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Survivor: Crossover edition

Last week was crossover at the General Assembly. That means that legislation has to either have a financial component or it must have passed at least one of the two chambers in the legislature. If it didn’t do one of those things, then it’s dead. Well, theoretically.

Lawmakers have used various tricks in the past to bring legislation back to life — including deleting the text of a bill that passed crossover and then replacing it with what is essentially a brand new bill. But, barring trickery, we have our list of bills that are still up for consideration in the remainder of the long session. Here, we look back at some of the bills introduced this session to update readers on which ones remain.

A number of bills that we’ve covered were rolled into the proposed House budget, including ones that modify the school performance grades, increase funding for school safety related programs, a bill that would give teachers money to purchase classroom supplies, and a virtual pre-K pilot program. Read what was included in the budget here. 

School building bond proposals

Both the House and Senate have passed, in their respective chambers, proposals to fund school building construction around the state. 

Senate Bill 5, Building North Carolina’s Future, would use money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund to raise more than $2 billion over nine years for K-12 school construction and maintenance. The bill proposes increasing the share of state revenue that goes to that fund to 4.5%, and then splitting the funds between the K-12 system, the UNC System, the NC Community College System, and state agencies. One-third will go to K-12, one-third to the higher education systems, and one third will go to state agencies, for a total of about $2 billion each.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, filed a bond bill to go before voters that would include $1.9 billion for education construction needs. That would include $1.5 billion for K-12 capital construction and $200 million each for the UNC System and for the NC Community College System.

Calendar flexibility

A slew of bills went through the House that would give calendar flexibility of one kind or another to local school districts, but only one remains eligible for consideration moving forward. The state mandates that students must be in school for a minimum of 185 days a year or 1,025 hours of instruction. It also says that schools can’t start earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26, and they can’t end later than the Friday closest to June 11.

House Bill 79 would allow districts to align their school calendars with that of community colleges so that students can take advantage of classes at the colleges and better transition from high school to the institutions.

Reduced testing

Both the Senate and the House passed legislation that would reduce standardized testing in schools. 

House Bill 377 would change testing in the K-8 grades by getting rid of end-of-grade tests and replacing them with three shorter tests, dubbed “check-ins,” throughout the school year. In high school, the end-of-course tests would be replaced with a national standardized test, like the ACT. NC Final Exams and graduation project requirements are also nixed in the bill.

Local school systems wouldn’t be allowed to add their own standardized tests to the mix as part of this legislation. 

Senate Bill 621 would eliminate the NC Final Exams and would also require districts to monitor the number of local tests given and how much time their students spend taking them. If the amount of time is greater than the state average, then the district would have to come up with a plan to reduce local testing to meet the state average. 

Expanding instruction material

A bill introduced in the House would give school systems more flexibility around instructional material spending, expanding the definition beyond textbooks and allowing schools to use that money for broader resources, such as digital learning tools. For instance, school districts could use “textbook money” for iPads or SMART Boards in the classroom.

Read to Achieve

Senators filed a revision to the state’s 2013 Read to Achieve plan after analysis showed that the program has not increased students’ third-grade reading proficiency as intended. The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019  tries to revamp the program through the development of specific plans for struggling students, state Department of Public Instruction approval of reading summer camps, professional development on teaching early literacy, and more. Click here to read more details about the proposal.

Charter transportation

A bill that would revive and make permanent a charter school transportation grant program remains alive after crossover.

There was a charter school transportation grant pilot program that ran during the 2017-18 school year, but it was not renewed. 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- 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. 

Residency determination

A bill introduced in the Senate would help community colleges dealing with enrollment issues around students who live in North Carolina but don’t meet the usual criteria that determines in-state tuition. The legislation would allow graduation from a North Carolina high school to be used as evidence of in-state residence for the purposes of getting in-state tuition to community colleges and universities. 

This evidence allowed by the bill would rebut the presumption that a student’s legal residence is the same as their parents’. Additionally, the law as it is currently assumes that if a student is under 24, their residence is their parents’. The bill takes away the age requirement, so that a student of any reasonable age can provide evidence of living independently from their parents to gain in-state tuition.

Innovative School District

House Bill 798 would change how schools are selected for the ISD as well as how they are operated once they join the ISD.

The Innovative School District was charged with eventually taking over five of the lowest-performing schools from around the state, taking them out of district control and turning them over to outside operators that could turn them around. The schools could be operated by for-profit charter management organizations after inclusion, but so far only one school — Robeson County’s Southside/Ashpole Elementary —has joined the ISD. It is operated by non-profit charter management organization, Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children

The new legislation creates a three-year phased process for selection into the ISD and requires that districts and school communities be appraised of the situation in the school.

First, in year one, an ISD-qualifying school would be placed on a “qualifying list.” The local board of education and superintendent of the district would be notified. If that school still qualified in year two, it would be put on an “ISD watch list.” Following that, the local school board would hold a public hearing with parents and employees to explain the impact of being put on the watch list and improvement plans for the school. Finally, if the school still qualified in year three, it would be put on a warning list. Another public hearing would be held, and the school board would have to present to the county commissioners about the school’s status.

If the school still qualified after the third year and is one of the lowest five qualifying schools in the state, it would be selected by the State Board to join the ISD.

A qualifying school would be defined under the new legislation as follows:

  • “A Title I school in the lowest-performing five percent (5%) of school performance grades of all Title I schools”
  • “A school serving students in grades nine through 12 that failed to graduate one-third or more of its students”
  • “A school identified by the State Board of Education as being in need of comprehensive support and improvement”

The school would qualify if it met at least one of these criteria in the prior year.

Additionally, the legislation broadens how an ISD school can be operated. If the bill passes the General Assembly, then not only can the State Board decide that the school should get an outside operator — as is currently the case — but it could also decide the school can have a consultant. If the school gets a consultant, the school would continue to be operated by its district.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.