April 24, 2020

Legislative Update

The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Education Workgroup held their 5th meeting on Thursday, April 23rd.

Dr. Beverly Emory, with NCDPI and Freebird McKinney with the State Board, presented to the committee on funding and spending priorities. Dr. Emory stated that equity has been a great challenge with distance learning, given the lack of a defined infrastructure. She addressed proposals and strategies to close the digital divide.

She suggested the use of yellow buses as a point of contact with students, internet hot spots, and the need to equip all students with new technology. Dr. Emory stated that Canvas as a platform for all LEAs, would allow districts to have access to high-quality resources. She noted that the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) was expanding its capacity but acknowledged that there will still be challenges concerning adequate availability of technology for all the state’s students.

Dr. Emory addressed the needs of low performing students and those with limited access to internet connectivity.

One suggested strategy is to give a jump start this fall to 1st through 4th graders with the potential to expand to 5th grade. The idea would be to start three weeks prior to the school year with a focus on literacy and math. However, a few details on the logistics of this were provided.

Mr. McKinney explained that cybersecurity is also an emerging concern. In addition, he noted that with the incoming federal and state dollars, management oversight of funds is needed. To meet this need, he suggested adding an additional internal auditor to ensure that the monies are spent appropriately.

After this presentation, comments were invited from the committee.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell spoke of his concern about not providing literacy support to low-performing middle school students.

Also, it was noted that, while the current technology shortfall existed prior to Covid-19, education leaders and lawmakers now know that over 300,000 students are not connected or have limited access to internet technology.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore commented on school re-opening obstacles, including how it will push the limits of school nursing staff and how schools lack an environment to utilize social distancing. He also added that there would be more need for increased school sanitation.

Regarding the proposals, leaders acknowledged that planning and cost estimates are still in the works.

Rep. Craig Horn spoke briefly that the school calendar and the proposed jump start for grades 1-4 are works in progress but that the House is working with the Senate.  However, nothing is resolved as of now.

Lastly, Carolyn Sorenson of Legislative Drafting presented the committee with a review of draft legislation. She noted that the legislation was mostly the same as last week’s committee proposals but with minor additions.

Sorenson advised that all language in the bill is temporary and deals only with Covid-19 responses.

The new items of the draft legislation are as follows:

  • Consider alternative interventions as part of the response to Read to Achieve
  • Allow remote instruction to count toward school hours
  • The draft outlines the intent of the jump-start instruction
  • Allow LEAs the flexibility to begin school as early as August 17th
  • Allow more budget flexibility to LEAs to transfer funds among allotment categories
  • State the intent not to use this year’s school growth scores to determine principal salaries for next year
  • Allow late disbursement of Opportunity Scholarship grants

Below is the list of draft proposals that were heard last week by the committee:

K-12 Education statutory waivers and recommendations:

  • Testing waivers
  • School Report Card waivers
  • Low Performing Schools data waivers
  • No new schools to be added to the Innovative School District (ISD)
  • Adjustments to Read to Achieve statutory requirements (mandatory retention falls to principal discretion)
  • Waive intervention requirements (Reading Camp)
  • Reading assessments would be given to incoming 4th graders
  • Waive reporting data
  • Waive mandatory placement in Advanced Math based on test scores and allow local school discretion
  • Waive CPR instruction requirement for graduating seniors
  • Waive EVAAS data requirements
  • Modify teacher observation and evaluation requirements

Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) recommendations and waivers:

  • Waive minimum admission requirements
  • Waive clinical internship requirements
  • Waive reporting requirements for performance data
  • Waive sanction data concerning EPPs
  • Extend deadlines for CEU requirements and licensure exam requirements

Mrs. Sorenson noted that all provisions become effective when the bill becomes law and only applies to this period of Covid-19 and that proposed changes are not ongoing.

No amendments were requested by committee members. The Chair opened the draft legislation to questions and committee discussion. There was none.

Rep. Ashton Clemmens then made a motion to approve the draft legislation. After a roll call virtual vote, the draft was unanimously approved.

Chairman Horn praised the committee for its work and said the Chairs will get together with Senate leaders to work on the final bill.

In addition, Chairman Horn noted that the working group will stay in place through September and will meet and respond as needed.

For information about specific issues, please contact lobbyist@pencweb.org.

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