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Tweak to educator preparation bill could favor Texas organization

The House K-12 Education Committee changed Senate Bill 599 today in a way that could create a faster path for certain types of teacher preparation organizations to enter the state. One such group, Teachers of Tomorrow, previously tried and failed to gain concessions from the Senate bill sponsor that would allow it to enter the state sooner. 

The bill allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The Senate bill’s sole 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 — its president Vernon Reaser. 

In the House K-12 Education Committee today, a proposed committee substitute (PCS) to the bill establishes a pilot program that could create an opening for Teachers of Tomorrow to begin in North Carolina as soon as the fall. 

Under the original version of SB 599, the State Board could give initial approval for educator preparation programs no later than March 1, 2018. Organizations who receive the approval would be able to start accepting students in the 2018-19 school year. 

The revised bill, given approval in the House committee today, keeps the bulk of Barefoot’s language but adds more provisions. One would direct the State Board to create a three-year Educator Preparation Pilot Program that would start operation in the 2017-18 school year and could include two programs. 

In e-mails between Barefoot and a representative of Teachers of Tomorrow, it is clear that the organization was concerned that it would not be able to begin in the state as fast under Barefoot’s bill as it would under House Bill 634.

That House measure directs the State Board to approve at least one but no more than four teacher education programs for lateral entry. Lateral entry students — professionals from other career fields trying to get into education — are the core target group of Teachers of Tomorrow. 

In the e-mails, Teachers of Tomorrow sought concessions from Barefoot that would allow them to enter the state sooner, but he rebuffed them. 

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, a member of the House Education Committee, said Teachers of Tomorrow is the kind of organization that could be a part of that pilot program. He also said that the additions to Barefoot’s bill under the PCS included provisions of HB 634, which Blackwell co-sponsored. 

Barefoot, who presented information about his original bill during the House Committee meeting, said the changes made by the House to SB 599, particularly the pilot program, were not his doing. 

“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.” 

When asked if the pilot program provision could be favorable to Teachers of Tomorrow, Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, co-chair of the committee, said that sounded plausible, but he added that he was not familiar with the organization. 

“I’m going to do as much learning as I can,” he said, adding later, “Like everything we just have to keep an eye on everything that we do all the time.” 

Dave Saba, chief development officer for Teachers of Tomorrow, said the organization supported the addition of the pilot program and the possibility that it could move into the state sooner than anticipated. 

“That would be great,” he said. 

Saba said he met Barefoot last session and talked about a variety of subjects, including the issue of teacher training. In North Carolina, enrollment in university schools of education dropped about 30 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Saba said the campaign donation was a way of continuing the conversation with Barefoot. Saba said Teachers of Tomorrow did not give donations to anyone else in the General Assembly. A search of the State Board of Elections campaign finance data does not appear to show any other contributions from Teachers of Tomorrow.  

Rep. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, defended Barefoot in an interview today. 

“There is no evidence of quid quo pro here and I would be surprised if there were, because I know Senator Barefoot and he’s not at all that kind of person,” Jackson said. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.