Keep the $325, NC General Assembly. Spend It on Safe Classrooms.

House Speaker Tim Moore, left, and Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger in 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By Kim Mackey

October 20, 2020

With NC schools lacking the infrastructure for a safe return, this North Carolina teacher says state lawmakers’ $325 payout to parents to offset virtual learning costs is misguided. 

In a detailed report by the Charlotte Observer, 39 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools do not have HVAC systems that bring in outside air. Two-thirds of those identified serve mostly Black and Latino students.

District officials also said CDC-recommended filters do not fit with schools’ HVAC systems.

That’s just schools in CMS.

North Carolina is over $8 billion behind on school infrastructure needs yet despite record low interest rates, Senate Republicans have refused to allow the people of North Carolina to vote on a statewide school bond measure. 

Our last statewide school construction bond was 1996.

Senators Ballard, Berger and Hise, three of the NC lawmakers leading the push to reopen schools for in-person classes, want to send students and staff back into buildings even though safety concerns have motivated the communities they represent to begin the year with virtual instruction.

RELATED: Learning Curve: COVID-Era Education in North Carolina

Senate Republicans complain that a bond may affect the state’s credit rating, but excellent credit ratings are tools, not trophies.

In addition to bragging about the state’s credit rating while wincing at actually using it, the NC GOP also congratulates itself on the size of the state’s “rainy day” fund.  They slap each on the back over not sharing with those carrying backpacks. The “rainy day” fund was built in large part by shortchanging students and staff.

Our state funded the Class of 2020’s education better when they were in kindergarten than when they were seniors in high school. Their worst year was sixth grade, three years into Republican reign over the General Assembly.

Despite “record raise” claims, North Carolina’s teachers are on average 10% further behind in purchasing power since Republicans took over the General Assembly.

The financial storms in our state’s schools have been driven by the cold front coming from West Jones Street. 

In the General Assembly’s haste to spend remaining CARES Act money before the end of the year, they are sending parents a check for $335 to help offset costs incurred during virtual learning. Sen. Berger suggested parents could use it to pay for a babysitter and go out to dinner. Wouldn’t that money have been better suited to support safer school reopening by triaging ventilation technology in classrooms?

As a parent and a teacher, I’d rather have that money go toward efforts to resume safe in-person instruction. Instead of a babysitter and sit-down dinner, I’ll celebrate with a pizza picnic on the floor if it means classroom conditions are safe enough to return.

Phil Berman, executive director of CMS building services, said it would cost $800-$1,500 per classroom to put an air scrubber that would meet CDC recommendations.

Let’s assume an average family has two children (but receives a flat $335 regardless of number of children) and an average class size of 25 (I wish!).  Conservatively we could say $150 per student in a class of 25 would be $3,750.  That’s at least two air scrubbers per classroom.  If we only need one, perhaps the rest of the money can go toward hiring a full-time nurse at each school.

It’s irresponsible to call for opening the floodgates on school buildings while denying funds that could drastically elevate the safety of facilities during a pandemic. The NC GOP wants nothing more than for schools to hastily reopen but wants nothing less than to pay for it.

Since the Senate Republicans are so concerned with paying back loans that they’re averse to a school construction bond, perhaps they could return some of the “rainy day” funds taken from our schools and pay it back now that our schools are in dire need of it. 

The $335 checks have not yet been sent out so it’s not too late to put their money where their mouth is by redirecting CARES Act money to support safely reopening classrooms.  Surely they could take a day off from the campaign trail to show their support for returning students to safe in-person instruction.


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