Students, Parents, Community Rights Act (primary sponsors: Representatives David Willis, R-Union; Dean Arp, R-Union; Mark Brody, R-Union)
- Allows up to 50% occupancy at outdoor sporting events
- Passed 74-45
- SB 115: Students, Parents, Community Rights Act (primary sponsors: Senators Todd Johnson, R-Union; Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; Tom McInnis, R-Scotland)
- Allows up to 50% occupancy at outdoor sporting events
- Passed on a voice vote
Both local bills include the maximum 14 counties that can be affected by a local bill, and only one county overlaps. Meaning that these two local bills cover a total of 27 counties. Both local bills, as well as SB 116, give local school boards ultimate authority to implement stronger attendance restrictions. HB 128 not only loosens occupancy restrictions for more than just sporting events indoors and outdoors, it also does not give the local school board ultimate authority over event attendance. All four bills exceed the Governor’s current 30% capacity limit at sports arenas and fields. The two local bills would not require the Governor’s approval and it appears that they are being pushed through the legislative process in case the Governor vetoes the statewide bills. Additionally, SB 170: Students, Parents, Community Rights Act (primary sponsors: Senators Kevin Corbin, R-Macon; Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland; Dean Proctor, R-Catawba) was filed this week and allows up to 50% occupancy at outdoor sporting events in 11 counties, five of which are already included in the other local bills.
Summer Learning Bill
The Senate has not taken any action on a bill sent over by the House last week requiring LEAs to provide a voluntary summer learning program for at-risk students. Despite lack of movement on 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), HB 196: 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief allocates $40 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support the requirements of HB 82. Because of HB 196’s swift movement through the House and Senate, we anticipate that the Senate will soon consider HB 82. For a summary of HB 82, click here to access last week’s Legislative Update.
Senate Education/Higher Education Committee Meeting
On Wednesday, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt began her legislative priorities presentation to the Committee with her north star: “All students deserve a highly qualified, excellent teacher in every classroom.” The presentation included:
- Implementing science of reading training
- Remodeling school accountability
- Building up computer science
- Requesting reasonable local school calendar control
Following Superintendent Truitt’s presentation, there was a presentation on at-risk students. According to recent test results, approximately 23% of traditional public-school students are “at-risk for academic failure and are not successfully progressing towards grade level promotion.” Click here for the full presentation.
This week the Joint Education Appropriations Committee began digging deeper into the K-12 public school budget, with funding overview presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday and SBE budget requests on Thursday. To read more about the updated SBE legislative and budget priorities, see the SBE Monthly Meeting section below.
The SBE met for their monthly meeting on Wednesday and Thursday this week. In addition to the previously mentioned SBE resolution to reopen schools, Board members were presented with the following:
- Fall test results and accountability updates
- ESSER II allotment policy
- Updated 2021 legislative and budget priorities
- DHHS COVID-19 update
Fall test results and accountability updates: Board members were presented with fall test results showing that a majority of high school students did not pass State end-of-course tests and a majority of third grade students performed at the lowest level on their beginning-of-grade reading tests. While this data shows obvious declines in student performance, DPI staff advised that test results be examined within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning. Click here to access the test result data. Click here for an article summarizing the fall test results. Board members were also presented with the U.S. Department of Education’s newest testing flexibilities, including shorter tests, extended testing windows, and remote administration. Additionally, the Board voted to approve a waiver request from State accountability measures for the 2020-2021 school year, which will be officially submitted to the General Assembly after the SBE’s federal waiver request from accountability requirements is granted.
ESSER II allotment policy: Board members approved the allotment policy for the $1.6 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II funds, along with draft allotments. Federal law dictates that at least 90% ($1.44 billion) of these funds be distributed directly to public school units, with the remaining 10% ($161.3 million) being reserved for DPI. Unlike the first round of federal COVID-19 relief funds, public school units are required to submit an application and budget to DPI for approval. The funds are available through September 30, 2023.
