Proposed bill to reopen NC schools won't use education funding as leverage--for now

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A key Republican lawmaker working on a proposed bill to require schools to reopen amidst the pandemic told ABC11 education funding is not currently being discussed as a means to coax those schools into allowing in-person learning.

Senator Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), a co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, said negotiations are ongoing with several stakeholders, including the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"This is a critical time," Ballard said in an interview with ABC11. "I'm committed to the cries of parents, teachers, and school personnel who reached out who want to see these kids excel and reach their potential. I'm supportive of every effort to try to make that happen."

RELATED: Parents plan rally asking for NC schools to reopen

State government itself, is a major stakeholder in public education: the General Assembly sets the school calendar, the base rates for teacher pay, and earmarks roughly 57% of the entire state budget towards education.

"We're also working on a COVID package," Ballard added. "We've got $1.6 billion coming down from (the federal government). We're trying to facilitate as soon as we can as part of the effort to open these schools."

Democratic leaders on Friday signaled the caucus could support the bill if there are "guardrails" in place to preserve safety for students and teachers.

"As a parent and a lawmaker, we share the bipartisan goal of sending children back to school," Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake County) said to ABC11. "We recognize the CDC said evidence shows they can go back. If you read the study carefully it says that it can happen as long as masks and social distancing are maintained. That's a big qualifier."

Governor Cooper, ultimately, might be the dealmaker since the Republicans do not hold veto-proof majorities. His office on Friday sent the following statement:

"DHHS has laid out detailed guidance to make schools safe places for students and teachers. The Governor has made clear that he wants students back in the classroom as quickly and safely possible and this decision is currently up to local districts."
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.