July 24, 2015 Legislative Update
In This Issue…
- NC Surpeme Court Sustains Vouchers for Private Schools
- No Visible Budget Progress
- Several Education Bills Approved and Moved Through Final Senate Committee Meetings
In a 4 to 3 decision, the NC Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling of Appellate Court Judge Robert Hobgood, who ruled that the voucher program for private schools – the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” for qualifying children from low income families – was an unconstitutional use of public dollars for private schools – including religious schools. The Supreme Court overturned Judge Hobgood’s decision, basically stating that the use of vouchers was serving a public purpose and therefore, a use consistent with the North Carolina Constitution.
This ruling is a huge blow for public school supporters as it will continue to siphon resources away from traditional and charter public schools. Voucher supporters will likely try to expand the number of students who are eligible for vouchers moving forward. In the meantime, remaining options for the plaintiffs are unknown. You can read the entire opinion, including the dissents, here. WRAL’s article on the ruling can be seen here.
Lawmakers apparently made little progress on negotiating an agreement on the 2015-2017 state budget, H 97.
Meanwhile, in an effort to garner more public support for the House’s version of the budget, the full House Appropriations Committee met on July 22 and heard a report from the General Assembly’s chief economist, Barry Boardman, Ph.D. Dr. Boardman briefed House members on the effects of recent tax reforms and put those in perspective of North Carolina’s experiences during the recession. He also addressed questions regarding other potential revenue changes that could occur should the Senate’s version of H97 be adopted. Dr. Boardman’s slides can be seen here.
During the July 22 House Appropriations meetings, statements were made by several local government representatives and two school superintendents. The local government representatives spoke about the adverse effects of the Senate’s tax changes and the superintendents addressed the adverse effects of the Senate’s education budget provisions.
H561 would allow a state or federal administrative agency with a quasi-judicial function or any court of law to (1) inspect confidential employee personnel records of a current or former employee of a local board of education in certain instances, and (2) provide a local board of education the authority to subpoena tangible items in matters where an employee is suspected of committing job-related misconduct.
All of the following conditions must be met in order for the agency to conduct the inspections of an employee’s confidential personnel file:
- A current or former employee has filed a claim against the local board of education or a school official or employee for any alleged act or omission arising during the course and scope of the employee’s official duties or employment.
- In the discretion of the superintendent or superintendent’s designee, disclosure is necessary to adequately defend against the employee’s claim.
- Disclosure is limited to that employee’s records only, and to the extent necessary for the defense of the local board of education.
Section 2 of HB 561 would empower local boards of education to issue subpoenas for the production of all tangible items in matters where an employee is suspected of committing job-related misconduct and which, in the discretion of the board or superintendent, requires investigation. The types of tangible things to be subpoenaed could include but would not be limited to: documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic communications, electronic data processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics.
Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Wilkes) amended the bill on the Senate floor to impose a five year moratorium on lawsuits by local boards of education on county commissions. Suits are occasionally brought by boards of education against county commissions over school funding matters and are one of the few tools school boards hold in disputes with the counties. Earlier in the session, a bill promoted by the NC Association of County Commissioners, H726, would have permanently banned such suits, but failed passage in the House of Representatives. H561 must return to the House for concurrence. There will likely be questions on its eligibility, given the failure of H726 and also whether the bill sponsors Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) and Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) will accept the Senate’s changes.
H13 extends the law that requires each child entering kindergarten to submit proof of a health assessment to include any child entering public school, including transfers. H13 clarifies that this Article does not apply to children entering private church schools, schools of religious charter, or qualified nonpublic schools, regulated by Article 39 of Chapter 115C. The bill provides that absences due to failure to submit the form are not suspensions and allows students to make up the missed work. It also specifies the information that can be included on the health assessment transmittal form; specifies who has access to the form; and requires a report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services and the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. The bill was approved by the Senate Health and Senate Education/Higher Education Committees and will be considered by the full Senate on July 27. If it is approved, the bill will have to return to the House for consideration of the Senate’s changes.
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Submitted by Evelyn Hawthorne
For information about specific issues, please contact PENC government relations consultant Evelyn Hawthorne at firstname.lastname@example.org.