Dear Editor and readers,

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were all thrown out of our concept of “normal.” However, we did our best to rise to the challenge. We stayed at home. We canceled plans. We socially distanced. We baked bread. We masked. We Zoomed. We lost. We mourned.

For students, parents, and educators, the pandemic was monumentally disruptive to the school year. Teachers made the most of virtual learning and hybrid models, but even with their great work, students struggled and fell behind. On three of four End-of-Course subjects, a higher percentage of students were not proficient compared to last school year. At the start of the most recent school year, three-quarters of third-graders were not proficient in reading. And in a notably troubling development, enrollment this year is down 4.4 percent—or roughly 63,000 students—compared to last year. As policymakers, it is imperative that we do not allow these students to be left behind permanently. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that every family can use a little relief when tough times hit. The CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan both put money in the pockets of American families to make sure they could weather the storm. Now we seek to do something similar with our Student Success Program—with an eye specifically toward education.

Under the Student Success Program, families with a student eligible to attend a North Carolina public school would receive $1,000 grants to help mitigate the negative effects on learning caused by the pandemic. These grants, administered by the state Department of Public Instruction, could be used on a variety of educational expenses such as: before or after school programs, summer enrichment programs, tutoring, textbooks, testing fees, or therapy for students with disabilities. 

Further, $100 million would be set aside in matching funds for public schools that participate in this program. This would bring relief to our public schools that are working with students in need to address the adverse effects of the pandemic. By putting money in the pockets of both families and schools, we can begin to bridge the gap in education that COVID-19 opened.

As vaccines get distributed, and case numbers fall, there is an end in sight to this horrible pandemic. But to get there, our state’s families might need one more helping hand. The Student Success Program looks to be that support for North Carolinians, bringing our brighter tomorrow ever closer.

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