North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

March 25, 2022

Pardon Our Dust

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Legislators have taken their committee work on the road in recent weeks, travelling across the state to hear presentations from the public and policy experts. Last week, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Emergency Management met in Lumberton, a city that has seen more than it’s fair share of disaster needs. The panel heard from speakers, including the new Director of the Division of Emergency Management, about how the state has allocated federal relief dollars and how the state plans to tackle future flooding disasters. Both this week and last, the House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future met locally in two counties to hear from agencies and experts, and to discuss possible solutions to some of the educational system’s most complex challenges.

House Committee Discusses Future of Education

Over the last few years, North Carolina lawmakers have evaluated and adopted reforms to the state’s public education system. Prodded by the COVID-19 pandemic, many key indicators of school success, including retention rates and math and reading scores on end-of-grade tests, have dropped. The pandemic also prompted a shift in the schools that students attend. Charter schools saw a 7.7% increase in enrollment and private schools saw a 3.3% uptick in enrollment. The number of students home schooled also increased at a rapid rate.

State legislators and agency leaders are searching for solutions to the declining performance metrics. In 2021, state legislators nearly unanimously ratified, and Governor Roy Cooper (D) signed, Senate Bill 387: Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, which codifies the “science of reading” with the goal of boosting reading proficiency scores among students. The General Assembly used both state and federal relief dollars to fund training programs for educators to study and evangelize the concepts of phonological and phonemic comprehension.

This year, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) established the House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future and appointed Representative John Torbett (R-Gaston) as it’s Senior Chair. The committee is charged with taking up to two-years to examine ways to reinvent the state’s K-12 schools to better meet the needs of North Carolina’s 1.5 million school children. Since early January, the committee has met to hear from agency heads, education policy experts, and the public. They have discussed items both big and small, including reforming standardized testing, changing the composition of the State Board of Education, combating school violence, forging partnerships with community college vocational programs, and much more.

The committee’s official focus, as chartered in their charge, includes:

  • Requirements of the standard course of study.
  • Outcomes of the standard course of study, including appropriate metrics.
  • Funding and outcomes of current programs, including partnerships with nonprofits, that support the standards an outcomes of a sound basic education.
  • Any other issues deemed relevant by the chair to the charge of the committee.

Not only are committee members meeting in Raleigh, but they are also hosting listening sessions across the state. In Randolph County, while meeting in South Asheboro Middle School’s auditorium, members listened to presentations from the county’s three superintendents from the Randolph County School System, the Asheboro City School System, and Uwharrie Charter Academy. All three school leaders spoke about new, diverse educational opportunities. The county has created an apprenticeship program that is a work-study hybrid where students earn pay while also getting hands-on instruction in a trade. The charter school has emphasized STEM courses and practical education.

This week, the committee met in Monroe, in Union County, to hear presentations from the local Board of Education, Union County Public Schools Superintendent, and Presidents of Wingate University and Southern Piedmont Community College. Union County’s superintendent talked about a college and career preparation model that exposes students in grades as young a elementary school to career themes and even college visits. All presenters spoke about the partnerships between the schools and the colleges, as well as with outside partners like Atrium Health with whom they prepare students for careers in the health fields. The panel of legislators also heard from the public, who had an assorted set of concerns and recommendations. One parent of children in the Union County Public Schools called on the legislature to “abolish” the North Carolina Board of Education over their adoption in 2021 of supporting documents to be used in social studies classrooms to help teachers navigate conversations about race. But other members of the public urged lawmakers to increase education spending on items like teacher pay, social and emotional learning, and school counselors and nurses.

The committee will next meet in Gaston County, home of committee chair Rep. Torbett, Monday, April 4, and then again on Thursday, April 14 in Carteret County. The legislature’s 2022 short session is scheduled to begin May 18.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Tuesday, March 29

9:30AM: Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion