COVID-19's Impact on Public School Funding
This week, our Governor provided more guidance for schools and districts as they plan for the beginning of a school year like none other. As families make complex and sometimes heart-wrenching decisions to meet the needs of their children, today we will talk to education leaders about what they are grappling with when it comes to finding and securing the resources necessary to safely open our schools in just one month.
Welcome to education matters presented by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. I'm your host, Maryanne Wolf. This week, our governor provided more guidance for schools and districts as they plan for the beginning of a school year like none other, his family's make complex and sometimes heart wrenching decisions to meet the needs of their Children. Today we will talk to education leaders about what they are grappling with when it comes to finding and securing. The resource is necessary to safely open our schools in just one month. Joining us. Our Patrick Miller, superintendent of Green County schools. Alan Duncan, vice chair of the North Carolina State Board of Education. And Mike Lee, vice chair of the during Public School Board of Education. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us. I have been following an admiring your work for over a decade, and I have witnessed your willingness to innovate and do whatever it takes to meet the needs of all students in your schools. Right now, I know budget concerns seem to exacerbate the many complexities facing our schools. What are the primary budget considerations you anticipate? For Green County? There's 45 of those Marianne and the first I'll talk about are the cost. Associate it with virtual remote learning. First of all, in order to do that, you have tohave the devices on. We, of course, have been a 1 to 1 district in great six through 12 since 2003. 2004 School year. So we're we're a little father farther down the road in 6 12 in some places. But we have realized the gap. That pandemic has shown us that we have used some of our cares act money to expand that 1 to 1 program over the summer, down to third grade eso. That's the device piece then, of course, for Children, students whose homes do not have Internet, we need to invest in hot spots. We also need to make sure that we have the online curriculum for the for the Children to use him working in concert with with our teachers. Another cost challenge, of course, is PP the personal protective equipment masks, gowns with shields, hand sanitizer, disinfecting all the things that we have to have in place to make sure that we significantly stop or slow the spread of the virus. Another concern particularly in rural areas is is the challenges associated with transportation. Everyone has heard of the guidance that has come out from North Carolina, be HHS and DPR regarding the number of students that can safely ride on the bus. That is particularly challenging in rural areas because rural areas often have longer bus routes and they do not have the ability to set up bus routes in tier service. This one stop shop, one time opportunity to get kids to school. And so that is the challenge is, well, another that people may not think about our substitute teachers. There's going to be, in my opinion, a significant number of teachers who, for health reasons or for other reasons, are not comfortable returning to the classroom on. We will need Teoh spend mawr providing substitute teachers on that is one that a cost that flies under the radar often. But I think the elephant in the room eyes the 80 in peace on that is the state provides our budget or our allotments of money based on the number of Children that they project, that we will serve each year, and that is rectified after between the first and second school month between the 20th and 40th student days. And if we have a significant drop in students who either don't come back or choose to homeschool or choose to leave to go to another school of choice, then that significantly effects of the budget of the public schools. Just as an example. In Greene County, we have around 2850 kids. If we were to say just a 10% drop, we would lose 2.3 million and state funding in the middle of the school year on. That's just in state funds. That does not take into account federal and local funds so that that piece to me is the Ellison in the room that that we need to pay attention to and be ready to address very quickly if they win at that time comes. I so appreciate you laying out so many of these areas and highlighting those that may be different for rural districts. One of the things you mentioned is basic safety. As we listen this week to families as well as teachers, we're hearing so many concerns. In a recent an NC article, you talked about the cost of PPE and safety equipment going as high as $600,000 in Greene County. And then I remember you said I can't even go beyond that. I wonder if you can provide a little more context so that viewers can understand what it takes to make sure we have safety and how those costs come together. Just our initial order for masks in the district are size cost us about $17,000. Initial order for hand sanitizer, which we expect the last about three weeks, was just a little over $15,000 on. Then you start talking. The state did provide us with two months worth of PPE for our school nurses and those that are gonna be on the front lines