FILE - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper

(The Center Square) – North Carolina will use more than $51 million in federal money for education grants and mental health and equity-focused initiatives for students, Gov. Roy Cooper announced.

The funding comes from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund. The aid was provided through federal coronavirus relief packages and is meant to help schools, colleges and universities address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Students and educators across our state have faced challenges both inside and outside the classroom over the course of the pandemic," Cooper said this week in a statement.

Cooper plans to use $44 million for financial aid for college and university students. Another $5 million will be used to support mental health initiatives at public colleges and universities, and $2.4 million will be used for equity-focused initiatives for K-12 and postsecondary students.

According to the University of North Carolina (UNC), 8 in 10 students say the pandemic negatively has impacted their mental health.

"The UNC System appreciates the governor's support to keep our students on track towards on-time graduation through completion grants and to address urgent mental health needs especially for at-risk students," UNC System President Peter Hans said. "The governor's emphasis on helping those most vulnerable during the pandemic is reflected by his leadership on these issues."

Cooper will set aside $31.5 million for the Longleaf Commitment tuition grant program. The program will provide academic grants to low- and middle-income high school seniors to attend community colleges in the state. It will supplement the federal Pell grant and existing aid by providing an additional $700 to $2,800 per year for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. The Longleaf Commitment program also will provide matching grants to help colleges expand student advising, success coaching and other services.

"Education translates into opportunity, and I thank Gov. Cooper for his decision to use federal funds to extend higher education opportunities for students to attend community colleges," North Carolina Community College System President Thomas Stith said.

Cooper will also use $12.5 million to launch the Longleaf Complete program to provide financial aid to postsecondary students who did not complete their degrees because of the pandemic.

Congress earmarked $42.2 million in GEER funds for North Carolina under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which former President Donald Trump signed in December. The funds are available for use until Sept. 30, 2023. Cooper also used $9.4 million in GEER funds the state received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which Trump signed in March 2020.

North Carolina received a total of $95.6 million of GEER funds from the CARES Act. Cooper's office said some of the funding was used to hire student health staff and academic support personnel and for emergency financial aid to more than 6,900 college students.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.