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Ahead of crossover, a look at education bills at the General Assembly

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  • Here’s a look at education bills discussed and passed in the North Carolina legislature this week, including the expansion of vouchers, who sets content standards, and principal licensure. #nced #ncpol
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With the May 4 crossover deadline less than a week away, the General Assembly began its push on Thursday to get bills through at least one legislative chamber before the deadline.

Between them, the House and Senate passed 29 bills by lunchtime on Thursday, the N.C. Tribune reported on Friday. During Thursday’s House session, Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said there would be recorded votes next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

On Thursday, the House passed HB756, a bill that would give the General Assembly power to appoint members to a new commission that would recommend public K-12 standards. Currently, those are set by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  

The 71-43 vote was largely along party lines, with all Republicans voting for the bill and only two Democrats voting for it. The bill will now go to the Senate.

“Educating children by our constitution is placed at the feet of this body right here, the North Carolina General Assembly,” said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston. “It’s our responsibility and we shouldn’t shrug from that responsibility.”

Under the bill, the commission would submit its recommendations to the State Board of Education. At that point, the State Board can adopt or reject the recommended standard course of study, without making “any substantive changes to any recommended standard course of study that it adopts.”

If the State Board rejects the recommendation, it shall state with specificity its reasons for rejection; the Commission may then amend the recommendation and resubmit it to the State Board. The State Board shall adopt or reject the amended recommendation. If the State Board fails to adopt the Commission’s original and amended recommendations as provided in subsection (k) of this section, the State Board may develop and adopt its own recommended standard course of study, subject to the requirements of G.S. 115C-81.8.

From HB756

The original version of the bill granted 16 appointments to the commission to the General Assembly. After receiving pushback, Torbett introduced an amendment on Thursday granting the governor appointment power. Under the current bill, each chamber of the General Assembly will now have six appointments, along with the governor.

Of the General Assembly’s appointments, two members from each chamber must be a school superintendent and a curriculum specialist – with two from public school units smaller than 20,000 students, and two from larger districts. The governor must select “two members of the business community.”

Other appointees would include the Superintendent of Public Instruction, or their designee, along with the following nonvoting members: the presidents (or presidents’ designee) of the N.C. Community College System, UNC System, and North Carolina Chamber.

“Basically what it does, it makes a more rounded approach to what our kids are going to be learning,” Torbett said. “It rests more heavily, more balanced, outside of the educational complex and more with the business community and parents and teachers.”

Some Democrats said the bill suggests major changes to the State Board of Education’s current process, weakening the board’s power and significantly slowing down the process.

“I believe this commission is just injecting politics into a process that should be done by people who are professional educators who know what they are doing,” said Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake.

Rep. Tricia Cotham speaks about her support of opportunity scholarship expansion at Wednesday’s press conference. Hannah McClellan/EducationNC

Expanded vouchers for private schools

On Wednesday, a bill that would dramatically expand the Opportunity Scholarship program to all students regardless of their family’s income moved forward in the Senate. You can read more about that here.

Senate Bill 406, “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future,” was filed by Republicans last month. If passed, the bill would eliminate income eligibility requirements for the program, guaranteeing up to a 45% scholarship to all N.C. students. It also eliminates the requirement that a student needs to have previously attended a public school.

Supporters of the bill say it will guarantee school choice for all North Carolina families. Others say the bill could pose a threat to overall funding for public schools and more importantly to enrollment. In addition, the highest scholarship amount – $6,492 for the 2023-2024 school year – is unlikely to fund full tuition at most nonpublic schools. You can read more about the bill here.

Principal licensure

On Thursday, the House also unanimously passed HB432, a bill that would no longer require classroom teaching experience for school principals.

Currently, state laws says educators must have at least four years of experience teaching to become a principal. Under HB432, that statute is changed to require “at least four years of experience as a licensed professional educator.” Such educators could include counselors or social workers, for example.

The licensure changes were recommended by DPI.

Community colleges

On Thursday, the House community college committee briefly met to discuss multiple bills. The committee referred three bills to the rules committee:

  • HB 601: “Comm. Colleges Funding & Accountability Study.” This bill is an act to “direct the State Board of Community Colleges to study and report on options for improving the current funding model and accountability measures for community colleges.”
  • HB 612: “Expand Criminal Justice Fellows Program.” The current program gives educational loans students that get their associate degree in criminal justice as long as they work for four years in criminal justice, and they maintain an employment with the county under 200,000 people. The bill would allow recipients to work anywhere in the state, and allow funds to go up to three years, instead of two.
  • HB 769: “DES Employment Outcome Data Sharing.” This bill would authorize the division of employment security to share employment outcome data with the NCCCS.

The committee removed HB 715, “Higher Ed. Modernization & Affordability Act,” from its agenda. Rep. David Willis, R-Union, said this was done after consulting with the UNC System and other campuses, but it would be heard at a future meeting.

