Governor’s Budget Proposes Investment in Education, Health, Safety

Governor Cooper released a 2020-21 budget proposal last week that called for investments in early childhood, education and health by allocating an additional $559m in state funds and the full $978m that remains in federal CARES Act funding. See our recent post on budget conversations happening at the NC House. The NC General Assembly is due back in session this week to plan the budget for this fiscal year.

Early Childhood highlights from the Governor’s budget proposal include:

Investment in a Sound Basic Public Education

An action plan outlining steps the state needs to take in FY 2021 to meet the requirements of the Leandro consent agreement was submitted to the judge on June 15. To assist the state in accomplishing the steps in this plan, the Governor’s Recommended Budget includes $395 million in funding — $50 million of which is state funding, with the rest coming from the federal CARES Act. Funding will be used to serve the highest needs students, schools, and school districts. Items that impact birth through third grade, many of which align with the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework, include:

  • Increase Pre-K Admin and Reimbursement Rate: Increases the reimbursement rate by 2 percent and the administrative rate to 10 percent to improve oversight, monitoring, and support of NC Pre-K programs. ($7.3m)
  • Invest in Smart Start to improve supports for children aged birth to five in all 100 counties and to better prepare them for school. ($5m)
  • Bonuses for Early Educators: Provides a one-time bonus to teachers and staff (based on education/certification) at open private childcare programs to help retain these individuals in the early educator workforce. This is the first step to increasing the volume and quality of the early educator pipeline. ($19.2m)
  • Provide Bonuses for School Personnel: Provides a one-time $2,000 bonus to teachers, instructional support personnel, principals, and assistant principals and a one-time $1,000 bonus to non-certified school personnel. ($280m)
  • Expand the Teaching Fellows Program: Increases the pipeline of diverse, well-prepared teachers by providing funding to support up to 250 Teaching Fellows for the 2021-22 academic year (90 additional Fellows), broadening eligible certification areas, extending the reduced payback period to Fellows who teach in high-poverty schools, improving opportunities for talented candidates of color, and expanding program support and enhancement. ($1m)
  • Provide High-Quality Mentoring and Support for Teachers: Expands support and mentoring for first-year teachers, focusing on beginning teachers in low-performing schools, high-poverty schools, and districts which have been particularly affected by COVID19. ($2m)
  • Increase Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Funding (DSSF)/Combine DSSF and At-Risk Allotments: Invests additional funding for the DSSF allotment, and eliminates the current restriction prohibiting districts from spending more than 35 percent of their DSSF allotment on salary supplements. Transfers the At-Risk Student Services/ Alternative Schools allotment funding into the DSSF allotment and expands allowable uses of the DSSF allotment to incorporate activities allowed under the current at-risk allotment. ($24m)
  • Expand Funding for Exceptional Children: Increases funding for the Children with Disabilities allotment and allocates funding to Department of Public Instruction for grants to Public School Units for Exceptional Children who lost critical services due to COVID-19 related issues. ($23.2m)
  • Increase Limited English Proficiency Funding: Provides additional funding for the Limited English Proficiency allotment to increase the percentage of school districts’ English Learners receiving supplementary funding. ($4.8m)
  • Develop School Based Mental Health Policy: Allocates funding to each school to develop and implement a plan to promote student mental health and well-being, as required by a recent state law. COVID-19 has impacted students’ social and emotional needs, increasing the need for effective mental health supports. ($16.5m)
  • Establish the NC Education Corps: Provides stipends to recent high school and college graduates and other community members to support students and educators in high-poverty schools. Education Corp members may provide tutoring to vulnerable students and those most impacted by COVID-19 to help close the achievement gap, serve as mentors or classroom aides, or provide technical support to families needing assistance with remote learning technologies. ($10m)

The Governor’s budget also recommends holding schools and principal salaries harmless for per-student funding if average daily membership declines during the 2020-21 school year due to the pandemic. This was discussed in more detail at a recent House Select Committee meeting.

Support for COVID-19 Pandemic Response that Impact Young Children and their Families

  • Reduce Medicaid Coverage Gap: Expand Medicaid eligibility to cover individuals at or below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. According to the Governor’s budget proposal, expansion would reach more than 600,000 additional North Carolinians, add $4 billion in direct spending into NC, and create 37,000 jobs. No existing general fund tax dollars are needed to support the expansion – the non-federal share of expansion costs would be covered by provider contributions.
  • Support Rural and Historically Marginalized Populations: Provides funding to DHHS to address health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 in rural and underserved communities, including research, community engagement through local organizations and Community Health Workers, and wraparound supports such as nutrition assistance, medication delivery, and transportation to facilitate social distancing efforts. ($50m)
  • Stabilize Early Childhood Services: Provides additional funding to DHHS to support childcare providers through the provision of PPE, sanitizing supplies, early educator bonus payments, and operational grants to offset revenue losses due to business disruptions, enrollment declines, and reduced capacity. This line item seems to include the $19.2m for one-time bonuses to teachers and staff (based on education/certification) at open private childcare programs to help retain these individuals in the early educator workforce, referenced above in the section about Leandro investments. ($40m)
  • Support Mental Health and Resilience: Provides additional funds to DHHS for crisis services to respond to significant increases in mental health stressors due to the pandemic. Additional services may include telehealth services and supports, crisis intervention training for law enforcement, inpatient services for the uninsured, and services and training programs to assist children suffering from pandemic-related trauma. ($30m)
  • Expand Testing, Contact Tracing, and Analyzing Trends: Expands DHHS funding for public and private initiatives for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and trends tracking and analysis. ($25m)
  • Expand Prevention Efforts to Combat COVID-19: Provides funding to DHHS for public health efforts to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19, including public communication and education on proven practices for infection control and technical assistance to businesses, schools, and other entities. ($15m)
  • Direct Assistance to Food Banks and Nutrition Programs: Provides direct aid to food banks, emergency feeding organizations, and community organizations for food and nutrition assistance. Includes $15M in supplemental support to address food insecurity for school age children and underserved communities. ($50m)

Invest NC Bond for Education and Other Infrastructure

Places a $4.3 billion General Obligation Bond on the November 2021 ballot to ask voters to address key infrastructure needs across the state. Items that impact early childhood include:

  • $2 billion for school construction to build and renovate K-12 public schools. Half of the funds to be distributed as a base amount for all counties, and the other half to be distributed based on school-age population and relative wealth.
  • $800 million for water and sewer infrastructure to address the nearly $17 billion needed in repairs and upgrades across the state.
  • $500 million for affordable housing to respond to the affordable housing needs across the state exacerbated by COVID-19.

Increase Unemployment Payments

Increases the duration and maximum weekly benefit. According to the Governor’s budget, this proposal would move NC from being tied with Florida for the lowest benefit duration in the country to 7th lowest. It would rank the state 21st highest on maximum weekly benefit, rather than 11th lowest in the nation.

  • Increase the maximum duration of regular unemployment insurance benefits from 12 weeks to 24 weeks for new claims filed on or after October 1st
  • Increase the maximum weekly benefit from $350 to $500 for new claims filed on or after October 1st

Coronavirus Relief Aid for Local Governments – Uses Can Include Child Care Assistance

Provides $200 million in aid for local governments. Counties and municipalities may use these funds for programs such as mortgage, rental, and/or utility assistance grants to residents; non-congregate housing needs; food security grants to nonprofits, houses of worship, and community organization; and childcare assistance.