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Education bills to follow in North Carolina

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Since this year’s short session started on April 24, lawmakers have filed dozens of bills that would impact education in North Carolina.

During this session, lawmakers can adjust the two-year budget passed in the long session and are able to discuss bills that previously passed one house (known as making crossover) or recommendations from a study commission. The deadline to file new bills was earlier this week.

North Carolina has a projected one-time $987 million surplus in state revenues through Fiscal Year (FY) 2025, according to a revised forecast released on Friday. This forecast is $430 million lower than the state’s April forecast.

This means there is approximately $987 million extra state dollars that lawmakers can choose to invest this short session. There is a Republican supermajority this session, meaning Republicans will drive fiscal and policy decisions.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Clevelandtold media ahead of the session that he would like to fund more money for the Opportunity Scholarship program. The program, which funds private school vouchers at eligible schools, was expanded during the long session to all families regardless of income.

During the second week of the short session, the Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the waitlist for Opportunity Scholarships, allocating an additional $463 million to the program over the next two years. The bill also includes $24.7 million recurring to clear the waitlist for North Carolina’s Education Student Accounts (ESA+) scholarships, for students with disabilities.

The bill will now go to the House rules committee. Democrats have since filed a bill to “impose a moratorium on the award of new Opportunity Scholarships and to enact other accountability measures” for the programs.

Moore also said he would like to see funding for child care subsidies, additional raises to school and state employees, and an additional $400 million toward Medicaid. So far, Republicans have not moved forward on discussions of those stated priorities.

Here is a look at some of the other recent action at the General Assembly.

School performance grade pilot and posting lesson plans

In February, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt presented the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) proposal for school performance grade redesign to lawmakers. To move forward, the model requires legislative action.

Currently, school grades are based on each school’s achievement score, weighted 80%, and on students’ academic growth, weighted 20%. Education leaders say that formula does not capture the full picture of the work happening in the state’s public schools.

Under DPI’s proposed model, schools would receive four different grades.

  • Academics. Across all grades, this would measure proficiency in math, science, and reading.
  • Progress. This grade would measure a school’s growth, based on EVAAS data.
  • Readiness. Across K-12, this grade would measure postsecondary preparation. In middle school, it would also include career development plans. In high school, it would also include postsecondary outcomes and graduation rates.
  • Opportunity. This grade would measure chronic absenteeism, school climate, and intra/extra curricular activities.

The education reform committee’s final report recommended approving DPI’s recommended model, but by creating one summative grade, rather than four.

House Bill 1057, School Performance Grade Pilot, filed by Republicans this session, would direct DPI to develop criteria “for a new school performance grade metric and method.” Under the bill, a pilot for the new system would launch for a few schools during the 2024-25 school year. By 2025-26, it would be expanded to all schools.

The bill says the General Assembly’s intent is that the new model would include “a single summative school performance grade be issued with fifty percent (50%) of the weighted score being determined by student performance, thirty percent (30%) of the weighted score being determined by student growth, and the remaining twenty percent (20%) of the weighted score being determined” by DPI.

Requirement to post lesson plans

Republicans also filed House Bill 1032, Academic Transparency, which would require public schools to post “all lesson plans… online no later than 10 days after the lesson was given,” along with the name of the teacher who used the material.

“For purposes of teacher privacy, a teacher or staff member may request that the school use the teacher’s or staff member’s personal title and last initial rather than the teacher’s or staff member’s full name when posting materials online to be viewed by the public,” the bill says.

The bill text says these lesson plans would have to be “prominently displayed on the school website, organized, at a minimum, by subject area and grade level.”

The legislation also would require schools to post information on teacher training materials and information on outside speakers who talk to students.

Similar legislation has been proposed before but has not passed.

However, this year, Republicans have a supermajority, which they used to pass related legislation during the long session.

Many teachers say the bill would put an unnecessary burden on teachers.

“A trusting partnership between parents, caregivers, and teachers is vital to student success,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, in an article by the News & Observer. “Educators welcome genuine efforts to foster more collaboration, but student curriculum is already public. While teachers are already stretched thin, this bill will take precious time away from student instruction.”

The bill includes the following items under lesson plans:

  • The names of all instructional and supplemental materials used by the school with an electronic link to the instructional materials website.
  • Any other course materials used in a course, organized by title, and the author, organization, or website associated with each material and activity. These course materials shall include materials created by the teacher, with the teacher identified as the author. The lesson plan shall include a brief descriptor of the course materials and a link to the course material, if publicly available on the internet, or information on how to request review of a copy of the course material in person. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the digital reproduction or posting of copies of the course materials themselves.
  • For all public school units, any procedures for the documentation, review, or approval of the lesson plans, including course materials identified in those plans, by the principal, curriculum administrators, or other teachers.
  • For all public school units, the procedure established by the governing board for requesting an in-person review of a course material not publicly available on the internet.
  • For all public school units, a list of teacher and staff training materials and activities used at each school during the current school year.

All of the material must remain available on a school district’s website for two calendar years after it is posted.

