“If congress provides the funding, we need to protect students, educators and staff. If states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that most of our schools of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”
With that statement, President-elect Joe Biden recently inserted himself squarely into the debate over when schools should reopen due to the Corona virus pandemic.
Cvitas usually doesn’t comment on federal matters, but Coronavirus has made the world a lot smaller and federal policy impacts North Carolina significantly–especially in the area of education.
Several points on this discussion are worth noting:
Biden’s promise is dependent upon Congress providing sufficient funding to protect students and educators. Such a statement makes one think states and schools have been left with few resources to to combat Coronavirus. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s look at some of the numbers.
According to the Fiscal Research Division of the General Assembly North Carolina state government received $3.6 billion in COVID relief funds, including almost a half-billion in funding for COVID education relief.
According to a September 2020 release of the North Carolina Office of Pandemic Recovery, North Carolina had distributed over $2.6 billion of those funds.
However that’s only part of the story.
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation tracks how much states receive in COVID relief across 15 different federal programs. According to its website, North Carolina received $44.6 billion in COVID aid. That’s an eye-popping figure. The graphic listed below details general COVID aid categories. They include state and local aid, money to schools, ($492 million) but also PPP loans to businesses, the $1,200 checks to each taxpayer, unemployment benefits, direct payments to hospitals and other health care providers, and also Emergency Disaster Loans.
How much is $44.6 billion?
That’s about $4,253 for every person in North Carolina
The North Carolina state budget for 2019-20 was about $24 billion. So, federal COVID assistance could fund the state government for almost two full years.
These numbers are so large that it’s hard to get your arms around them.
Still, the money is real.
Pressure is building in Congress for another relief package.
The funding helped stabilize the economy and contribute to generally declining unemployment over the last six months.
Yes, schools have legitimate needs to address. However, we also know more about the virus than we did six months ago. We also know that children don’t have the same risk factors as adults.
We also know that some states have not been spending their COVID relief funds ( see here , here and here) and hoping for additional assistance to address other problems.
Yes, this is a pandemic and government must help those who have been hurt by its own policies.
Money is important but so are other things.
A recent audit of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction showed tbe agency had few or no provisions in place to ensure COVID relief money got to where it was intended and had measures to assess if the programs accomplished their purpose.
Of course, Biden will ask for additional money. However, we need more than money. Congress and North Carolina need to ensure money is properly spent. And, also the good sense to realize money alone can’t put children back in the classroom.