NC House approves new summer school program for at-risk students left behind by COVID

T. Keung Hui
·3 min read

North Carolina school districts would have to create a summer school program to help students who’ve fallen behind during COVID-19, according to legislation unanimously passed Wednesday by the state House.

The “Summer Learning Choice for NC Families” bill requires school districts to offer students at least 150 hours of summer in-person instruction, along with enrichment activities such as sports, music and arts. The program is geared toward at-risk students, but attendance is voluntary and is open to any student, space permitting.

Supporters say the summer program is needed because of how education has been disrupted over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students have received either limited or no in-person instruction since last March as districts moved to remote learning.

“We all know right now the crisis that so many of our young people are dealing with by being out of school,” House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said Wednesday. “For the most part, kids have been out of school for roughly a year.”

House Bill 82 now goes to the Senate.

The original version of the bill required it to last six weeks and be held in person five days a week. But the wording was revised to say at least 150 hours or 30 days in recognition of how many year-round schools don’t have that long a summer break.

More students at at risk of failure

The program would come after a year where school districts have reported increases in the number of students who are failing classes and not showing up regularly. More students than normal may be required to repeat the school year.

The bill requires school districts to identify and prioritize at-risk students for the program. Those at-risk students are not required to participate, however.

The legislation has been endorsed by Disability Rights North Carolina, which says it will positively impact students with disabilities. The past year’s focus on remote learning has been particularly hard on students with disabilities.

“There are students with disabilities who do not have access to remote instruction due to the nature and severity of their disability,” attorney Meisha Evans with Disability Rights North Carolina told the House Education Committee last week. “This bill will give students with disabilities a chance to make up some of the critical in-person instruction that they lost.”

School districts would be required to test students at the start and beginning of the summer program.

The program would serve all grade levels. But Moore said it’s especially important to help younger students who are still trying to master the basics such as learning to read.

“For these kids at those young ages, those elementary school students who’ve missed a lot of valuable in-classroom time, we can’t just act like this last year didn’t happen,” said Moore, a Cleveland County Republican. “We have to find a way to get them caught up.”

Unfunded mandate?

The summer program doesn’t come with any new state funding. Instead, Moore said Wednesday that the program is “fully funded,” pointing to the $1.6 billion for school reopening that the General Assembly appropriated in the latest COVID-19 relief bill.

Charter schools aren’t required to set up a summer program. Instead, charter students, private school students and home-school students can request a spot in a program run by the school district.

A prior version of the bill would have allowed school districts to charge up to $1,040 to serve non-district students. But Moore said that fee wasn’t needed because districts have enough money to run the program.

“Unbelievable that there was unanimous agreement to pass this unfunded mandate without even getting a fiscal note,” Kris Nordstrom, a senior policy analyst with the N.C. Justice Center’s Education & Law Project, tweeted Wednesday.