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General Assembly tackles community colleges, driver’s education, and more

A bunch of education bills made their way through various chambers and committees of the General Assembly this week. Here is a recap of what you may have missed.

A bill made its way through two Senate committees this week. Senate Bill 816 would fund enrollment growth for the state’s community colleges for the coming school year and got a favorable vote in both the Senate appropriations and rules committees.

The bill would provide $41.5 million to fund enrollment growth using money from the federal government earmarked to battle COVID-19 impacts.

This is a big deal, because in 2019, community colleges around the state saw their first large-scale growth systemwide after years of declining enrollment.

A bill that would allow seniors in one school district to get a grade for the spring semester if they want passed the full House this week and goes now to the Senate. Originally, the bill was a statewide bill that was in opposition to a State Board of Education decision that seniors can only choose between a passing grade or withdraw from the course. 

The bill that ultimately passed only allows Union County Public Schools to let seniors in the district get grades if they want.

According to Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, a co-chair of the House education and education appropriations committees, Union County was singled out because the district’s board of education unanimously voted to take this position and then reached out to lawmakers seeking the change.

Another bill addressing driver’s education concerns in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic also passed the House and now goes to the Senate. 

The bill would waive the requirement that those trying to get a driver’s license have to pass a road test. Under the legislation, the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles could give out a 90-day license that could be renewed until such time as the DMV started offering road tests again. 

The bill would also allow students who had been enrolled in driver’s education in the spring semester before schools were closed to be marked as having completed the course if they had done 15 hours of classroom instruction. If a student hadn’t completed that many hours, they would be given the chance to take a proficiency exam instead. 

Students are required to take six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction before getting a driver’s education completion certificate. The bill originally allocated $10 million to cover the costs of instruction, but the money element was stripped from the legislation before it made the House floor.

The Senate also passed a bill that would only waive the road test requirement. That bill now moves to the House. It’s unclear which chamber’s plan will ultimately emerge victorious.

The House also passed a bill to fund enrollment growth at K-12 public schools for the coming school year, and a bill that would add strategies for improving early childhood learning as a requirement in school improvement plans that must be developed by low-performing schools. These bills will go now to the Senate.

The new Morganton Campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Math also got good news this week. The House passed legislation that would give $3.3 million to fund operations at the new school. The new campus was set to open in August 2021, but because of the veto of the General Assembly budget last year, the school did not receive needed funding and had to delay to 2022. The money allocated in the bill that passed the House this week would allow the campus to open as now planned in 2022 without further delay.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.