On May 12, the state Senate approved – along party lines – Senate Bill 257, its recommended budget for 2017-19. Budget talk has dominated much of the news cycle over the last week, so I won’t add to the commentary. You can get a quick overview of the Senate education budget here. The House must now develop its own version of the budget.
In the meantime, let’s not forget the General Assembly has passed significant education legislation and is considering even more. Let’s review what legislation has been made law and also review some key measures lawmakers and the governor may still approve.
Bills signed into law
House Bill 13/S.L. 2017-9 – The legislation delays implementation of new class-size requirements for one year and also places additional reporting and transparency requirements on school districts. Under the law, class-size requirements set to go into effect this year would be delayed until the 2018-19 school year. The law will restore the flexibility school districts previously enjoyed that allowed them to fund art and physical education teachers. The flexibility is short-lived. In 2019-2020, unless a better long-term solution is worked out in the interim, the new class-size requirements will take effect. Action: Passed House, passed Senate, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on April 27.
HB39/S.L. 2017-1 – The legislation reduces the size of the UNC Board of Governors from 32 to 24 members. The law also reduces the number of Board appointments the Senate and House have from 16 to 12. Advocates said the changes were needed to make the board more efficient. Opponents feared reducing the size of the board might make it less diverse. Action: Passed House, passed Senate, signed by Cooper March 3.
Selected education bills still under consideration
SB257 – Senate Budget Bill. It would add $778 million to education spending over the next two years. The majority of the increase ($617 million) is for K-12 education. Most of new funding is to pay for raises and bonuses for teachers and administrators. The bill also adds $100 million in funding for the UNC System and $62 million in funding for the Community College System. Again, most of that money is designated for pay raises. SB257 also includes a number of policy initiatives such as how school performance grades are calculated, a new Teaching Fellows program, and Personal Education Savings Accounts for special needs students. Action: Passed Senate, under consideration in the House.
HB 6 – The bill calls for a joint legislative task force on education finance reform. Currently North Carolina public schools receive money based on 37 different funding formulas. Many formulas are outdated and few people understand how they work or interact with one another. A Legislative Commission to study the issue would provide a formal vehicle to make legislative recommendations. Action: Passed the House, under consideration in the Senate.
HB866/SB542 – The legislation would authorize a referendum on whether to approve a $1.9 billion bond to finance public school construction projects and renovations. Funding would be available for all schools but weighted toward low-income and high-growth districts. If approved by both chambers (the governor’s signature is not needed), the question would be put to voters on the November 2018 ballot. DPI estimates public school capital needs are $8 billion. According to state law (115C.-408(b)), the building of school facilities is the responsibility of county governments. However, state government has provided assistance to local governments for capital costs. Before being eliminated by the Tax Reform Act of 2013, a percentage of the corporate income tax was designated for school building costs. In addition, lottery proceeds were distributed to local schools to help defray capital costs. Because of changes in how proceeds are distributed, that percentage has declined significantly. Action: Passed House Education Appropriations Committee. Must be voted on by full House and Senate to be put on the November 2018 Ballot.
HB322 School Performance Grades – Currently school performance grades are calculated by using 80 percent of the grades from results from test score proficiency and 20 percent on the results of student growth. Critics say the current method places too little emphasis on growth, and scores merely correlate with income. Critics say no formula will be perfect and point to the ten-point grading scale, which lowers the bar for failure. Action: Passed the House, under consideration in the Senate.
HB339/SB 252 – Would re-establish the Teaching Fellows Program to help encourage young people to enter the teaching field, specifically STEM fields and special education licensure. The bill would create a commission to award scholarships and forgivable loan programs. The program may provide some short-term relief for staffing problems, but it offers no guarantees that Fellows will not leave hard-to-staff schools as soon as their time is up. Action: Heard in committee in each chamber. (The measure is included in the Senate budget bill.)
HB514 – The bill would allow municipalities to operate charter schools. Such charters would still be accountable to the State Board of Education and charter school employees would be regarded as employees of the municipality. Action: Passed the House, under consideration by Senate Rules Committee.
HB779 Charter School Changes – This measure would allow faster expansion of successful charters, and also make charter schools eligible to offer NC Pre-K services. Action: Passed House, under consideration by Senate.
HB704 – The bill calls for a legislative commission to study dividing school systems and whether legislation should be introduced to allow for dividing of previously merged school systems. Two of the bill’s main sponsors are from the Charlotte area, which has experienced renewed calls from suburban districts to split off from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The legislation is expected to also be closely watched by Wake County Schools, the state’s largest school district. Wake County Schools was formed by the merger of Wake County Schools and the larger Raleigh City School District. Action: Passed the House, under consideration by the Senate.
SB603 – It would authorize Personal Education Savings Accounts for special needs students. Legislation would make any student with a disability who had been a student in the public schools, or a child of active military personnel, eligible for aid up to $9,000 per year. The accounts would also be stackable with other existing programs. Action: Not voted on. (A revised measure that limits funding to $1.4 million over two years was included in Senate budget.)
SB375 – This legislation eliminates dues check-off payroll deduction for all members of employee associations. Currently the state provides payroll dues deduction for 13 employees associations, including North Carolina Association of Educators and the State Employees Association of North Carolina. Dues check-off services amount to a state subsidy that is only available to certain organizations. Action: Passed the Senate, under consideration by the House.