Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday directed $14.5 million in new federal funding to further support postsecondary students in completing their degree or credential and to support beginning teachers as they start a new academic year.
The governor committed $7.5 million in funding for the Finish Line Grants program for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 academic years. The Finish Line Grants Program, launched by Cooper in 2018 with federal funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), is designed to provide grants to community college students who face unexpected emergencies, including medical bills, car repairs, and loss of childcare, that might prevent them from finishing their coursework.
“Finish Line Grants have helped thousands of students over the past four years stay on track toward completing a credential or degree,” Cooper said. “This new funding will help even more students better their lives by making sure a hospital bill or car repair doesn’t stop them from finishing their training.”
Through a partnership between the N.C. Department of Commerce Division of Workforce Solutions, local workforce development boards, the N.C. Community College System, and local community colleges, Finish Line Grants totaling over $4.7 million have been awarded to more than 5,400 community college students in the past four years.
With this new injection of funding, administration of the program will transition from the Department of Commerce to the N.C. Community College System. As with the original program, students will still be required to have completed at least 50 percent of their program of study and be experiencing an unexpected financial emergency to qualify for a grant. Given the increase in the amount of funding and greater flexibility of the funds, more community college students will be able to take advantage of the program.
North Carolina’s “First in Talent” strategic economic development plan calls for increasing students’ timely completion of postsecondary credentials through the use of Finish Line Grants and other tools. Completing education and workforce training not only empowers North Carolinians to fill good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages, but also helps to meet the state’s attainment goal to have 2 million people with a meaningful, high-quality credential beyond high school by 2030.
“Finish Line Grants have proven to be an effective way to support student success and credential attainment in North Carolina,” said N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders. “They represent an example of our state’s commitment to investing in our talented people, so that we can meet the workforce needs of today and tomorrow. Our department has been proud to support this innovative program of Governor Cooper’s NC Job Ready initiative, and to collaborate with the Community College System leadership on this transition to ensure the continued success of the Finish Line Grants Program.”
As local community colleges implement the program, they will have the benefit of a recent evaluation of the program by the Office of Strategic Partnerships, which highlighted best practices for the administration of Finish Line Grants.
New Teacher Support
In addition to the Finish Line Grants funding, Cooper is also directing $2 million to the UNC System for the NC New Teacher Support Program (NC NTSP) to maintain and expand supports to beginning teachers through the 2023-24 school year. NC NTSP—a program of the University of North Carolina System and fiscally and administratively coordinated by East Carolina University—provides coaching and professional development support to beginning teachers across the state. Since 2014, the program has supported more than 5,700 beginning teachers across 83 school districts and public charter schools. During the 2021-22 school year, demand for NC NTSP support outpaced program capacity, as determined by recurring state appropriations.
“Governor Cooper’s commitment to support the North Carolina New Teacher Support Program represents a thoughtful investment at a critical time for school districts, teachers, and most importantly, students,” said Patrick Conetta, director of NC NTSP. “NC NTSP acknowledges the Governor’s ongoing commitment to ensure a sound and basic education is afforded to all children in North Carolina by providing induction support to the state’s early career educators.”
The package also includes $5 million to the NC Community College System to continue providing financial aid for community college students completing short-term training programs leading to a state or industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field. In August 2020, using GEER I funds, the Governor allocated $15 million towards this type of financial aid, which has now supported over 21,000 community college students to enroll in training programs. The biennial budget the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed in November 2021 included an additional $3 million in 2022-23 and 2023-24 for this financial aid as well.
Funding for these initiatives is from federal Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) funds that have reverted to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.