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Educator preparation bill passes House, returns to Senate

A bill that would open up the educator preparation system in North Carolina passed the House tonight in a 78-35 vote and will return to the Senate for concurrence. 

The bill was changed in a House committee, creating a need to return to the Senate even though it already passed there. 

SB 599 allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate. 

“I just feel like this bill isn’t ready for prime time,” said Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, after asking a series of questions to Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, about the purpose of the bill. Elmore presented the bill to the House. 

Elmore explained that the bill was intended to increase the number of teachers coming into North Carolina schools. Schools of education in the state experienced a 30 percent drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2015.

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools,” Elmore said. 

But even after questioning Elmore, Meyer said he did not understand how the bill was going to accomplish that goal. 

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, also spoke against the bill, saying it needed more committee work before it should move forward. 

“I’m not sure why we have the bill given we made some major changes last year in our licensure requirements,” she said.

She said the changes in licensure requirements should have time to take effect before more changes are made in state law. 

The bill creates the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, a body comprised of teachers and administrators. They would make recommendations on educator preparations programs to the State Board of Education, which would have the final say on the standards for programs and if programs meet them. 

Insko also complained about this aspect of the bill. 

“The standards commission is really a rework of an old committee that we used to have,” she said.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the House K-12 committee gave the bill the proper attention before bringing it to the House floor. Horn is a co-chair of that committee. 

“We did hear this bill in committee. It did get committee work. It was voted out,” he said. “We amended it in committee to improve the bill vastly and respond to a need we currently have here in North Carolina.” 

A few amendments were added to the bill, including one that would increase the number of members of the commission from 18 to 19. The additional member would come from the State Advisory Council on Indian Education. 

The bill originated in the Senate. Its only sponsor, Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, received $5,000 from Texas Teachers of Tomorrow in the month prior to the start of the 2017 long session of the General Assembly. 

Barefoot said he did not solicit the donation and has never heard of the person who gave him the donation on behalf of the Texas Teachers of Tomorrow. 

Teachers of Tomorrow is an alternative, online teacher preparation organization. It started in Texas and has branched out to four other states: Indiana, Florida, Nevada, and South Carolina. It targets “career changers,” people from other professions who want to become teachers, according to Dave Saba, chief development officer of Teachers of Tomorrow. He said the average age of a student in the program is 32. 

In e-mails, a representative for Teachers of Tomorrow tried to get Barefoot to change his legislation in a way that would allow them to enter the state sooner than the bill allowed. He did not make the changes. 

However, in the House K-12 Education Committee last week, lawmakers added a pilot program to the bill that could create an opening for organizations like Teachers of Tomorrow to begin in North Carolina sooner than in the original legislation — a timeline the organization wanted. 

During that committee meeting, Barefoot voiced his opposition to that part of the bill. 

“I do not support that section of the bill,” he said. “I think that we should treat all education preparation programs, no matter what they come to us looking like, evenly and equally.” 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.