RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Money that is intended to help North Carolina schools during the pandemic sits idle just as infections are up and kids are soon headed back to school.
“It’s an awful lot of money. There’s also an opportunity here because to restructure and to really allow schools to meet the needs of their students and to really be more responsive,” said Dr. Bob Luebke, senior fellow for the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation.
North Carolina public schools received cash from the federal government from three separate COVID relief packages – $773 million, $1.6 billion, and $3.6 billion totaling $5.973 billion.
When you divide that by around 1.5 million students, that’s about $3,800 a student.
Luebke said so far only about 14 percent of that money has been spent.
“All that money was appropriated in response to an emergency but what we have here is money that can be spent all the way out to December of 2024. This was intended as an emergency, emergency appropriations to be used for COVID relief. I mean if something is being spent out two, three years past the intended purpose or the intended timeline is this really an emergency?” he said.
In response to Luebke, Department of Public Instruction spokeswoman Blair Rhoades said some of the funds have not been appropriated by the General Assembly, meaning they can not be used.
“Further, there are also stipulations around how the funds can be spent. It goes without saying that the pandemic had short-term and long-term impacts, and the public school units understand that the negative impacts will take time to reverse,” Rhoades said. “Much thought and intentionality has gone, and will continue, to go into how these funds will be used within districts based on the needs of students and stipulations of the law.”
Luebke said the law is also part of the concern.
Instructions by the feds as to how the money can be spent are broad and wide open for interpretation.
“I mean that’s a hole you could drive a truck through and that’s what scares me and a lot of other people because it just invites a lot of problems,” he said.