NC House Discusses Additional Funds for Child Care, K-12 Education Pandemic Needs

The Health and Education working groups of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 met in the last week to discuss how to allocate federal funds from the CARES Act. Indications are that there will be additional funding soon for child care and K-12 public schools. See also our recent post on Governor Cooper’s budget recommendations for 2020-21.

Near the end of the Education meeting, Representative Fisher asked what the plan is for supporting early education, child care and NC Pre-K.

Representative Fraley, chair of the Education workgroup, responded that “Child care is one of the things that is at the top of the list, with Representatives Horne, Clemmons and I working with (the) Health (committee) to try to address it. At this point, that could range from support of (child care) centers to family support to outright grants. There are a number of things under consideration right now. I believe I’m safe in saying child care will be one of the things we think (is) a priority if there’s an appropriation next week.”

How Much Do They Have to Work With?

NC received about $4.1 billion in federal funds in response to the pandemic, with $481 million of that going directly to local governments, leaving about $3.6 billion for the state to allocate. The NC General Assembly chose to allocate just over $3 billion of the funds, including $350 million that was allocated to replace state revenue. That leaves the NCGA about $550 million of the federal funding to allocate to continued pandemic needs.

However, state revenue replacement is not currently a permissible use of the federal funds, which by federal law are also supposed to be expended by the end of 2020. Leadership at the NCGA is holding on to the additional funds, in the hopes that the federal legislation will be changed to allow the funding to be used for state revenue replacement. Advocates are calling on the NCGA to allocate and spend the federal funds on immediate needs stemming from the pandemic, as intended by Congress. If the federal law is not changed to allow the funds to be used for state revenue replacement, then the NCGA will have about $900 million to spend on pandemic needs before the end of the year. Click here for all the numbers.

Child Care Request Prioritizes PPE, Educator Bonuses, and Operational Grants

The Health committee heard on August 20 from Susan Gale Perry of DHHS about the needs for supporting parents’ access to child care. She shared concerns about the impact of the pandemic on young children and their families, including:

  • food insecurity
  • possible threats to child safety indicated by a 35% drop in child protective service reports
  • learning loss
  • missed health appointments

Impact of the pandemic on the child care system has included:

  • additional health and safety requirements
  • significant vacancies in child cares that are reopening
  • COVID clusters in child care centers
  • unknown demand for both 0-5 child care and school age care, due to families still keeping their children home as the pandemic continues.

The chair of the NC Child Care Commission, Zac Everhart, expressed the importance of child care to economic recovery, saying “NC cannot hold up other industries while we cannot hold up our own.”

Perry also address the needs for care for school-age children. Current options include:

  • Leverage about 30,000 existing slots at child care facilities that are licensed for school-age care
  • Expand capacity for licensed child care facilities that are not currently licensed for school-age children
  • Offer school-age care on-site at public schools
  • Offer school-age care on-site at community-based organizations (CBOs) – public schools must have contracts with CBOs to do so
  • Prioritize bringing younger children back to public school for in-person instruction

DHHS has added additional health and safety requirements to already existing licensing standards for child care and requirements in public schools.

The Child Care Commission added emergency rules at their August 5th meeting that will allow public schools to enter into written contract agreements with Remote Learning Facilities. As part of contracts, public schools agree to:

  • Be responsible for enrollment and attendance of school-age children at a Remote Learning Facility
  • Be liable for any incidents or occurrences at the Remote Learning Facility the same way they would be liable if school-age children were in a building approved for school occupancy and which houses any part of the public school system

The Child Care Commission also issued a letter to superintendents and charter school leaders outlining three options to support families who may need school-age care:  promoting a hotline for licensed care, providing care onsite, and contracting with a community-based organization to provide care.

In terms of funding, DHHS expects to expend all CARES act funds currently allocated for child care. Funding priorities going forward include:

  • PPE: Provide additional infection control supplies to child care programs
  • Child Care Workforce Retention: Provide one-time retention bonuses for child care staff working onsite in open programs
  • Operational Grants: Stabilize child care programs who have lost significant tuition revenue due to lower enrollment with operational grants

Early childhood advocates, led by the NC Early Education Coalition, shared a letter and outline of funding needed for child care with lawmakers on the House Select Committee. Advocates’ priorities largely aligned with the administration’s and included:

  • Continue Bonus Payments/Hazard Pay for Child Care Teachers and Staff
  • Expand Access to Child Care Health Consultation, Training, Technical Assistance
  • Emergency Child Care Subsidy Assistance for Working Families
  • Operating Grants for Reopened Child Care Programs

MomsRising and the NC Early Childhood Coalition have shared action alerts.

K-12 Education Prioritizes Maintaining Funding Levels, PPE, Connectivity and Transportation

Chair of the NC Board of Education, Eric Davis, called for fully appropriating the federal funds that remain from the CARES Act. He outlined two tiers of priorities for the K-12 public education system.

Tier 1 priorities, totaling just over $77 million, include:

  • Maintaining school funding at last year’s level. Schools receive funding per student enrolled, so normally the amount of funding allocated is adjusted at the beginning of the school year based on the actual enrollment. Enrollment in many districts is down this fall, as more parents than usual choose home school or private school. Under the current rule, lower enrollment would result in funding decreases. Schools need additional funding this year, however, to meet increased health and safety requirements and retain teachers and staff. For example, principal salaries are partly dependent on the enrollment numbers, so if the rule is not changed, principals’ salaries will go down just as they are dealing with repercussions of the pandemic.
  • Funding for PPE, including masks, hand sanitizer, tissues, gowns for school nurses, etc.
  • Transportation funding to enable schools to use school buses for meal delivery for food-insecure students in remote learning, mobile hot-spots in rural areas, and delivery of non-digital instructional resources to students in remote learning settings.
  • Internet Connectivity and Broadband. Funding is needed to continue working with internet service providers to provide increased student access to internet.

Tier 2 priorities, totaling around $45 million, include:

  • Exceptional Children supports in the form of grants to schools.
  • Early Literacy, in response to Leandro. Funding is needed for training on the science of reading, high quality curricula, and evidence-based interventions for school administrators, teachers, reading coaches and curriculum and instruction leaders.
  • Cybersecurity Infrastructure to protect districts during this time of increased remote learning.
  • New Teacher Support Program to provide mentors for all first-year teachers in low-performing schools and districts hit hardest by the pandemic.
  • School-Based Mental Health. Funding is needed to meet the requirements of SB 476 that each school shall adopt and implement a plan to address student mental health and well-being and improve the effectiveness of supports for students and staff. These needs have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Space X Pilot program that uses low orbit satellite and hot spot connections to extend internet connectivity to students and educators in very hard to reach locations that currently have no internet access.

Chair Davis also shared that temporary increases in federal funding for school nutrition are set to end on August 31st and asked for the Board’s help in educating NC’s Congressional delegation on the importance of continuing that critical funding.