Updated 2021 legislative and budget priorities: The SBE approved additional legislative and budget priorities, including:
- Science of reading training ($15.6 million nonrecurring)
- Child nutrition – eliminate reduced-price lunch copay ($3.9 million recurring)
- Cybersecurity expansion and training ($25.6 million recurring, $14.3 million nonrecurring)
- Annual teacher working conditions survey ($300,000 recurring)
In addition to the legislative and budget priorities being presented to the Board, they were also presented to the Joint Education Appropriations Committee on Thursday as part of the budget process.
DHHS COVID-19 update: Board members received updates on COVID-19 metrics, CDC guidance, K-12 testing, vaccine distribution, and the modified StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. DHHS is expanding its piloted access to free antigen tests for K-12 schools, and LEAs can request tests through at least the end of the school year. This expansion is based on updated CDC guidance that recommends testing as part of the reopening schools strategy. Slide 12 of the DHHS presentation lists requirements that LEAs must meet before submitting a request. Additionally, DHHS reported that almost 50,000 individuals who self-identify as K-12 or childcare center frontline essential workers have received a vaccine since February 24th.
The following additional education-related bills were filed this week:
- HB 192: COVID Response/Supplemental Spending 2020-21 (primary sponsors: Representatives Robert Reives, D-Chatham; Gale Adcock, D-Wake; Wesley Harris, D-Mecklenburg; Brandon Lofton, D-Mecklenburg)
- HB 193: 2020-2021 School Transportation Flexibility (primary sponsors: Representatives Ray Pickett, R-Watauga; Jason Saine, R-Lincoln)
- HB 230: NC Managing Environmental Waste Act of 2021 (primary sponsors: Representatives Harry Warren, R-Rowan; William Richardson, D-Cumberland)
- SB 168: Historic School Preservation Grant Funds (primary sponsor: Senator Don Davis, D-Pitt)
- SB 172: 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief (primary sponsors: Senators Brent Jackson, R-Sampson; Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston; Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell)
- This is the Senate’s companion bill of HB 196
- SB 174: State Health Plan Data Transparency.-AB (primary sponsors: Senators Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth; Jim Burgin, R-Harnett; Jim Perry, R-Lenoir)
- HB 201: Academic Alignment/Certain School Units (primary sponsors: Representatives Dean Arp, R-Union; Sarah Stevens, R-Surry; Mark Brody, R-Union; David Willis, R-Union)
- HB 202: School Calendar Flexibility/Harnett County (primary sponsor: Representative Howard Penny, R-Harnett)
- HB 226: School Calendar Flex/Mecklenburg County (primary sponsors: Representatives Terry Brown, D- Mecklenburg; Becky Carney, D- Mecklenburg; Wesley Harris, D- Mecklenburg; Carolyn Logan, D- Mecklenburg)
- This is the House’s companion bill of SB 189
- HB 231: Allow Durham Public Schools to Provide Housing (primary sponsors: Representatives Vernetta Alston, D-Durham; Marcia Morey, D-Durham; Zack Hawkins, D-Durham)
- SB 187: School Calendar Flexibility/Cleveland County (primary sponsor: Senator Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland)
- SB 189: School Calendar Flex/Mecklenburg County (primary sponsors: Senators Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg; Deandrea Salvador, D-Mecklenburg; Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg)
- This is the Senate’s companion bill of HB 226
Tuesday, March 9
8:30 am – Joint Education Appropriations Committee – Legislative Building, rm 1027/1128 (live stream)
8:30 am – Joint Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 421 (live stream)
- Child development and early education
1:00 pm – House Education K-12 Committee – Legislative Offices Building, rm 643 (live stream)
- HB 90: In-Person Learning
- HB 159: Education Law Changes.-AB
- HB 193: 2020-2021 School Transportation Flexibility
2:00 pm – House Homeland Security, Military, and Veteran Affairs Committee – Legislative Building, rm 1228/1327 (live stream)
The Joint Education Appropriations Committee will meet on Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30 am.
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