A daily round-up of education news and views for the Carolinas.
30th June 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for principals, superintendents, teachers and administrators in North and South Carolina.

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SC education department to allocate $20m for arts programs
The South Carolina Department of Education is to invest $20m into arts programs, coming from federal funds meant to help schools recover educational time loss from the coronavirus. The education department is partnering with the South Carolina Arts Commission to provide more arts educations with money provided by the federal American Rescue Plan. South Carolina received $2.1 billion from the plan, according to the education department. Most of that went directly to school districts, but some was set aside for “state-level activities to address learning loss, summer enrichment programs, and comprehensive after school programs.” The art commission proposed an initiative to help schools fill learning loss gaps in the arts, use arts as part of core subject areas and provide art-based summer and after-school learning opportunities throughout the state. The art commission will implement its plan over the next three years and hopes to better integrate arts in schools, get kids learning about art early and allow high schools to gain job credits for the art industry, according to a statement about the funds. Part of the money will go to getting undeserved communities better art education and bettering how instructors teach art.
Districts wrestle with challenges of construction projects
With COVID-19 spread beginning to recede, and state legislatures firming up K-12 spending for next year, school officials and policy makers are grappling with the challenge of maintaining and improving school buildings so they’re safe and appealing for students, staff, and the broader public to visit daily. Key issues include a nationwide shortage of highly skilled workers who can handle the complexities of maintenance projects, as well as construction projects like building a new addition or a new school, a rise in the cost of materials such as steel, and a lack of clarity on how districts can spend their federal stimulus funding. Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education lists construction as an eligible use of stimulus dollars, if the district can explain how the project relates to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Replacing HVAC units is likely to be acceptable, but building a new gymnasium might not be. All of these pressures could lead some districts to be less ambitious with their design planning, or to hold off on necessary work until a later date, said Joe Dixon, a former school facilities administrator in California public schools who now consults with school districts across the state.
Lawmakers show division on instruction around racism
During a hearing held by the House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona deflected questions about the federal government’s influence in civics curriculum regarding the history of racism, calling attention to the issue as “politics more than programming.” “I do believe that students learn best when they are exposed to curriculum that show different cultures and how we can come together as one country under one flag,” Cardona said. “I believe that's possible, and I have confidence that the educators across the country know how to do it, can do it and will do it, if given the ability to do so.” A recent review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute of states’ civics standards found, in general, there’s a “basic disagreement about how to tell the American story and determine what’s most important for young people to learn.” Several states have recently banned the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts, while some other states are promoting the instruction of the history of racism and anti-racist themes.
Study: States' civics and U.S. history standards "inadequate"
Many states' civics and U.S. history standards are "inadequate," according to a new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The education think tank's report, entitled The State of State Standards for Civics and U.S. History in 2021, "evaluates the quality of the K-12 civics and U.S. history standards" used in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers evaluated the standards for content, rigor, clarity and organization. Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and Nebraska were also among the 20 states with standards rated "inadequate." The states that ranked exemplary included Alabama, California, Massachusetts and Tennessee.
Open meetings law violated by Gaston County School Board
An attorney who specializes in open government laws has claimed that Gaston County’s public school board broke North Carolina open meetings law at its most recent meeting. School board members have closed their monthly meetings held at the school district’s central office in Gastonia to the public for more than a year, citing COVID-19 safety precautions. But as the use of vaccines pushes COVID-19 metrics downward, more school board members have attended the meetings in person, while the public either watches from home or waits outside of the school board’s chambers for their turn to speak. However, attorneys who specialize in government transparency say boards who have welcomed all of their members back in-person, but not the public are breaking, state open meetings law. All nine Gaston County School Board members have attended a meeting in-person on at least two occasions this year. North Carolina’s state of emergency indicates streaming can be the sole viewing option for public meetings, so long as at least one member of the public body attends the meeting virtually. “The requirement that at least one member is remote will go some distance to assure that remote participation by the public isn’t sidelined, intentionally or unintentionally,” Beth Soja, an attorney with Stevens Martin Vaughn and Tydach law firm in Raleigh, said. “If all members of a public body are present in person, that is simply a regular, official meeting under the ‘regular’ open meetings law, members of the public must be allowed to attend in person,” said Soja, whose firm represents the North Carolina Press Association.
School officials present plan for federal aid
Charleston County School District has received more than 4,000 responses to a community survey which asked families how the district should use millions in federal COVID-19 aid. Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait presented the results from the survey at a board meeting on June 28, which was sent to families on June 17. The survey will inform the district's plan for around $163.1m in federal aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The board also gave final approval to the district's 2022 budget. Some Charleston County property owners will see a tax increase. The federal money is the last in a round of three packages sent from the federal government. In total the district is receiving $249m, but the survey will only influence how the district uses the $163.1m from the third package.
Former LCHS principal to lead new charter
Greg Batten, former principal of Lee County High School, has been named as lead administrator of a new Lee County charter school. Batten is taking charge of Central Carolina Academy, a new public charter school slated to open in August of 2022. Enrollment is expected to open in January of next year. After receiving approval to open the school from the N.C. State Board of Education in April, the Central Carolina Academy board of directors is now entering a yearlong planning process.

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