screening. We received a thermometer for every 100 kids that we got 29 thermometers. Uh, but we're going to need to purchase some. Or And one thing that has actually surprised me is the price of the disposable gowns that the folks they're supposed to wear a zehr screening the staff and students as they walk in the beauty there almost $4 apiece and they're only one wear and then you throw them away said that the challenges associated with the hand sanitizer the disinfectant. Those numbers really add up fast, especially in rural districts, where we don't have as many funding sources that some of the other larger, more fluent district's have. So where we are grateful that we received some money from the state for that as well as from the federal government, my fury is we're already getting close to spending that money up completely, and we only think we have enough for a month or two. And we, of course, run a 10 month school year. Some What next? What kind of action does our state leadership need to take to ensure you have? The resource is you need to safely open Green County schools. Of course, the monetary piece, uh, is significant, maybe a some sort of a hold harmless provision for the 2020 2021 school year to help us or these concerns about the A B M problem, the average daily membership problem that I spoke Teoh earlier. But I think another underlying issue that is not unique to schools but definitely exacerbates some of our challenges when we're trying to learn remotely is the lack of broadband access, and particularly in the rural areas. No one would think about buying a house that didn't have access to running water or electricity these days. And in my opinion, broadband is one of those utilities that fits right in there with your water and your electricity. And we need to figure out as a state nation somehow a way that we can get broadband access, access number one to every household and then figure out how to make it affordable to those who need some assistance. So we really ran into that on it becomes an equity issue when everybody is oh relegated to remote learning, and I I don't have a crystal ball. But if I did and it worked, I would pretty much almost guarantee that there will be some times this year on that we will be learning remotely on that broadband access issue is going to rear its head again. And you know, the broadband piece does move across multiple sectors in our society, not just education. It's an economic development issue. It's it covers, as I said, a lot of sectors of our society so that that is an issue. It's not going to be corrected overnight, but we've got to start somewhere. Will never get to where we are. If you look it today, electricity and water, nobody gives it a thought. But we've got to get started. And we started with those utilities at some point in the past. Got to do the same time saying to ensure broadband access toe every citizen. I really appreciate you raising that is I believe about 200,000 households that have students living in them do not have access to the Internet. And as you said, it crosses socioeconomic and other factors as well. You've showed us so many different aspects of our budget concerns, but also just the complexity of the work you're doing. Once again, I'm so grateful for you sharing your thoughtful approach. We're thinking of you as you move forward to do what is best for your students, staff and families. Thank you. After the break, we will hear from the State Board of Education as well as the during Public School Board of Education. Education matters has brought to you each week in part by town bank serving others enriching lives. I am pleased to be joined by Alan Duncan, the vice chair of the North Carolina State Board of Education, and Mike Lee, the vice chair of the Durham Public School Board of Education. Both who are in the thick of leading schools through this pandemic. Well, school districts in the state have been preparing for multiple options for school opening. This certainly brought some more clarity to where we will begin. Based on Governor Cooper's announcement. Would you both share your thoughts on how the announcement shifted your work or any other specific ramifications for planning? Alan, would you go first? Well, I think our planning has been for A B and C, and that's probably good. I should be combines as a hybrid combines both remote learning and instructional classroom learned. Both bring unique challenges. So, uh, we're in a We would need to have the instructional challenges addressed that we would see would need to have remote challenges addressed and were, in fact in both. So I think our planning has been to work hard on getting ready for both, and those efforts will continue, and they will be significant as you as you know. Thank you so much, Mike What about you in Durham? Well, I think the announcement actually allowed us toe have clarity. And how do we move forward? So over the last few months, all of our all of districts have been trying to figure out what are the options that we haven't. And so, you know, the Plan A, B and C were all all kind of being teased out and trying to figure out how do we work this? What happens if we do this? What happens if we do that? However, Uh ah. Durham, a little while ago started to move forward on the path of plan B. But it was always the question of what if the governor says to do all in person are all online, But we wanted to continue for with that plan