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Education leaders make their cases to education committee

State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson made the cases for some of their education priorities before a Senate education committee today. 

Their presentations focused on non-budgetary items, and Johnson covered topics similar to the ones he announced during last week’s Innovation and Leadership Dinner where he unveiled his #2030 education goals. 

“We are excited to come together and have a statewide goal for North Carolina’s public schools,” he told legislators. 

The #NC2030 plan includes the intent to eliminate high-stakes tests, increase teacher compensation, recruit the best teachers to the profession, and more between now and 2030. More details can be found in our coverage of last week’s announcement here

Davis discussed with the legislature a number of proposals, including partnering with the General Assembly to improve the efficacy of Read to Achieve. Read to Achieve is a statewide initiative that aims to make sure students can read on grade level by third grade. A recent report on the initiative showed that it was failing to achieve meaningful gains in reading for students.

Davis talked about the particular importance of this because of the many factors that aren’t in the control of educators. Setting up students for success in reading begins early in life and includes things like a supportive home environment, involved parents who read to children, and more. 

“The keys to the success in third grade reading proficiency are often missing, especially in the students who enter our kindergarten classrooms every year,” he said.

Davis also expressed interest in having the State Board of Education partner with the General Assembly on a more concerted plan for turning around low-performing districts and schools.  

“A critical element that’s missing is a comprehensive turnaround strategy that offers a full continuum of services,” he said. 

Both of those items are the focus of subcommittees of the State Board of Education.

Other items included in his non-budgetary legislative ask were:

  • Making permanent the 15-point grading scale for A-F school performance grades
  • Working with the legislature on finding the right weighting and composition for the school performance grades (which are currently made up of a ratio that includes 20 percent academic growth and 80 percent academic achievement)
  • Granting calendar, teaching, and funding flexibility
  • Allowing textbook and digital resources money to be used for digital resources needed for online content and textbook rental
  • Reinstating sales tax refund for school districts
  • Extending the hold harmless provision that keeps principals who make less under the new principal pay schedule at their prior salary level
  • Fixing principal pay language on double bonuses

Davis also explained to the General Assembly some of the obstacles faced by educators and students in North Carolina. He told lawmakers that 24 percent of students have faced some sort of adverse childhood experience. Sixty percent live in households at 185 percent or below the poverty level in food insecure areas. Fifteen percent of students are chronically absent, 30,000 students are homeless, and 8.2 percent of high schoolers have considered suicide. And 22 percent of eligible students are enrolled in the state’s Pre-K program, which he says is not nearly enough.

“Together we face many challenges, particularly the conditions our students live in and come from every day in our schools,” he said. 

He also touted the work of the state’s Department of Public Instruction, while explaining to lawmakers that repeated cuts to the department impact its ability to help school districts around the state. He said $29 million and 300 positions have been cut from the department since 2009. 

“The lack of vital resources in DPI negatively impacts many of our students, especially those in our most challenged areas.” 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.