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Town charter schools, In God We Trust — a legislative education recap

The budget may be sitting on the desk of Governor Roy Cooper, awaiting his signature, but that doesn’t mean the work of the General Assembly is done. Lawmakers took up a number of laws Monday and Tuesday, including a bill that allows four Charlotte-Mecklenburg district towns to open their own charter schools and legislation that would force schools to put up a sign that says “In God We Trust.”

Town Charter School Bill

The action got started Monday night when the Senate took up its final vote on House Bill 514, which allows the towns of Cornelius, Huntersville, Mint Hill, and Matthews to open up their own charter schools and give residents of their towns preference for enrollment. All four schools are served by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, and proponents say they are simply trying to grant the desire of these towns with this bill.

This bill has been the cause of a great deal of controversy. First, critics have called it precedent-setting as towns have never been allowed to operate their own charter schools. Furthermore, some say the enrollment preference granted these schools subverts the traditional expectation that charter schools don’t pick favorites when it comes to which students to take. Also, some lawmakers expressed concern that the bill would allow these mostly-affluent towns to reimpose segregation in their localities.

But perhaps the biggest source of anguish for critics was the finance piece. Under the constitution, towns aren’t allowed to use property tax for school-related purposes without a referendum. They also can’t take on debt for school-related purposes, meaning these towns would have to shoulder the burden of building new charter schools out of their own pockets. 

A provision put in the budget allows municipalities to use property taxes for schools and relieves residents of such municipalities of any school-related debt liability. That provision was aimed directly at solving the problems presented in House Bill 514. Critics say the budget provision amounts to a huge sea-change in education funding in North Carolina. 

Before the debate got started Monday night, an amendment was put forth that stripped a provision that allows teachers at these potential town charter schools from opting into the state’s health and retirement plans. That was a provision added to the bill in committee, but after hearing that it might make the bill a statewide bill, Sen. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, sent forth the amendment. 

The bill is supposed to be a local bill, meaning it pertains to a particular locality and has limited impact. 

Bishop’s amendment ended up being a bridge too far for Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who has said in previous debates on the bill that he didn’t think it was a good idea for towns to run their own charters, but if they wanted to, he would let them. 

Monday he said, “I made the mistake of voting for it one time. I’m not going to make it a second time.” 

In fact, five Republicans voted against the bill, though it ultimately passed 27-18. The bill goes back to the House now. See the vote count below. 

Screen shot of the General Assembly website

School Safety Bill

The House took up a school safety bill Monday night that would require peer-to-peer support programs at all schools with grades higher than 6th, require annual facility vulnerability assessments for school buildings, require annual reports on school resource officers as well as make sure those officers receive training, and more. 

House Bill 938 passed in a unanimous vote, but not before Democrats tried to amend it to include a number of gun control measures. Those amendments were ultimately ruled out of order by House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. 

Tuesday House Education Committee

The House K-12 education committee took up three education related bills Tuesday, including bills to “clarify and make permanent” reporting requirements on cursive writing and multiplication table memorization in schools, and a bill that would force schools to display a sign saying “In God We Trust.” A third bill “An Act to Provide for Teachers Allotments for Geographically Isolated K-12 Schools,” was stripped of its language and replaced with various changes to the Innovative School District school law. 

Those changes include removing the language that lets schools who choose another reform model — such as Restart — be exempt from consideration for the ISD, lifting the five-school cap on the ISD, and changing a provision that would have forced Innovation Zone schools into the ISD if they didn’t exceed academic growth in the last two years of their five-year term in the Innovation Zone. 

To review, the Achievement School District bill was passed during the 2016 General Assembly short session. At the heart of the legislation is the creation of a district which will eventually include five low-performing schools from around the state. The schools, which are yet to be named, could be turned over to for-profit charter operators. Right now, one school in Robeson County has been chosen and will open next school year.

The legislation establishing ASDs also gave districts that participate the opportunity to pick up to three other low-performing schools in their districts to join an Innovation Zone. Schools in this zone would have charter-like flexibility but would continue to be managed by the school district. 

Last year’s budget tweaked the ASD program slightly, changing its name to the North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD). It also added a provision that says if a district participating in the ISD has more than 35 percent of its schools identified as low-performing, then all of those schools could become part of an Innovation Zone should the district elect that option. 

A separate portion of the ISD bill, not relating to the ISD, allows local boards of education in certain small districts to contract with the spouse of a superintendent. 

Cursive and Multiplication Tables

ISD Bill

Other Media Reports

Here’s a rundown of other media reporting on education issues in recent days.

News & Observer

NC parents can soon use 529 plans to pay for K-12 private school costs

Getting students through the UNC system to graduation is the goal of new effort

If a teacher showed a movie in class, legislators would know about it under proposed bill

NC Health News

Rural Broadband Highlighted in the State Budget

The Virginian-Pilot

School building, officer mandates clears N Carolina House


House OKs court redistricting, elections, school safety bills

Gun advocates call out legislative leaders over arming teachers

Alex Granados

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