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Legislative roundup | A push for reading reform and movement on summer school

Quicker than you can say “Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021,” the so-named legislation made its way all the way through the General Assembly this week. Introduced on Monday, passed by the Senate on Wednesday and by the House on Thursday, this Read to Achieve reform bill is making its way to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk just in time for Easter.

The bill, which makes changes to one of the hallmark pieces of state law pushed by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, got bipartisan support from most lawmakers in both chambers. But the last attempt to reform the law in 2019 died on Gov. Cooper’s desk, so it remains to be seen if this version will fare any better.

You can read our breakdown of the bill here.

Summer schools

A bill aimed at addressing summer learning loss passed out of the General Assembly and goes now to the governor’s desk. It would require districts around the state to offer a summer learning program for at-risk students.

Under the legislation, each district in the state must offer a summer program that lasts at least 150 hours or 30 days to K-12 students to battle learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic. The priority is for students who are considered at-risk, but other students can participate if space is available. The program is voluntary for families and only applies to traditional public schools.

You can read more about that bill here.

School choice expansion

A bill that would expand the state’s opportunity scholarship program made its way through a House education appropriations committee this week.

Rather than offering a fixed amount in the form of the scholarship (which is how opportunity scholarships currently work), the bill would fund students “up to seventy percent (70%) of the average state per pupil allocation in the prior fiscal year,” instead. That goes up to 80% in the 2023-24 school year. The bill also merges the Special Education Scholarship for Children with Disabilities and the Personal Education Savings Account and makes funding for the merged program mainly a percentage of average state per-pupil allocation. 

Odds and ends

A bill dealing with the manner in which school districts and charters are allowed to keep state money in their bank accounts passed the full House this week and goes now to the Senate.

A bill that revises the requirements around how school districts transfer funds to charter schools for students in the district attending those charter schools also passed the House this week. It now goes to the Senate.

A bill related to the ability of military children to attend local school districts passed the full General Assembly this week and goes now to the governor’s desk.

A bill passed the House that would ensure that teachers in schools “for students with visual and hearing impairments,” would receive the same $350 bonus given to all other teachers in the state. Earlier in the summer, lawmakers passed legislation granting the bonuses to teachers, but some were left out. This bill is an attempt to rectify that.

I wrote in a recent roundup about a slew of bills attempting to expand the audience at school sporting events. I also mentioned that Colin Campbell of the NC Insider said those bills were likely to become moot once the governor changed his executive orders related to COVID-19 restrictions. Well, that all came to pass, as Campbell pointed out in NC Insider on Monday of this week.

The House education appropriations committee also heard a presentation on school business systems modernization Thursday. See the presentation below:

Reminder

Just a reminder that the State Board of Education meets next week for its regular April meeting. I’ll be there covering it. In the meantime, check out the agenda here.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.