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Community college, K-12 bills make their way through House committees

The House K-12 education committee gave favorable votes to a number of bills today, including one that would create a permanent charter school transportation grant program. 

There was a charter school transportation grant pilot program that ran during the 2017-18 school year, but it was not renewed after that. One of the criticisms of charter schools is that they don’t serve some of the most needy populations. The previous pilot program as well as this new legislation would target schools that serve needy populations. The bill would provide grants to schools that have “at least” 50% of students in homes with incomes that qualify the student for free-or-reduced-price lunch or that have “identified students” under the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The grants would reimburse the schools for up to 65% of transportation costs. 

“What we are trying to do is focus on charter schools that are low income,” said House Majority Whip Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, a sponsor of the bill. 

One of his co-sponsors, Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, said this bill is about equity. 

“There is an opinion out there that charter schools are for the affluent population,” he said, adding that the data supports that assertion, but that this bill would help achieve more fairness for non-affluent students. 

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, pushed back against the bill. 

“Why not do something to help them actually get access to the charter schools that are more affluent?” Meyer asked. 

Hardister said that charter schools are a matter of choice, and it’s not up to the state to guide charter school students to any particular school. 

“If the students want to go there, if the parents, guardians, want to send the students there, then that’s their prerogative,” he said. 

Brockman added that just because a school has a large number of low-income students doesn’t make it bad. He pointed out that a school in his district with 70% free-and-reduced lunch students has a B. 

Meyer agreed that the number of low-income students isn’t destiny for a school. But he added that this bill does nothing to address the “segregation” seen in some low-income charter schools. 

The bill would appropriate $2.5 million recurring starting next year. 

Community Colleges

The House community college committee voted favorably for a bill that would create a state board to oversee proprietary schools and for legislation that would bolster short-term workforce funds for the community college system. 

The latter, House Bill 487, is one of the legislative priorities from the community college system and school leaders. The system is asking for an additional $12 million on top of the 6.4 million recurring dollars lawmakers budgeted during the short session so that the funding level for this program would reach “parity” with the curriculum programs offered by community colleges. Short-term workforce training has, up to this point, only been funded at two-thirds the level of traditional academic training. This bill would provide that extra funding. 

“This is a top priority for our community college system,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, a sponsor of the bill. “We have a disparity right now between our workforce training and the curriculum … we really need to focus on that because it’s what our industry needs.” 

Rep. Mark Brody, R-Anson, a vice chair of the committee, said the workforce money is a long time coming. 

“It’s going to pay benefits in the end,” he said. “We’ll be glad to see this. And I’m sure this is just the beginning.” 

He went on to say that highly-trained, skilled workers are the future of the workforce in North Carolina. 

House Bill 467 would create the State Board of Proprietary Schools. These schools are for-profits that give vocational education and training. Currently, the State Board of Community Colleges oversees the state’s proprietary schools, but under this legislation, that responsibility would move to the new board. 

Rep. Rena Turner, R-Iredell, said proprietary schools are unique enough that they need to have separate governance from the State Board of Community Colleges. 

“Proprietary schools are a different animal, and they’ve been housed under the community college’s direction,” she said. “They’ve decided they kind of don’t fit there because they don’t offer an associate’s degree.”

The State Board of Community Colleges supports the creation of this new board, and Turner said this idea has been a number of years in the making. She said the state currently has 94 proprietary schools.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.