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Johnson applauds House passage of school reopening bill

Families of public school students in North Carolina would have the ability to choose in-classroom learning under legislation the state House approved in a bipartisan 74-44 vote on Thursday.

The bill lets students continue remote learning if they choose while requiring North Carolina schools to provide in-classroom instruction. Rep. Jake Johnson, a vocal advocate for reopening schools for  in-person learning, applauded the bill.

“I believe children learn better when they are in the classroom, not just regarding academics, but social skills and how to interact with others as well," the Republican from Saluda said. "However, I understand there are additional costs associated with in-person learning. That is why I was proud to help secure funding for our schools to be able to operate as safely and responsibly as possible.”

The Legislature has fully funded state per-pupil allotments for schools, promised to "hold harmless" education budgets regardless of enrollment drops, and provided teacher salary step increases during the pandemic, in addition to the new federal funds.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Republican from Wilkes County, a public-school teacher and co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the legislation provides families certainty in education and economic planning.

"Currently our students are subject to shifting executive orders and mixed messages from the administration which have created confusion and led to local delays, making it very difficult for parents to plan for their jobs and their child's education," Elmore said Thursday. "This legislation gives North Carolina families certainty and access to classrooms by combining over a billion dollars of new education funding with local decision-making to implement a return to in-person learning now."

The General Assembly provided $335 grants to families of school-age children to assist with increased child-care costs.  Experts agree that closed classrooms hurt vulnerable young people the most and widen education gaps between low-income and affluent students. Special education students are hit particularly hard by the loss of in-person learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, the Harvard School of Public Health, and other leading health care organizations have said there is limited risk of infection in education settings that are prepared safely.

After passing the state House on Thursday, the legislation goes back to the state Senate for further consideration.