North Carolina General Assembly Week in Review

February 16, 2024

The North Carolina General Assembly convened for an administrative session this week, conducting no legislative business. However, several interim committees met to deliberate issues important to legislators, including education reform, homeowner’s associations, and federal substance abuse programs.

Outside of the legislative complex, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper made news by announcing an ambitious executive order with an environmental initiative aimed at combating climate change and bolstering the economy through the preservation and restoration of the state’s natural landscapes. The order sets forth statewide targets to “permanently conserve” and restore one million acres each of forests and wetlands, alongside planting one million new trees in urban areas by 2040. Governor Cooper’s office called the initiative the most consequential environmental action by a North Carolina governor since the “Million Acre Initiative” in 1999.

Governor Cooper’s directive also emphasizes the use of native plants and seeds in state landscaping projects and seeks federal support for wetland preservation to enhance flood resilience and water quality.

Education Reform Committee

This week, the House Select Committee on Education Reform convened for the third time during the interim, with the goal of delving into the utilization of federal pandemic funds and to hear about recommendations for reforms to mathematics instruction. Dr. Michael Maher, Deputy State Superintendent, Division of Standards, Accountability, and Research, of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), spearheaded the presentations, addressing the impending end of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds and unveiling a comprehensive mathematics reform aimed at bolstering students’ proficiency.

North Carolina received roughly $6 billion total in federal COVID relief funds for K-12 education, Dr. Maher told lawmakers. With the ESSER funding cliff on the horizon, set for September 2024, Dr. Maher introduced the “ESSER Funding Cliff Toolkit,” a pioneering initiative designed to guide school districts through financially sound decision-making as they transition beyond federal pandemic aid.

This toolkit, unique to North Carolina, aims to leverage data to pinpoint the most impactful investments made during the pandemic, emphasizing return on investment and aiding districts in identifying and sustaining effective programs. The toolkit encourages districts to evaluate interventions based on qualitative and quantitative outcomes, especially those benefiting students most adversely affected by the pandemic.

Committee leaders Representative John Torbett (R-Gaston) and Representative Brian Biggs (R-Randolph) raised concerns about the sustainability of technology and connectivity enhancements made with ESSER funds and sought clarity on how districts could continue vital programs beyond the federal funding expiration. Dr. Maher outlined options such as seeking federal grants, local funding, or innovative budgeting strategies to maintain these initiatives.

In a separate presentation, Dr. Maher highlighted DPI’s recommendations for comprehensive mathematics reform. This proposed reform includes daily mathematics instruction, targeted remediation, and grants to enhance teachers’ understanding of mathematics, particularly in rural areas. DPI’s approach also emphasizes the importance of parental involvement, which several members of the committee were particularly happy to see included in the proposal.

Upcoming Legislative Meetings

Currently, no legislative meetings are scheduled for next week.