NC parents could get $1,000 for students from federal COVID relief under GOP plan

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North Carolina parents could see another round of money from their government this year.

A preliminary House bill draft obtained by The News & Observer on Monday shows a plan to give North Carolina parents $1,000 to $3,000 to spend on future costs to help their school-age kids avoid learning loss as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill was filed as House Bill 934 on Tuesday.

The bill draft labeled “Student Success Program” states that the General Assembly would direct the Department of Public Instruction “to contract with the State Education Assistance Authority to establish and administer a program that allows parents of eligible children to use federal funds intended to mitigate the negative impacts COVID-19 towards allowable educational uses of their choice to address student learning loss, provide summer learning or enrichment, and provide comprehensive after-school programs.”

Here’s what the bill says about possible grants to parents this year:

How much: Grants would be $1,000 per eligible child with a maximum grant of $3,000 per household.

When: The money would be available no later than Aug. 16. The time frame to spend the money would be by Sept. 1, 2022.

Who gets it: An “eligible child” means a child of elementary, middle or high school age who lives in North Carolina and is eligible to attend a North Carolina public school.

What for: The bill draft proposes that money could be directly spent on participation in summer enrichment programs, tutoring, textbooks, therapies for students with disabilities and fees for assessments and exams.

Funding: The program would use as much as $170 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds. That’s the bill Congress passed in March that also included $1,400 stimulus checks.

Money to avoid learning loss

The lead sponsor is Rep. Jon Hardister, House majority whip and Whitsett Republican. Hardister told The News & Observer in an interview Tuesday Hardister:

Hardister said that while every student is eligible, students who are economically disadvantaged will be prioritized.

Exactly how the logistics will work is still to be determined. The legislature’s research staff told him they are still determining the rules from the federal government.

“I think it’s going to take some work to get us where we want to be,” he said.

Hardister will next meet with state education leaders and committee chairs.

“I think it’s a great concept. I think the intent is very clear. A lot of children, with some exceptions, have had a tough time during the pandemic,” Hardister said. He said the intent is to get money directly to families, and prioritizing some so it can “make a real difference for a working-class family.”

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship — Hardister, Democratic Rep. Cecil Brockman of High Point and Republican Reps. Bobby Hanig of Currituck County and David Willis of Union County.

Tyler Voigt, deputy state director for Americans for Prosperity, said the idea has been kicked around for awhile. Americans for Prosperity is a conservative advocacy group.

“Learning loss is a really big deal, and I don’t think people understand how big of a deal it is,” Voigt said in a phone interview with The N&O Monday evening.

Voigt said that Americans for Prosperity brought the idea for the program to Hardister.

He said the amount of $1,000 is flexible but they wanted it to be “enough that it matters.”

“This gives more empowerment to North Carolina families, to parents. We know no two students are the same. This is going to empower parents to handle this problem in a way that best suits their needs,” Voigt said.

The draft also shows that funds would come from the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

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No agreement on how parent funds would work

Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, told The News & Observer on the Senate floor after Monday night’s session that he had not heard about the proposal for a specific amount of funds for parents. However, he did say he supports giving North Carolina parents more money from COVID-19 federal relief.

Berger and other Republican lawmakers were behind the 2020 Extra Credit Grants program that gave out $335 checks to most North Carolina parents who qualified. Both chambers of the General Assembly are Republican majority. Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat.

What’s different about the latest proposal, from the House, is the amount and how it is spent.

Berger said “folks have been batting around all sorts of things. Extra Credit grants [are] one of them.”

There’s great interest in providing additional money for parents, similar to the Extra Credit Grants. There’s been no agreement between the House and the Senate as to how that would work,” Berger said.

Berger said the Senate leadership would listen to and be amenable to a House proposal. “Obviously, there’s all sorts of ideas as to how we should spend the money that’s come from the federal government,” he said.

American Rescue Plan

The Biden administration released guidance for spending the American Rescue Plan funds this week. North Carolina will get $5.4 billion. How states can spend the money is flexible and includes several categories like public health, “economic harms” to workers, households and small businesses; essential workers’ pay and infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Senate Democratic Whip Jay Chaudhuri, of Raleigh, said Democrats welcome a debate about how to spend the latest federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

“I think that it’s important that whatever assistance and support that we provide is targeted and I think that’s one area that Republicans missed the boat,” Chaudhuri said.

He and fellow Democrats Sen. Sarah Crawford of Wake County and Sen. Kirk deViere of Fayetteville held a news conference Tuesday highlighting bills they’ve proposed for coronavirus relief spending. They include reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides some tax relief to lower and middle income families. Senate Bill 576, which is still in committee, is called the Recovery Rebate for Working Families Act.

Crawford said the American Rescue Plan funds, which are one-time dollars, “really gives us the opportunity to get our families back on track.”

“We know that families who were already struggling to make ends meet are having a harder time recovering as we move out of the pandemic and into life back as we knew it,” she said.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Pandora, Spotify. Apple Podcasts. Stitcher. iHeartRadio. Amazon Music, Megaphone or wherever you get your podcasts.

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