Legislative Committee on COVID Relief Spending Hears About Nutrition, Technology in Schools

This story initially revealed on-line at EducationNC

A legislative committee tasked with reviewing how state businesses have spent their COVID-19 funding heard about spending on college diet and expertise on Wednesday.

The committee heard from Vanessa Wrenn, the chief info officer for expertise providers on the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), and Lynn Harvey, who heads up DPI’s college diet division.


Wrenn spoke to the efforts undertaken by the state to make sure that college students had web entry and units. North Carolina spent nearly $97 million in federal COVID-19 funds on all the things from units to connectivity, she defined.

Additionally, districts and constitution faculties requested nearly $160 million from a fund offered by the Federal Communication Commission for units and providers.

From 2019, earlier than the pandemic, to 2022, Wrenn stated the variety of districts that present units to entry the web to each scholar went from 16 to 104.

She stated that the advantages of that change are being seen now within the conventional classroom. However, because the federal funds are one-time funds, the massive concern for districts now could be what’s going to occur when all of those units should be changed.

She estimated that at a base stage, it might value about $150 million yearly to switch 25 % of units for all college students. Costs can be greater when different related bills are taken into consideration, she stated.

“The problem for us everywhere in the subsequent few years can be to determine find out how to help faculties to create a sustainable mannequin,” she stated.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, requested Wrenn whether or not the rise in expertise was truly progress, questioning whether or not the transfer from 16 college districts offering expertise to all college students to 104 was a web constructive for the state.

“If we have been doing such an excellent job with 16 … why can we really feel the necessity now to place it in everyone’s arms?” he requested.

Wrenn defined that whereas solely 16 districts had packages the place all Ok-12 college students had units, many extra districts had packages that offered units for all college students in parts of their public training system—as an illustration, in highschool or center college.

“It’s turn into very important to have expertise at college students’ disposal nearly on a regular basis,” she stated.

Torbett requested if it’s the federal government’s job to supply web connectivity and whether or not the state is packages that don’t work as a attainable supply for expertise funding.

“I believe there needs to be a partnership amongst many individuals,” Wrenn stated on the query of who ought to present connectivity. “I don’t suppose it’s anyone individual’s duty.” 

She went on to say that faculties use a mixture of state, federal, and native funds to fund their expertise and connectivity, however that she agrees that packages that don’t work must be discontinued in order that issues like expertise might be funded.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, stated that whereas Wrenn spent lots of time speaking about cash spent on units, she spent much less time on instruction associated to utilizing this expertise. He stated spending cash on units is pointless until it interprets into studying features for college students.

“It appears to me that there’s a complete absence nearly on any emphasis on doing a greater job of really utilizing no matter units, no matter entry, no matter warranties we’ve got to really transfer the needle for college students,” he stated.

Wrenn stated she needed to focus her feedback on the expenditure of federal funds as a result of that was the aim of the committee assembly, however she thanked Blackwell for giving her the chance to speak about the advantages to instruction which have come from the elevated use of expertise.

Among different issues, Wrenn talked concerning the work the state has carried out to organize lecturers to make use of expertise, together with arising with digital studying competencies in 2015 that lecturers are required to know. She additionally stated that in the course of the pandemic, with out further funding, the state offered digital trainings nearly every day for lecturers.

“We labored very arduous to show how do you are taking your instruction to a greater place due to these expertise instruments,” Wrenn stated.

She stated the state has additionally offered grants to institutes of upper studying in order that they will incorporate the digital competencies developed by DPI into educator preparation packages.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, requested about the advantages of digital expertise, stating that legislators have heard from many dad and mom in addition to training officers about how ineffective distant studying was.

“Are we actually serving to by selling increasingly and extra digital studying when everyone knows … that we’ve got had an enormous studying loss?” she requested.

Wrenn stated there’s a distinction between the emergency distant instruction that occurred on the worst level of the pandemic and digital studying typically.

“Digital studying, we’ve got used this in North Carolina for a few years,” she stated, including that it has proven constructive leads to instruction for college students.


