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With the special session wrapped up, legislators returned to interimcommittee work this week. This week, legislators discussed how publicschools are financed and organized and a House committee took up theSenate’s version of HB 189: Water Safety Act, for discussion. TheGovernor’s Commission on Access to a Sound, Basic Education held theirsecond meeting, delving into the topic of school finance.
Education Finance Task Force Talks Charter School Funding
Yesterday, the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reformheld their fifth meeting of the interim to discuss charter school funding.Committee members heard an overview of the funding structure from theDepartment of Public Instruction (NCDPI) as well as perspectives on thecurrent funding structure and what changes could be made from members ofthe charter school community.
What’s It Like Now?
Currently, charter schools receive an allotment based on their averagedaily membership. State funds flow directly to the charter school whilelocal funds are dispersed by the local school district. According to apresentationfrom NCDPI Division of School Business Director Alexis Schauss, the growthof charter schools has made the funding and budgeting system more complex.Schauss shared that the average size of a charter school in NC hasincreased to 600 students since 2008, when it was 400.
NC State Director for TeamCFA Gregg Sinders and Vice Chair of the CharterSchool Advisory Board Steven Walker both shared anecdotes on charterschools getting less funding than traditional public schools.
In hispresentation, Sinders emphasized that charter schools are able to produce resultsbecause of the flexibility they are allowed and encouraged the Task Forceto consider granting greater flexibility to traditional public schools,while requiring accountability. Walker stressed that charter schools arepublic schools in hispresentationand should be treated as such. He also proposed the committee considerallowing county commissioners to grant capital funding dollars to charterschools and highlighted disparity in local funding between traditional andcharter schools.
Committee Chair Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) noted that the committeewill hear from operating charter schools at a future meeting. As thecommittee considers proposals to restructure the state’s educationfinancing formula, charter schools will likely play a large role. NC’seducation landscape differs drastically from what it was when the currentfunding formula was initially adopted. Many advocate for greaterflexibility and adaptability in a new system that can account forinnovative education environment.
Local School Administrative Units Discussed by Study Committee
The Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local SchoolAdministrative Units held their first meeting on Wednesday. The Committeewasformedto discuss the division of local school administrative units (LEAs) andrecommend best practices to the General Assembly, including whether toallow previously merged districts to break up.
What Was on the Table?
The committee received informative presentations from General Assemblystaff at the meeting. First, Legislative Analysis Division Staff AttorneysKara McCraw and Brian Gwynpresentedan overview of current LEAs, noting that there are currently 115 LEAs in NCand discussing the existing processes for merging and dividing existingunits. They also reviewed national trends, noting that when comparingnumber of school districts to population, NC is roughly in the middlecompared to other southern states and states with similar studentpopulations.
Where is This Going?
The creation of this committee was controversial and passed mostly alongparty lines in the long session. On Wednesday, Committee Chair Rep. BillBrawley (R-Mecklenburg)statedthat it is not his intention to introduce bills to break up certain schoolsystems. According to leaders of large districts, like Wake and MecklenburgCounties, larger districts can reduce administrative costs and makeintegration easier. Proponents for smaller districts argue that largerdistricts can reduce local control over education.
House River Quality Committee Receives Updates & Discusses HB 189
At their first meeting since the Senate passed their version of HB 189, theHouse Select Committee on NC River Quality heard updates from the NCDepartment of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Cape Fear Public UtilityAuthority (CFPUA), and discussed the Senate’s version of the bill.
DEQ Assistant Secretary for the Environment Sheila Holman provided anupdateon ongoing work to monitor air and water quality around the Bladen CountyChemours facility. DEQ has been working with the US EnvironmentalProtection Agency (US EPA) to test samples for the presence of GenX andother emerging compounds. The committee received anupdatefrom CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner and Chief Operating OfficerFrank Styers. CFPUA received funds from the legislature in 2017 to respondto GenX, including analyzing drinking water samples and deploying drinkingwater treatment initiatives. According to water quality samples, CFPUA isseeing levels in treated water below the NC Department of Health and HumanServices health goal.
Later in the day, the committee shifted gears to discuss HB 189. InJanuary, the House voted 116-0 to pass their version of the bill, initiallytitled “Short Term Responses to Emerging Contaminants.” After nearly amonth of stalemate, Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) introduced a proposedcommittee substitute of the bill that passed the chamber nearly on partylines. One of the big disagreements between the chambers was whether or notto provide funds for a mass spectrometer to DEQ, which would allow theDepartment to analyze samples in house.
At Wendesday’s meeting, the committee heard from US EPA Physical ScientistMark Strynar, whoreviewedspectrometer models, including the model NCDEQ would like to purchase,which he said would be sufficient for the state’s ongoing sampling needs.DEQ Director of Legislative Affairs Andy Miller alsopresentedto the committee, asking the committee to appropriate the necessary fundsto the Department to purchase and run the equipment.
The House has not voted on the Senate’s proposal, and because it is comingback for a vote of concurrence, they are stuck between accepting thechanges or creating a conference committee to work out the difference. GenXis poised to be a major topic in the upcoming short session, where it maycontinue to spark disagreement between the chambers.
Education Commission Discusses School Finance, Equity
The Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education met for thesecond time on Tuesday. The Commission was formed by Gov. Roy Cooper lastyear to weigh in on a decades-long court case that asks how the state mustfulfill their constitutional duties to provide a basic education to NorthCarolinians. The Commissions’first meetingin 2017 was primarily organizational, thememberswere sworn in and received an overview of the case.
At Tuesday’s meeting, they delved into NC’s school finance system anddiscussed the concepts of equity versus equality. CEO and President ofEducation Resource Strategies Dr. Karen Hawley Miles underscored thatdeclining teacher pay has led to teacher shortages, which in turn impactsstudent performance. Public School Forum of NC President and ExecutiveDirector Keith Poston presented to the Commission on local funding gaps,including an overview of the organization’sannual report. According to Poston, counties with high property values are able to raisenecessary funds easily, while low wealth counties must rely on lessflexible state funds and more aggressive tax rates to compete. Heemphasized that no county should suffer for the advancement of another andequity should be ensured by the state funding system.
Governor Cooper Announces Position on HB 90
Last Wednesday, Gov. Cooperhelda press conference to discussHB 90:Changes to Education and Election Laws, which was passed by the legislaturelast week. The bill addresses class size and provides funding to eliminate the NCPre-K waiting list, but the Governor opposes other legislative changes thathe called, “political attacks and power grabs.” Since the legislature isnow out of session, HB 90 will go into effect on March 15, 30 days after itwas sent to his desk.
A Look Ahead to Next Week
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
9:30 AM Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration WorkingGroup
1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC HealthChoice, Joint Behavioral Health Subcommittee
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services
1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC HealthChoice
Thursday March 1, 2018
9:00 AM Committee on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
10: 00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and HumanServices, Joint Subcommittee on Medical Education and Medical ResidencyPrograms