Pardon Our Dust
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North Carolina lawmakers were off this week, giving members of both the House and the Senate the chance to go home and spend some time in their districts after a long Labor Day weekend. While legislators may have been out of the office, it was anything but quiet around downtown Raleigh this week. The State Board of Education held their monthly meeting on Wednesday and Thursday where they released school performance grades for this year and discussed an update on education policy that is still making its way through the legislature.
North Carolinians statewide, especially in Eastern North Carolina, braced for the impacts of Hurricane Dorian through Friday. Many of the areas affected have still been trying to rebuild after the damage caused by hurricanes over the last several years. Hurricane Dorian was the first major storm to make its way to North Carolina so far this season.
The two-week clock is officially ticking for North Carolina lawmakers to redraw legislative districts throughout the state prior to the 2020 election. Tuesday, a three judge panel ruled that the state legislative districts that were drawn in 2017 are unconstitutional. In an unanimous decision in Common Cause v. Lewis, the judges found that the drawing of the district maps used levels of political partisanship that influenced the outcome of the elections and the individuals by which the legislative seats are currently held. The court ruled that the amount of political data used when drawing the 2017 maps created districts that were to be unreflective of the will of the people.
The maps were drawn in 2017 by a Republican-led legislature. Just five years before the 2017 ruling, in 2011, district maps were also ruled to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Current Republican leadership has indicated through a press release by President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), that the legislature will follow the decision made in the case earlier this week and move forward with redrawing the maps without an appeal.
Along with requiring new maps to be drawn within a two-week time frame, the judges included in their decision that they reserve the right to reschedule the 2020 election primaries if the legislator cannot redraw the maps in time. The ruling also requires that the process of redrawing the maps be as public and transparent as possible, including the approval by the judges of any outside experts consulted in the process. The redistricting work will begin on Monday when both the House and the Senate redistricting committees are scheduled to meet.
North Carolina students will be required to take fewer standardized tests beginning next school year as Governor Roy Cooper signed SB 621: Testing Reduction Act of 2019 into law on Thursday. The bill is aimed at decreasing the number of standardized tests administered by state and local education boards with the goal of preventing the over-testing of public school students. Beginning next year, North Carolina Final Exams will be eliminated. The bill requires the Superintendent to report on the NC Personalized Assessment Tool (NCPAT) pilot, going along with the legislature’s efforts in recent years to move towards a through-grade assessment model. Local boards of education throughout the state will be required to report every two years on the level of testing being administered and their reduction progress.
Earlier versions of the bill that moved through the General Assembly eliminated graduation projects from being a requirement for graduation of high school seniors. The version of the bill signed into law on Thursday allows local boards to keep graduation project requirements but requires reimbursements, up to $75, to economically disadvantaged students to pay for materials needed for the project. The bill directs the Department of Public Instruction to study the third grade end of grade reading assessment to ensure that it aligns with the statewide Read to Achieve program. The State Board of Education is tasked with creating pathways for the state to transition to competency-based assessments and teaching models. Lastly, the bill clarifies the state’s definition of high-need retired teachers and would change the state’s teacher licensure exam rules so that teachers with a residency license are eligible for a limited license so long as they apply for renewal twice a year.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced on Tuesday that the roll out of phase one of the state’s transition to a Medicaid managed care system, scheduled to take place on November 1 of this year, will be pushed back until February 1, 2020. The delay means that now all 100 counties in the state will go live with the Medicaid managed care system on February 1.
DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen cited North Carolina’s continued budget stalemate as the main issue with moving forward as scheduled. Secretary Cohen believes that the 27 counties that were supposed to make the transition in November will not have an adequate amount of funding as the dollars that the Department was planning on receiving are tied up in the budget.
While the General Assembly was in session last week, legislators passed a “mini-budget” with the language from the original budget proposal to provide the Department with the funding needed for transformation to continue. But Friday, an afternoon veto from Governor Roy Cooper on the proposal prevented the mini-budget from going into effect. In the veto statement of HB 555: Medicaid Transformation Implementation, Gov. Cooper argued that piecemeal proposals are not the solution to the state’s healthcare problems. For now, open enrollment to choose which health plan to be a part of will continue through the end of the year. The February 1 rollout to all 100 counties is still dependent on whether or not a new budget is put in place or if another provision is passed to provide the Department with what is needed to keep this rollout schedule on track.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Monday, September 9
10:30AM Senate: Redistricting and Elections
1:00PM House: Redistricting
4:00PM House: Session Convenes
Tuesday, September 10
9:00AM House: Appropriations