just so we could get the logistics down. Now that the governor has made this announcement, it allows us that freedom to continue to evaluate plan B, you know, partially in in person and parsley online. But also it allows us Teoh entertain the option of all online. You know, he specifically pointed that out. So now we have these options, and now we can actually start toe really investigate what the logistical would be for for all of the options, but also really focuses on Plan B and plan C. Thank you so much. Um, Alan, I know from the state level you've been working to support districts and also identify funding streams for our schools as they deal with this broad range of challenges. Will you please describe the most pressing needs that you're seeing in terms of budgets in the coming months? That's a long list, as you know, but we have focused significantly from state level on certain issues. One of them has been the child nutrition we have for the emphasis on making sure that our Children are taken care of in bed and this pandemic gets become extraordinarily important. We are acutely aware of the lost learning that's going on, so it jumpstart program has been started. Unauthorized. Exactly how he carried out under option is gonna be not exactly how you would ideally like it, but certain grand plan on helping students with that. I would say, taking a broader vision, you will. I think the key areas are exceptional Children. We need a significant investment. They've had severe losses are what often are often referred to as our Leandro. Children are most social, economic, impacted students throughout the state. I have had significant losses created by this pandemic, and even with option B, there still may be continuing loss. So we have a real emphasis on on getting funding in ways that will assist in eight those students. And part of that includes better distance learning devices in connectivity, looking at local budgets, very concerned about PPE suspect on the budget, very concerned about the child nutrition budget as we go through this year, transportation budget and the substitute teacher budget, which I'm not sure everyone thinks of right away. But I think that's something to be very concerned about. There are other concerns, but that's a quick list of things that are very top of mind, very significant in the dollar amounts of all diversity. And I so appreciate that you're thinking about all those things because it's exactly what we're hearing about from districts, but in different ways and in different places that thank you, Mike, I wonder if you could just share a little bit about the budget challenge you've identified specifically for Durham. Well, you're absolutely so obviously with the onset of cove in 19 is gonna restrict what accounting conducive for a school district and even their other priorities as well. So, you know, our but it asked, you know, were initially approved, but I believe that's gonna end up going toe down a little bit, however, are specific. Um uh, budget issues that, you know, we're trying to figure out how to deal with things that may cost a little bit more if you're looking at, you know, extra duty for some of our teachers, our coaches to have CDL licenses and may be able to pitch in with us. The old bus driving, you know, fuel, you know, trying to do extra routes if we have toe, get no student, two different schools and I just step back. Just for a moment are Plan B includes over high schoolers being online, but then our K through eight, all being in school so we can use the high school buildings to stretch out, you know, for some distancing. And so those extra routes that the high school buses that would typically take high school we use those for elementary schools. You have to stretch those routes a little bit for further. So you have those those fuel costs as well, you know, increase in contract the services for clean and, you know, purchasing equipment, electrostatic disinfectant, spray of state, things like that that are going to have to happen in order for us to open the school bills and keep our students, staff and faculty, uh, safe. Those are the types of things that are going to continue to add up as well in the at the same time, we're tax revenues for a county or decreasing. So we have to find that somewhere is gonna be a crunch. Yes, and I know this concern over unstable and potentially unpredictable budgets has emerged from schools and districts, but also charter schools and families, air making decisions in different ways than we've ever heard before. Are you all concerned about this? And are there opportunities for the state to ensure that districts have the funding they need and expect on Allen? Yes. We're all very concerned about that because it needs and the resource is or substantial. I think we will ask on make the case for with the Legislature that theme the actual costs of education, Either an A, B or C earn a pandemic are in excess of what we normally deal with. And we I think we need to make that case effectively in order to get as much funding as we can. Every penny will be put to good use, and we need to restore or maintain, if you will, the health of the district's from a financial standpoint, because someday we will emerge from this. But we need to emerge. In a way, it's financially sound for our districts as we go forward to do the good work that needs to be done with our students, which will be a lot of work. At that point, it