NCASA COVID-19 Policy & Advocacy Update: Week Of March 23, 2020
As schools remain closed statewide for student instruction for a second week, school leaders and state policymakers have continued to work together to propose solutions for supporting our public schools, students, and staff during this difficult time. In order to provide its members with ongoing access to the latest and most helpful resources for addressing COVID-19-related issues, the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) has launched a new resource page containing comprehensive NCASA updates, real-time access to government briefings and meetings, as well as a compilation of helpful summaries and guidance documents from across public and private sectors. Our page also contains our latest Recommendations For Continuing The 2019-20 School Year, which we will continue to update and share with state policymakers as we hear your feedback regarding new concerns or strategies. Lastly, our page will also contain weekly updates from entities such as the State Board of Education, NC Department of Public Instruction, Governor Roy Cooper, and the NC General Assembly. The following is an overview of actions already taken or expected to be taken this week by various education stakeholders:
State Board Of Education (SBE)
The SBE briefly met via Emergency Conference Call on Monday to approve seeking a one-year federal waiver of “assessments, accountability and school identification, and reporting requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESSA).” This federal testing waiver was approved by the U.S. Department of Education the same day. Board Chair Eric Davis noted the SBE would be working with members of the NC General Assembly to address remaining state accountability measures and requirements. The SBE has scheduled another meeting for Friday, March 27, at 1:00 to discuss COVID-19 grading guidance recommendations, distribution of the $50 million in flexible funding set aside by Governor Cooper for public schools facing COVID-19 issues, and other new business items yet to be determined. Members of the public can listen to the meeting live by clicking here.
NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI)
NCDPI has continued to send updates from its various departments and outside partners, providing guidance on specific topics such as child nutrition, remote learning, and school business. NCASA will continue to compile key NCDPI guidance documents on its new COVID-19 Resource Page. In addition, NCDPI has created several working groups tasked with addressing various coronavirus-related education issues. NCASA and its core affiliates, the NC School Superintendents’ Association (NCSSA) and the NC Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association (NCPAPA) have continued to provide input into these working groups, as our members offer feedback and generate recommendations for needed next steps in law and policy.
NC General Assembly (NCGA)
While the NCGA has not officially reconvened, the House has created a Select Committee on COVID-19, divided into working groups covering Education, Health Care, Economic Support, and Continuity of State Operations. The Economic Support Working Group met on Wednesday, March 25, while the Health Care and Education Working Groups met today. During the Education Working Group meeting, legislators heard presentations regarding actions taken so far by the Governor and the State Board of Education in response to COVID-19, as well as the legislative impact of federal testing waivers. Committee members also discussed developing issues, such as federal testing and accountability, needed waivers for student teaching, school calendar flexibility and alternatives, public school employee compensation, and the potential instructional direction for the rest of the school year. The full meeting agenda is available here. NCASA will continue to share information from the House Select Committee on COVID-19, including scheduled meeting dates, PowerPoint presentations, and access to live audio streaming, via our COVID-19 Resource Page.
Governor Roy Cooper
NC Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order on Monday, March 23 extending the closure of public schools for student instruction until May 15. The following day, Governor Cooper announced he was directing the State Board of Education (SBE) and the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to establish a new $50 million flexible allotment for public school units to address COVID-19-related expenses. This allotment is comprised of unused funds from the current and previous school years, as well as the State Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund, according to a press release shared by the Governor’s office. The SBE is expected to discuss and approve a new policy during its meeting on Friday, March 27, to provide guidelines for the distribution of this funding.
Members of the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act) early Thursday morning, with members of the U.S. House expected to approve the bill on Friday. As shared by our national organization AASA, the CARES Act includes $13.5 billion for K-12 schools as part of the bill's Education Stabilization Fund, which also contains $14.25 billion for higher education, and $3 billion for governors to use at their discretion to assist K-12 and higher education as they deal with the fallout from the virus. The legislation also states that any state or school district getting money from the stabilization fund "shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus." In addition, the CARES Act also includes:
- $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
- $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
- $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
- $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
- $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
- $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
- $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.
In addition to funding items, the CARES Act also includes several policy items, including flexibility for states to get one-year waivers on certain testing and accountability measures. Specifically, LEAs can seek a waiver:
- from ESSA's requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds;
- to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools;
- from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices;
- to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there's a 15 percent limit; and
- from adhering to ESSA's definition of professional development.
The NCASA team is working around the clock to continue to provide its members with the best resources available during this time of crisis. We are in awe of the determination, passion, and ingenuity displayed by our public school leaders as they help their students and staff tackle new and complex problems every day. As always, please feel free to reach out to the NCASA team with any questions or concerns you may have.