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Aug 26, 2019

North Carolina Education Policy Update

The North Carolina General Assembly has ground to a halt as lawmakers battle with the Governor over passing the state budget. Differing opinions on how to move forward with education among other issues in the state has split legislators among party lines. On May 1, for the second straight year, teachers from across the state traveled to Raleigh, to march downtown along Fayetteville Street, before heading to the Legislative Building to advocate for increased teacher pay and school funding, among other items. Many school districts canceled classes for the day of the teacher rally.

Throughout House budget discussions, and during floor debates and votes in both chambers, legislators focused on a variety of education issues facing the state.

Key Education Legislation

House Bill 76: School Safety Omnibus: Would make various changes to improve school safety recommended by the House select committee on school safety including recommending drills. The bill is currently stuck in the Senate Rules committee.

SB 230: NC Military and Veteran Act of 2019: Would expand the definition of "child" for the purposes of determining college scholarship eligibility for children of North Carolina war veterans to include stepchildren, adopted children, and certain illegitimate children, and require the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to report certain scholarship data to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government by March 30, 2020. (Senate Bill 239 – Children of Wartime Vets/Scholarships.)  Allow for certain military veterans and other individuals to be charged the in-State tuition rate, regardless of the 12-month residency requirement. (House Bill 111, Section 2.3). The bill was sent to Governor Cooper on August 15, 2019.

SB 295: Standards of Student Conduct: The 4th Edition of SB 295 would make various changes to the requirements for school discipline policies and would temporarily exempt teachers with the North Carolina Virtual Public School from the 12-month maximum limit for temporary appointments while the Department of Public Instruction develops a plan of employment for these teachers going forward. Passed the House on third reading 114-0. The bill waits its fate in the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education.

House Bill 362: 15-Point Scale for School Performance Grades: Would adopt a 15-point scale for school performance grades. Signed into law by Governor Cooper on July 22, 2019. 

Senate Bill 392: Various Charter School Changes: Included a provision that would have allowed one of the state’s two virtual public charter schools, the North Carolina Virtual Academy (NCVA), to expand its enrollment by up to 20 percent in each of the next four years of a program piloting virtual public charter schools in North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed SB 392: Various Charter School Changes on July 29, 2019. SB 392 also has other parts that were in the original bill that passed the Senate, and in the committee substitute that passed the House and was accepted by the Senate, including adding the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as an approver of private activity bonds for charter school facilities (the original SB 392 language that passed the Senate on a vote of 33-11); and requiring background checks for public charter school boards of directors and adjusting State Board of Education authority over certain charter school renewals, all of which were in the House version of SB 392 that passed 86-27 earlier in July. The controversy surrounding the bill, and the Governor’s veto, centered on allowing NCVA to expand even though it is classified by the state as a low performing charter school (the other virtual public charter school, the NC Cyber Academy, would not have been permitted to grow because it has undergone significant management changes in recent months and is operating under restrictions established by the Charter School Advisory Board and the State Board of Education). The State Board did recently vote to allow NCVA to grow by 20 percent for the upcoming 2019-20 school year. The Governor, in his veto statement, said that he preferred that the State Board determine future enrollment growth for the virtual pilot schools, particularly given their low performing status. NCVA defenders note that all public charter schools, including those classified as low performing, are allowed to grow by up to 20 percent per year, and that NCVA has seen improving scores and serves a particularly challenging group of students, two-thirds of whom would qualify for free and reduced lunch if they were in traditional public charter schools.

It remains to be seen if the House and Senate will try to override Governor Cooper’s veto.

SB 438: Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019

  • Establishes individual reading plans for K-3 students performing below grade level
  • Establishes a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative, which provides free tools and resources to assist with learning outside of school
  • Requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a task force to develop a Comprehensive Plan to Improve Literacy Instruction that will ensure literacy instruction in NC public schools is evidence-based, designed to improve student outcomes
  • Requires the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching to provide professional development in literacy instruction
  • Requires educator preparation programs to provide literacy training coursework for elementary education teachers
  • Requires the alignment of literacy curriculum and instruction with Read to Achieve
  • Requires DPI approval of local reading camp plans
  • Studies the phasing out of alternative assessments for third grade reading comprehension
  • Creates a uniform template for Read to Achieve data
  • Provides continuing education credits related to literacy for certain reading camp instructors and allows certain retired teachers to serve as reading camp instructors
  • Expands the Wolfpack WORKS program.

The bill currently sits on the Governor’s desk as of August 14, 2019.

SB 621: Testing Reduction Act of 2019: Eliminates the North Carolina Final Exams, replaces end-of-grade testing with a through-grade assessment model, replaces end-of-course testing with a nationally recognized assessment like the ACT, requires reporting on local-level testing reductions, prohibits graduation projects as being a high school graduation requirement, and directs a review of the third grade reading test. The bill is currently is House and Senate Conference Committees.