will, and you will have helped outline that. Mike, what do you think when we're talking about, um, the options that we have as far as I'm line? Um um, as well, like I mentioned before, we have our high schoolers online, but we're also offering the online academy where if pairs were not feel it's safe to come in the buildings, they can actually sign up for their. For our ignited academy, which is a school, it will be a school but run by DPS online on Lee and in January, you can have you have the option to go back into your schools of the situation. Or you can continue on the, uh, online academy as well. So we have those options. We're trying to create those options to keep keep everyone safe. And that's just another I item that we have to consider his fourth budgetary. We have a complete online learning system. We have the curriculum is gonna be in parallel with happening in the school and in some cases, the same teachers at a teaching that take a class in school was gonna be teaching your child. So you go right back into the classroom when you need. I appreciate all that so much in our last few a seconds here, I would love to ask both of you if you have advice for district in school leaders with all the work you're doing as they move forward in their planning. Mike, I'll ask you for your advice first, very quickly. And then Alan Well, my advice just really quickly would be the to remind everyone this is not a simple answer. There is no simple answers here. It's gonna be hard, and there's gonna be people upset. What we can do is bore, or members and decision makers is take the best amount of information on both sides and make a decision that we feel that is better, that best serves our communities. And whatever decision is, let's go forward and make it a strong possible. There's gonna be people on both sides that either love it or hate it, but we want to make sure we're covering as many people as we can. And taking care was many students, faculty and staff as we can, and we move forward with that. Alan, The final word goes to you. Stay child centred. Look out for the social, emotional and educational welfare of our Children in every way that we can under most adverse circumstances. By showing good leadership and protect and cherish our educational leaders. And our educators were doing this incredible work, Uh, and with great courage, sacrifice and get that. Thanks. Thank you both so much. I have loved talking to you. Can't wait to learn more in the future. And I'm thinking of you every day. Thank you. Some may have hoped that this week's news provided by Governor Cooper might have simplified the complexity school district space as they prepare for the fall and work to provide options for families while keeping students, staff and family safe, while the governor statement that schools will operate under Plan B with additional modifications intended to keep students and staff safe certainly provided parameters for our next up, the reality is that our leaders are being asked to make the absolute best possible decision about her upcoming school year within an incredibly complex situation. We all crave getting back to normal. And none of the scenarios before us will provide that. As education leaders gather guidance and data to make tangible and very real decisions for students, staff and families, we again and again see our districts and schools pulling together in an effort to ensure new safe learning environments for our students as family wrestle with their choices, which at this point include a blended learning environment that includes face to face and remote learning or an entirely virtual learning option. Many educators air expressing significant concerns about having to return to physical classrooms. We cannot let unstable or unpredictable budgets get in the way of our educators being able to meet the needs of our students and keep themselves in our students safe in the process, we must consider what it takes to provide effective learning opportunities for students and hybrid or remote learning environments, as Patrick Miller, Mike Lee and Alan Duncan discussed. This includes asking our state leaders, the whole districts and schools harmless for their budgets, even if they experience temporary decreases in enrollment due to Kobe 19 and ensure districts have the additional funds necessary to bride sufficient protective gear and access to broadband Internet. As this has become an essential utility for functioning in our world, access to high speed Internet is now the primary gateway toe. Accessing a sound basic education during this pandemic and the provision of a sound basic education is our constitutional obligation to every citizen in North Carolina. It is clear to me that there are three key priorities that must be at the forefront in order to safely begin the 2021 school year in North Carolina. Those were the safety of our students, teachers, staff and families, equity and access to robust meaningful learning opportunities and the provision of resource is and funding to support fall plans. As our guests confirm, there is nothing simple or straightforward about this work. But keeping safety, equity and resource is at the forefront of our planning and decisions is critical to the huge responsibility of caring for our staff, families and kids as we continue to battle the impacts of Cove in 19. That's it for this week's show. Thank you for watching and we'll see you next week.