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Cooper to spend COVID-19 aid to help students

Cooper to spend COVID-19 aid to help students

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RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper will use $95.6 million in federal coronavirus relief money to help students he said have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic instead of on teacher bonuses as proposed by Republican lawmakers.

Cooper announced Wednesday that he will use his share of federal COVID-19 education aid on programs such as hiring more school nurses, academic programs for at-risk K-12 students and providing tuition assistance for post-secondary students. The money comes from North Carolina's share of the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, a part of the federal CARES Act.

"Learning during a pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for students and staff, whether in the classroom or remotely," Cooper said in a news release. "This funding should help protect the physical and mental health at schools, and help bridge the gap for students with unique learning needs."

The General Assembly approved giving all teachers a $350 bonus this year. Republican lawmakers had urged Cooper, a Democrat, to use the $95.6 million to give teachers an additional $600 bonus, raising the bonus total to $950 each.

A Cooper spokesperson previously told the N&O that the governor's office has consulted with other agencies and believes Cooper would be prohibited under the CARES Act from spending money for bonuses or compensation.

The majority of the $95.6 million will go toward helping the state's K-12 public schools. The first day of classes for most students will be on Monday. But more than two-thirds of public school students will start the school year virtually due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.

Cooper is giving $40 million to the State Board of Education and the state Department of Public Instruction to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists in K-12 public schools. The nurses could help with new services such as screening students who may have come on campus with COVID-19.

Money will help with Leandro school case

Cooper is also giving $20 million to the state board and DPI to support the academic needs of at-risk students and students with disabilities. The money will go for efforts such as after-school programming, tutoring or hiring more teachers or teacher assistants.

Cooper said the money will help the state meet its constitutional obligation to provide all students with access to a sound, basic education in the long-running Leandro school funding case. The state board is using part of the CARES money it controls for programs to help carry out the Leandro case.

The rest of the relief money will go toward:

• $15 million to the N.C. Community College System to provide tuition assistance to students enrolled in short-term workforce training programs leading to a state or industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field.

• $6 million to the UNC System to provide emergency assistance to students whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.

• $4 million to the State Education Assistance Authority for independent colleges and universities to provide emergency assistance to students whose ability to complete their degree has been impacted by the pandemic.

• $566,000 to the UNC System for the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics and the UNC School of the Arts.

Cooper said he's holding $10 million in reserve to address additional K-12 and post-secondary needs that may arise. Cooper has until May to distribute the funds.

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