“We don’t make this decision lightly,” said Cooper. The governor expects schools to be ready to return in August.
“We don’t make this decision lightly,” Cooper told reporters. “But it’s important to protect the health and safety of our students and teachers.”
Cooper said, however, that he believes public schools will be reopened for North Carolina’s 10.5 million students in the next academic year, provided the state meets certain predetermined guidelines. “Even the next school year will not be business as usual,” he added.
North Carolina public schools have been shuttered since mid-March, when Cooper issued his first executive orders.
Students in some areas have been engaged in regular remote learning with their teachers, although, as Cardinal & Pine reported this week, the state’s limited broadband infrastructure has left students in some counties out.
“Even the next school year will not be business as usual.”NC Gov. Roy Cooper
To that end, the governor said Friday that he’s releasing details of his proposed budget for spending $1.4 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, including $243 million Cooper said would be spent boosting remote learning and providing intensive tutoring for students who need it. The federal cash was appropriated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act.
Cooper officials said NC Republican legislative leaders have been briefed on the governor’s spending plan as it was developed during the last three weeks. GOP leadership in the state House and Senate are expected to present their own budget.
“I think we all want to go in the same direction,” Cooper said. “We’re hoping this provides a good compromise, recognizing it might not be the exact same product at the end of the day.”
The governor’s plans were released as confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed 8,000 in North Carolina. The highly contagious virus has killed 269 people in the state, spreading into 93 of 100 counties.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson joined Cooper at Friday’s press conference, promising “proactive” work with Cooper, the state legislature and the State Board of Education to prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“This will not be the new normal,” Johnson said.
Cooper’s Friday announcement about K-12 schools was largely expected, with his administration already declaring this week that the governor’s social distancing orders will remain in place at least until May 8. Those orders will likely extend longer than that, with the state needing to meet certain benchmarks for COVID cases and tracing before state orders are eased.
Cooper added that he’s “very concerned” about neighboring states that have pledged to drop their restrictions, particularly Georgia, which is led by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Georgia officials have been criticized for announcing lessened restrictions even as coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise in the state.
The governor’s budget for federal COVID cash focuses on several key areas, he said Friday: public health and safety, continuity of operations for schools and other government services, and assistance for small business and local governments.
“I’m recommending a strong investment to respond to this unprecedented crisis,” Cooper said. “We know people are hurting.”
Republican legislative leaders and Cooper issued a joint statement days ago, declaring their intentions to budget millions more on small business aid. As Cardinal & Pine reported Friday, some NC small business owners say they’ve struggled to access federal aid.
Other highlights of Cooper’s budget plan include $75 million testing and tracing of the virus, $75 million in support for rural and underserved communities, $78 million in school nutrition, $40 million for additional Medicaid costs, $20 million for mental health services, $25 million for food, safety and child care.
The N.C. Association of Educators, the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, issued a statement shortly after Cooper’s announcement indicating they “strongly support” the decision.
“While the school buildings remain closed, the education and learning will continue,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said in the statement. “Our educators continue to be on the front lines of this pandemic providing new remote learning opportunities and essential nutritional and emotional support, and we appreciate local school districts adhering to the more stringent personal protecting protocols and social distancing guidelines. I know this is an extremely difficult time for everyone, but if we all stay safe and healthy, we will come out stronger on the other side.”
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