Harvey took legislators by the state’s efforts to maintain feeding youngsters in the course of the pandemic, notably when faculties went distant and qualifying college students might not entry free and reduced-price lunch meals at college.

Harvey talked about how the federal authorities has moved in the course of the pandemic to offering free meals to all college students no matter eligibility, however that this can be a waiver relatively than a change within the eligibility guidelines. A return to a pre-pandemic model of the varsity diet program could be “catastrophic,” Harvey stated, as a result of the variety of college students collaborating within the college lunch program has decreased in the course of the pandemic and the cash these college students pay for meals offsets portion of the price of this program.

She requested lawmakers to put in writing a letter to the federal authorities asking for a continuation of federal waivers, in addition to offering extra state funding to assist hold the varsity diet program going.

During the query and reply interval, Torbett cautioned that the questions he was going to ask weren’t meant to indicate that he doesn’t like kids or needs them to go hungry.

“The media will say that any detrimental query in any respect means we like hungry youngsters,” he stated.

He went on to query what feeding kids seven days every week, as college diet providers did in the course of the worst of the pandemic, has to do with educating college students.

“To me, that’s not training, that’s well being care,” he stated. “Is it time that we separate and deal with educating our youngsters by the training system?” 

Harvey stated that college diet providers did cross the bridge from training to well being care when faculties have been closed. But she stated this occurred as a result of everyone was nervous a couple of public well being disaster if some youngsters couldn’t get meals. She stated that within the present part of the pandemic, the main target is on feeding youngsters in faculties.

Torbett questioned whether or not college diet providers is likely to be extra correctly positioned inside the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, relatively than DPI.

“We all perceive a baby’s obtained to be not hungry to study nicely,” he stated. “We all perceive that half.”

Krawiec requested concerning the significance of college lunches being each palatable in addition to nutritious.

“I do know we wish nutritious meals, it’s necessary for kids to have that, but when they’re not going to eat it, it’s not going to learn anyone,” she stated.

Harvey agreed and talked concerning the Ok-12 culinary institute within the state, which helps present meals preparation instruction for college diet personnel.

“Providing meals that merely meet a diet commonplace … isn’t in our greatest curiosity,” Harvey stated.

Rep. Erin Paré, R-Wake, requested concerning the causes for the lower in participation within the college diet program.

Harvey stated that a part of the explanation could possibly be extra strict diet requirements, which lead to wholesome meals that college students weren’t accustomed to consuming.

Paré stated it appeared attainable that fewer individuals collaborating would possibly truly imply that there have been fewer college students in want.

Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union, questioned the assertions made by Harvey throughout her presentation, saying that she was profiting from a disaster to ask for funding. For occasion, he stated that when Harvey is speaking about kids being hungry, she doesn’t even have information on youngster starvation however relatively is counting on family revenue information and assuming that the youngsters in poorer households are hungry.

“This entire disingenuous marketing campaign of starvation is simply plain disingenuous in the event you simply have a look at revenue information,” he stated. “You should dig deeper.”

Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, urged that Harvey e-mail him and inform him what different space of the state funds ought to sacrifice to make up the cash she would want from the state for diet providers.

Harvey’s presentation included a primer on youngster starvation in North Carolina. See that slide beneath.

Closing remarks

Rep. James Boles, R-Moore, a co-chair of the committee, made normal remarks on using federal COVID-19 spending on training on the finish of the assembly. Boles stated:

“We see that there’s been lots of federal COVID reduction funding offered to the DPI … a number of the cash was nicely spent, however sadly with a few of it, we’re unable to measure its effectiveness presently. It is clear that based mostly on the persevering with low share of scholars with studying and math proficiency … there may be lots of work to be carried out.”

He went on to say that studying loss from the pandemic has elevated the wants of scholars, and he referenced remarks made by state Superintendent Catherine Truitt on the committee final week about how the state’s education system isn’t working for all college students.

“Our instructional system is in want of main reform,” he stated.

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