This summer may not be filled with pools and part-time jobs for students across the state who’ve struggled with a year of mandated remote school. In March of 2021, the State Board of Education reported that in May of 2020, after two months of remote school, test scores were at their lowest point with 75% of North Carolina third-graders falling below the proficiency thresholds in reading.

“We knew in the abstract that these test results would be disturbing, but it is even more difficult to see them on paper,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said in a statement. “The math and literacy results speak to a problem that predates COVID, and the pandemic has unfortunately exacerbated this problem.”

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, and Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, want to put federal rescue dollars in the hands of parents this summer, so they can decide how best to help their students recoup lost learning. Their House Bill 934 would use $170 million in American Rescue Plan funds for learning loss vouchers that parents can use for tutoring, camps, or even mental health counseling.

“This is one of a kind, I don’t know of any other state that has a program similar to what we are proposing,” said Hardister. “It’s an innovative approach to meet learning loss because ultimately every child is different, the challenges facing every family are different… Instead of one size fits all parents can use the grants to meet the specific needs of their child.”

Parents would apply for grants ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 to be distributed this summer.

“The bill rightfully shifts the locus of authority for a child’s education from the schools to parents,” said Bob Luebke, senior fellow of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “These commonsense reforms, deserve our support and the serious consideration of lawmakers.”

The bi-partisan measure sets up the Student Success Program, directing the “Department of Public Instruction to contract with the State Education Assistance Authority to establish and administer a program that allows parents of eligible children to use federal funds intended to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 towards allowable educational uses of their choice to address student learning loss.”

Any N.C. student, whether they are in public or private education, would be eligible for the Summer Success Program grants.

“What better way to allocate that money than to provide it directly to parents so they can meet the educational needs of their children,” said Hardister. “Parents can use the grant to pay for any education-related expense like summer school, counseling, camps for emotional and social development, school supplies, or tutors.”

The proposal is currently before the House Education Committee and would go on to the House Appropriations Committee if approved.

“I would consider this a quasi-pilot program,” said Hardister. “While ARP funds are non-recurring, if parents use it and it shows efficacy, we could move to make it permanent in the future.”