The bill would require DPI to set up templates for posting the lesson plans could be posted. DPI would get $10,000 to enforce and oversee the law, starting in the 2024-25 school year.

Both of these bills will be heard next by the House committee on education if they move forward.

Bipartisan bills to study cell phone use and support students with disabilities

In addition to the bill on a school performance grade pilot, Republicans filed a few other bills with bipartisan support.

House Bill 1035, Support Students With Disabilities Act, lists two Republicans and two Democrats as its primary sponsors.

Beginning with the 2024-25 fiscal year, the bill would direct DPI to establish a grant program for “local school administrative units to apply for funds from the Special State Reserve Fund (SSRF) for children with disabilities for the purpose of covering the extraordinary costs of certain students with disabilities.” This would include “costs associated with the placement of students in private schools with approved nonpublic education programs providing special education in accordance with a student’s individualized education program (IEP).”

The bill’s stated purpose is to “reduce the use of modified day, homebound, and hospitalized” student placements. The legislation would also require an annual report monitoring students learning in these three placements.

To be eligible for a grant, the bill says that a district must demonstrate that “the total cost of the services equals or exceeds four times the State average per pupil expenditure for children with disabilities in the prior fiscal year.”

The bill would allocate $1 million in recurring funds for the grant program.

If it moves forward, the bill will be heard next by the House education committee.

Senate Bill 865, Study Cell Phone Use in Schools, was filed by Sens. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, and Jim Burgin, R-Harnett.

The bill would direct DPI to conduct a study on “various cell phone policies in public school units,” in partnership with several other state entities.

The report would include the following information:

  • Whether the policy is implemented by the governing board of the public school unit or at the individual school level.
  • What the cell phone policy is, and specifically if the school uses any of the following policies:
    • Complete ban on cell phone use or possession at school.
    • Storage of cell phones in a secure location during the instructional day.
    • No cell phone restrictions.
  • The impact of the policy on learning, cyberbullying, and school safety.
  • Any other information DPI or consultant agencies deem relevant to the study.

Last October, EdWeek reported that: “More than three-quarters of schools, 76.9 percent, prohibited non-academic use of cellphones or smartphones during school hours during the 2019-20 school year, according to the most recent recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, up from 70.3 percent in 2017-18.”

The bill must go next to the Senate rules committee to move forward.

Rep. Jake Johnson, R-Henderson, also filed House Bill 991, Alternative Licensure Path/CTE High School, with some bipartisan support. That bill would appropriate $10,000 to DPI “to study licensure requirements for career and technical education (CTE) high school teachers and make recommendations on an alternative of modified path to licensure.”

That bill was referred to the House committee on education.

Democratic bills to raise pay, fund Leandro, and more

As mentioned above, the Republican supermajority means that Republican priorities will drive this short session.

Still, Democrats filed a number of bills to emphasize their priorities.

Senate Bill 895, Parents’ and Students’ Bill of Rights, seems to be a response to the Republican “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” passed last session.

SB 895 is an act to “enumerate the rights held by parents related to the upbringing, education, healthcare, and mental health of their minor child and to enumerate the rights held by students related to their own education.”

Among other things, the bill says a student has the right to “a learning environment in which discrimination in all forms is not tolerated by the public school unit or school administration, school police or security personnel, or students,” and “a feeling of safety and comfort in school.”

Senate Bill 867, Superintendent of Public Instruction Min. Reqs., would require superintendent candidates to have at least one year of experience as a teacher or school administrator in North Carolina, or as a member of a local board of education or the State Board of Education.

Senate Bill 846, Protect Our Schools, would direct the Department of Transportation to “identify school walk zones, setting lower speed limits in school walk zones, creating and appropriating funds to the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Fund, and increasing criminal penalties for injuring a minor in a crosswalk, school zone, or school walk zone.”

Although that bill is currently only sponsored by Democrats, it is possible it will gain bipartisan support. A similar bill, filed by Republicans, would appropriate funds to install and operate school bus cameras, to use as evidence “demonstrating a failure to stop for a school bus.”

Democrats filed a number of bills regarding teachers and pay for school employees:

  • House Bill 1045, Enhance Teacher Pipeline/Increase TF Program, would further expand the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.
  • House Bill 1047, DRIVE Recommendations/Teacher Diversity, would implement “various initiatives and program expansions to promote teacher diversity and increase teacher recruitment, as recommended by the Governor’s DRIVE Task Force report.”
  • Senate Bill 817, Restore Educator Longevity, would restore annual longevity payments for teachers and instructional support personnel.
  • Senate Bill 818, Restore Master’s Pay for Teachers & ISP, would reinstate education-based salary supplements for teachers and instructional support personnel with a master’s degree.
  • Senate Bill 819, School Psychologist Omnibus, is meant to “improve the number and quality of school psychologists in North Carolina.”
  • Senate Bill 820, School Workers Fair Pay Act, would mandate the hourly minimum wage for non-certified public school employees to be at least $17.
  • Senate Bill 896, Investing in North Carolina Act, would give salary raises to teachers, state employees, and community college employees. The bill would also provide a cost-of-living increase for retirees, among other things.

