NC education officials start fund to aid students, teachers affected by Florence
State education officials on Tuesday launched a fundraising campaign to help schools, students and teachers affected by Hurricane Florence.
Florence Aid to Students and Teachers in North Carolina, or FAST NC, is aimed at raising and distributing private donations quickly and with more flexibility than the state has. The money will help clean and reopen schools and restock school supplies and books that were ruined by floodwaters.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said $30 million in damage to schools has already been reported across eastern North Carolina, and that figure is expected to grow. Many schools that sustained water damage from Florence’s heavy rains are now showing signs of mold after being without power for several days, he said.
“Even when schools were not hard hit, their surrounding communities were devastated,” Johnson said. “Not only do we have families – parents and students – who have lost everything, we also had teachers in those communities who lost everything, and they have nowhere to go right now.”
FAST NC also is designed to help those teachers and families.
“The water, the floods and the winds have changed the lives of our children who were in the path of Hurricane Florence, and that will change their lives for years to come,” said June Atkinson, a former state superintendent, who recalled living through a hurricane in Virginia when she was young. “It is our business as adults and supporters of educators to empower our children, and should any circumstance interfere, we must be there to lift them up and restore them.”
Mike Ward, another former state superintendent, said a study conducted after Hurricane Katrina showed students suffered academically and emotionally both in the immediate aftermath of that disaster and long afterward.
Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, said local superintendents and charter school operators are compiling lists of needs among their schools and teachers and will forward them to the state Department of Public Instruction, where a special committee will determine priorities in how to divvy up FAST NC funds.
Officials are still working on a way that individuals and businesses can earmark their donations to a specific school or district, Davis said. Money is the major immediate need in the fundraising effort, he added, but officials will seek other donations, such as school supplies, in the future.
“The No. 1 goal [of teachers and local school officials] is not getting back to teaching state standard course of study,” Johnson said. “It’s checking on their students and checking on their students’ families.”
Johnson is a Republican, while Ward and Atkinson are Democrats. Ward said he brought all three together, along with groups representing local school officials and the business community, to demonstrate consensus is possible in North Carolina when faced with a crisis.
“We want to send a signal that these circumstances call for leadership that transcends political barriers, leadership that reaches across divides, leadership that says, first and foremost, the interest of our kids and our educators is paramount,” Ward said.
Donations can be sent to the NC Education Fund, State Board of Education, 6336 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699. Davis said officials hope to be able to accept online donations soon.