That bill is “an act to modernize, restructure, and evaluate the University of North Carolina System and the Community College System.” It would require community colleges to “ensure efficient use of institutional resources and report on steps taken.” It would also require the State Board of Community colleges to adopt a policy setting minimum enrollment requirements for all classes.

Among other things, the bill eliminates academic tenure and establishes a uniform hiring process for faculty, prohibits the use of higher education funds “for certain extracurricular purposes,” and mandates a unified admissions application for all community colleges. The bill also seeks to improve the Career and College Promise Transfer Pathway program.

On Wednesday, the Senate education committee removed a bill that would overhaul community college governance from its agenda. That bill, SB692, was re-referred to the committee for more work by the Senate on Tuesday.

North Carolina lawmakers are also considering a bill – HB607, “Prohibit Compelled Speech/Higher Ed” – that would prohibit the state’s public universities and community colleges from asking applicants for employment or academic admission about their views on matters of “contemporary political debate or social action.”

The following education bills were also passed in one of the chambers this week:

  • HB605: “School Threat Assessment Teams.” This bill would establish “threat assessment teams” in public schools, along with peer-to-peer counseling, among other things. It would also expand law enforcement access to all public school units and expand data collection requirements regarding school safety.
  • HB314: “Conflicts of Interest Trainings/LEAs.” This bill would require conflict of interest training for certain public school employees.
  • SB722: “Child Care Flexibilities.” This is “an act to provide flexibilities in child care to address the workforce shortage by recognizing the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential in early childhood education.”

And here are the new bills that were filed this week:

  • HB849: “Expand & Enhance the Teaching Fellows Program.” This bill appears to be the Democratic version of HB825, which was filed last week by Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg.
  • HB846: “Funds for NC Pre-K and Smart Start.”
  • HB885: “Sound Basic Education for Every Child.”
  • HB855: “Strengthening Care for Families and Children.”
  • HB844: “School Meals for All Act.”

Several bills related to free school meals were also filed the previous week. Those include SB708, School Meals for Every Child; HB776, Free Lunch for Some Students/Stop Lunch Shame; and HB777, Universal No-Cost School Meals. Additionally, HB653 would provide plant-based lunch options for students.

You can find all of the education-related bills filed so far this session below.

Bills filed in the House

  • HB793: Public School Open Enrollment.
  • HB800: Public School Part-Time Enrollment.
  • HB667: Opportunity Scholarships Testing Requirements.
  • HB824: Teacher Reciprocity from Every State.
  • HB825: Teaching Fellows Expansion.
  • HB729: Add Segregation Score to School Report Cards.
  • HB686: Civil Rights Education.
  • HB618: Charter School Review Board.
  • HB640: Career Path Options Transparency Act.
  • HB621: 3-Year FDA Approval for New Childhood Vaxx.
  • HB833: Increase Minority Male Teachers/Program Study.
  • HB671: Restore State Emp/Teacher Retiree Med Benefit. 
  • HB762: School Social Workers/Master’s Pay.
  • HB675: Healthy and High Performing Schools. 
  • HB705: Build Safer Communities and Schools Act. 
  • H758: Youth CERT Preparedness K-12 Training.
  • HB716: Career Courses for Middle Schoolers
  • HB730: Funds for the Expansion of NC Pre-K
  • HB763: Limit School Counselor Ratios.
  • HB764: Montessori License.
  • H765: Public School Medical Assistants.
  • HB766: DPI to control NC Pre-K literacy curriculum.
  • HB767: Expanding Workforce and Education Act.
  • H773: Let Parents Choose/Sammy’s Law of 2023.
  • HB780: State ID’s for HS students.
  • H803: County Service Districts/Early Childhood Ed.
  • HB631: University Research Status Enhancement Fund.
  • HB601: Community Colleges Funding and Accountability study.
  • HB602: K-3 Class size waiver.
  • HB619: Learning AAPI Contributions in Schools.
  • HB585: School Psychologist Omnibus

Bills filed in the Senate

  • SB688: Child Care Act.
  • SB694: Funds for Ready for School, Ready for Life.
  • SB698: Expand Academic Trans. Pathways/Sophomore HS.
  • SB706: In-State Tuition Equity.
  • SB734: Constitution Quote at School Entrances.
  • SB740: Fully Fund School Psychologists and counselors.
  • SB742: Revise Rules/NC Pre-K Licensure Credentials. 
  • SB598: Healthy Students – A Nurse in Every School.
  • SB665: Add Homeschoolers to Opportunity Scholarship.
  • SB618: TA’s to Teachers.
  • SB634: Cap Charter Schools.
  • SB566: School Mental Health Support Act.
  • SB483: $17/Hour Min. Pay for Noncert. Sch. Employees.
  • SB485: Study Cell Phone Use in School.
  • SB522: Informational Literacy Bill.
  • SB523: Increase School Psychologists.
  • SB528: Replace Public School HVAC.

You can read more about bills introduced before April here.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.