Democrats also filed bills related to school safety and culture.

Several bills would provide various provisions for mental health supports in school: School-Based Mental Health Service Study, School Mental Health Support Act, and Mental Health Triage Unit Pilot for LSAUs.

Democrats also filed House Bill 960, Sound Basic Education for Every Child, which calls for funding various elements of the Leandro plan.

Early child care

The Senate Health Care committee approved Senate Bill 876 on Wednesday, a bill to continue the state’s work to change the system that rates licensed child care. The bill heads to the appropriations committee next.

“Access to quality child care is crucial for our North Carolina families,” said Sen. Kevin Corbin, R-Cherokee, a primary sponsor of the bill.

The bill also continues a pause on rating assessments until the new system is implemented.

“This industry has been hurting,” said Sen. Joyce Kraiwec, R-Forysth. “… So it’s crucial that we make changes to try to help them maintain their star ratings and to maintain their workforce.” 

Legislators last session passed legislation directing the Child Care Commission to create recommendations to change the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), which was created in the early 2000s to set quality standards for child care programs and provide information to families. QRIS rates child care facilities on a scale from one to five stars. 

This legislation came after calls from some child care providers struggling to maintain their star ratings due to an inability to find qualified staff. The ratings are based on program standards and education levels of staff and determine how much money the state provides to programs participating in the subsidy program. Facilities also must earn 4 or 5 stars to host NC Pre-K. 

The commission approved a framework in February to change the system from the one-to-five star rating to three different pathways for facilities to choose between. The new framework also focuses less on teachers’ education levels, a concern among some advocates.

There is a pathway focused on program assessment, which is most similar to the current process, a pathway focused on curriculum and instructional quality, and a pathway that recognizes accreditation from national bodies and Head Start.

If the bill is passed, the Child Care Commission will continue to flesh out the details of the pathways and education requirements in its own rule-making process. Changes will not go into effect until late 2025, at the earliest.

In the committee Wednesday, Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe, pointed toward the child care programs’ need for funding as federal money runs out this June. Experts predict program closures, reduced capacity in programs that remain open, and increased prices for parents.

“I do think it’s great that we’re supporting the industry in this way,” Mayfield said. “There is another way that we are hearing from them about support that they need, and that is funding to avoid the fiscal cliff that they’re about to fall off of with the end of the federal money. And so I’m not a part of those conversations about allocating those dollars, but I certainly hope that we are going to be respectful of what they’re asking for in terms of additional support financially.”

Advocates are asking for a one-time $300 million allocation to avoid the financial cliff, with a legislative rally planned for next week. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposes $200 million for that purpose.

Community colleges

The N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) primary legislative request this short session is money for Propel NC, the system’s new funding model proposal. The request includes a nearly $100 million price tag for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024-25.

Propel NC would shift the current full-time equivalent funding tiers to “workforce sectors,” with courses ranked and valued by statewide salary job demand data every three years. The anticipated cost of this component of the model is approximately $68.6 million, according to the system.

On Wednesday, Republicans filed House Bill 1069, which would provide for various elements of the Propel NC proposal beginning with the 2024-25 school year. The bill would appropriate the system’s $93 million recurring ask in full.

The bill would also require the State Board of Community Colleges to release a report on the implementation of the formula no later than April 1, 2026.

The bill was referred to the House’s education committee on community colleges.

So far, the General Assembly’s only discussions regarding community colleges have involved clarifying terms for how local college board trustees are selected.

Several other bills impacting community colleges and postsecondary access have also been filed:

  • House Bill 1031, Reduce Barriers to College Completion, would provide in-state tuition “for certain children of lawfully admitted or lawfully present noncitizens.” The bill, filed by Democrats, says: “North Carolina must increase the number of postsecondary-, public-university educated individuals so the State can have more potential employees entering the workforce with industry-valued credentials.”
  • House Bill 976, Workforce Development Program, was filed by Democrats and would require: the establishment of the community college state endowment trust fund, the Department of Commerce to share employment outcome data with community colleges, funding to create new Cooperative Innovative High Schools in underserved counties, and the establishment of a short-time compensation program.
  • House Bill 1048, HBCU/HMSI Omnibus, was filed with bipartisan support. The bill would make various changes to state law “to support public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Historically Minority-Serving Institutions” in the state.

Democrats filed Senate Bill 804, Expand Public Need-Based Scholarships, which would “expand the North Carolina need-based scholarship for public colleges and universities and to require priority consideration for FAFSA applications submitted by June 15, 2024.”

Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, also filed a bill that would make completing the the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) a graduation requirement for North Carolina students. So far, the bill only has Democratic sponsors. The requirement could be waived by a student’s parent or their principal “due to extenuating circumstances.”

The legislation would give DPI $100,000 to “train, educate, and prepare public school units regarding the requirements of this act.”

The proposal of the bill comes as major delays and glitches in the new FAFSA have resulted in significant declines in completion rates, which are down about 25% compared to this same time last year for North Carolina’s graduating high school seniors.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 10 at 3:30 p.m. to include the state’s most revised revenue forecast.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

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

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.