RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Getting North Carolina’s students back on track will take time and money. Stimulus funds will help in one of those regards. While schools in other states are beginning to get that influx of money, North Carolina’s schools will need to wait a bit longer.
“I get the sense of anxiety that people have around this. I think the first step is for parents, in particular, to just take a deep breath, step back for a moment, and let’s put this all in perspective,” said Michael Maher with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
Maher was hired in March as the Executive Director of Learning Recovery and Acceleration. He oversees NCDPI’s response to pandemic recovery. He said parents have felt the same negative impact that the pandemic has had on their child’s learning.
“We want to re-engage kids in learning. We want to get kids back with their peers. We want to get kids back with other adults in classrooms where they can build relationships, and that’s where it really starts,” Maher said.
He added that, while important, six weeks of summer school will not make up for 15 months of lost time.
To get there, it’s going to cost money. The latest federal stimulus plan has $3.5 billion to be split between all the state’s school districts. It’s the third federal recovery package and known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund III (ESSER III).
About 90 percent of that money will go to school districts and is partially divided up based on the amount of Title I schools in each district. Those are schools that serve low-income families. The state legislature already voted and Gov. Roy Cooper signed this part of ESSER III into law. Individual districts have the discretion of how to direct those funds on projects related to pandemic recovery.
The remaining 10 percent is designated by the Department of Public Instruction. Maher said that budget must be approved by the North Carolina Board of Education and signed off by the state legislature. That plan must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education before those monies can be released. Tied to that is the final installment of the $3.5 billion or $1.66 billion.
While other states will soon start receiving those funds, North Carolina has asked for a 30-day extension to file its submission.
“There are a lot of moving parts for us in North Carolina that, perhaps, some states don’t have. So, not every state has their money appropriated by their general assembly. They’re able to receive their money directly, so they’re able to do that work more quickly than we are,” Maher said.
In the meantime, school districts are finalizing how they’ll spend the money.
“We would like it sooner rather than later. Every minute that we wait for that money puts us a little further behind in terms of our planning not only for the use, but for the expenditure of those funds,” Maher said.
Public comment will be open for 14 days and DPI will present its final version of the plan to the state Board of Education later this month.