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North Carolina News Roundup
Although the North Carolina General Assembly is formally out of session, it was still a busy week in state government and politics:
Governor Roy Cooper (D) announced this week that North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) will receive a $23.7 million federal grant to facilitate the creation of a clean energy workforce program. The school will oversee a program that trains workers for the clean energy sector. Multiple employers, including Duke Energy and Blue Ridge Power, are involved in the program. NC A&T is one of 32 grant recipients selected.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein said at a press conference this week that he would resist pressure from legislative leadership to restrict access to abortion. Republican General Assembly leaders have asked for a 20-week abortion ban to be reinstated in the state. This week, Republican Congressman Ted Budd and Senator Thom Tillis called on Stein to do more to protect pregnancy resource centers from being vandalized.
Common Cause and well-known figures in the North Carolina legal community filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the state law that prevents unaffiliated voters from serving on the State Board of Elections. Currently, state law dictates that no more than three of the gubernatorially-appointed members can serve from one political party, leading to the Governor’s party holding a 3-2 majority.
House Education Committee
While committees are not meeting to hold votes this summer, legislators involved with overseeing the state’s public education system met for a select committee meeting this week. Members of the House Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future heard reports from the state’s top education leaders on how students are recovering from the pandemic. Previously, education committees have been presented data from 2020 and 2021 showing declining test scores and retention in math and reading comprehension. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt presented data showing proficiency rates and test scores for some students rising over the course of the last school year. According to the data, reading proficiency among kindergarteners increased from 27% at the start of the 2021-2022 school year to 67% by the end of the year. For first graders, reading proficiency rates grew from 38% to 62%.
Staff from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) explained that now that they have some data on the time it takes for certain students to regain proficiency, they are exploring the effectiveness of new programs, like the Summer Bridge Academics and Career Accelerator Programs, to promote learning recovery. Speakers from DPI staff also recognized that schools that grew the most were schools that opened for in-person learning earlier than others. Superintendent Truitt credited the early gains to the science of reading, which has been promulgated by legislative leadership.
Legislative Session Review: Education
Funding for education is the largest single budget item adopted each year by the General Assembly, and every legislative session it is a top priority of legislators and advocacy groups across the state. Legislators took advantage of the 2022 short session to increase the amount of funding for public schools over what was adopted last year and make reforms that will increase school safety and combat the learning loss that students experienced as a result of the pandemic. The following bills made significant investment and reforms to the state’s education system and were signed by the Governor during the 2022 legislative short session:
House Bill 103: 2022 Appropriations Act: In the final week before the end of the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the Republican-led House and Senate agreed to a budget compromise that includes a 4.2% average raise for teachers and a $15 minimum wage for all non-certified school staff. The pay raise builds on the long session budget adopted last year that gave a 2.5% raise to teachers. Community college personnel also got an extra 1% raise, on top of the 2.5% raise given to them in the 2021 long session budget.
Legislators invested heavily in school safety by putting $32 million into the School Safety Grant program that includes money for school safety training and equipment. Lawmakers also allocated $15 million to a grant fund for elementary and middle schools to hire School Resource Officers (SROs). A separate $26 million allotment will help districts provide at least one SRO to every high school.
To address equity in education, the state budget distributes an additional $70 million, for a total of $170 million, to low-wealth school districts to provide local supplements that assist with paying teacher salaries more than the state pay schedule.
Additionally, the budget invested in reserve accounts to assist parents of students attending private schools and for public schools paying for the high cost in fuel. Lawmakers put $56 million into the Opportunity Scholarship grant reserve to help students attending private schools. With the cost of fuel significantly higher than it was in 2021, the State Board of Education requested and received $32 million for a transportation fuel reserve.
The General Assembly furthered their long-term push for the science of reading by investing in programs administered by DPI. The budget allocated funds to DPI to hire 124 literacy coaches and early learning specialists. The coaches will work with “literacy leads” assigned by each school district who have already been identified through training sessions that began last year.
House Bill 159: Education Law Changes: An all-inclusive set of education policy reforms was included in this bill sponsored by both House Republican and Democrat education leaders. The bill includes some of DPI’s top priorities of addressing staff shortages, school safety, and nutrition. The bill creates a pathway for aspiring pre-kindergarten and early childhood teachers by expanding the way someone can receive the appropriate credentials to enter the workforce. The bill authorizes the Center for Safer Schools to develop and oversee policies on school crisis kits. Lastly, the law requires middle and high schools to adhere to federal nutrition guidelines to limit snacks in vending machines to 200 calories and fewer and restrict the sale of sugary beverages.
Senate Bill 671: Virtual Education/Remote Academy/Virtual Charters: The success of the state’s two virtual academies during the pandemic led lawmakers to extend their status beyond a pilot to a 10-year total term ending with the 2024-2025 school year, with eligibility for renewal under the state’s current charter school statutes. The measure also clarifies the requirements for “remote academies” that were created by individual school districts while students were attending school from home during the pandemic. Additionally, SB671 authorizes school districts to provide virtual academies in the 2022-2023 school year in certain circumstances, like inclement weather, and to students with disabilities or trouble with in-person instruction.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
There are no legislative meetings scheduled for next week