October 1, 2015 Legislative Update
In This Issue…
- General Assembly Adjourns
- Final Push to Pass Charters’ Takeover of Failing Schools and to Grow Demand for Vouchers Fail
- Thank YOU PENC Members!
- Legislative Summary to be Posted
Following a marathon 21 hour day of legislative session interspersed with committee meetings, the 2015 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly concluded at 4:30 AM Sept. 30. For educators and education policy, the session will be marked as much for what didn’t happen as for what did happen.
Since completion of work on the biennial budget on September 18, lawmakers have focused on addressing unfinished business and prioritizing the “must do before the end of session” list. Checked off the “must do” items include a bond referendum that will be on the March 16, 2016 primary election ballot. That referendum will include improvements and new construction on the campuses of the UNC System, North Carolina Community Colleges and at North Carolina’s State Parks. K-12 school system projects, which were a part of the legislation at one time, were not included in the final version. Road improvements, which were also included in an early version of the bill, were omitted from the final version as well.
One of the annual vigils that occur during the waning hours of the Legislative Session is the “Rules Watch” – waiting for the Senate and House Rules Committees to meet. During those meetings, bills can emerge that were held for months or other bill sacrificed and replaced by entirely different matters and pushed out with no warning. Lobbyists wait for hours – sometimes days – for the announcement of the meetings, which occur with little warning.
The House Rules Committee had on its calendar for several days S95, Performance Based RIF/School Policy. That bill was widely discussed to be a vehicle for a new bill that would create the 116thAchievement School District (ASD) and implement a pilot to enable charters – for profit or not for profit – to takeover failing schools. The measure was pushed by Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg), with the backing of charter school operators. Articles about the plan can be seen here and here. PENC conveyed its concerns about the measure with Rep. Bryan when he shared the measure with us. In the following week, PENC wrote a letter to all House members conveying concerns based upon the mixed results that occurred in other states where similar models were implemented, including Tennessee. In Tennessee’s case, one analysis suggests that ASD schools aren’t doing significantly better in terms of student growth than they were before state takeover. In fact, in many cases the schools’ pre-takeover growth outperformed the ASD. Other groups opposed to ASDs include NC School Boards Association (NCSBA) and the NC School Administrators Association (NCASA). The bill slated to be the vehicle for the changes, S95, was finally pulled from the House Rules Committee Calendar on September 29 following a closed door meeting among House Republicans, where we are told that the scheme lacked sufficient support for passage. The bill will likely reappear during the short session, which begins April 25, 2016.
Growing demand for private school vouchers was another issue pushed during the last hours of the General Assembly. Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake), a staunch voucher supporter, pushed a rewrite of S456, Charter School Modifications. The changes would have grown the wait list for school vouchers to make the argument for more future funding. The measure failed passage during the House Rules Committee on September 29 and – on a procedural move – the bill was referred back to the House Appropriations Committee. This is another bill that could resurface during the short session in April, 2016.
Finally, a push by charter supporters to gain more funding from Local Education Authorities (LEAs) failed. The NCSBA and NCASA had engaged in negotiations with charter school supporters and House members throughout the session to resolve disputes over their shares of specific funding allotments. Referred to as “fund 8” issues, charter schools alleged that they were entitled to shares of specific funding, such as child nutrition, Medicare and Medicaid, and federal grants, even if the charters did not provide the services for which the LEAs received the funds. The negotiations shepherded by House members appeared to have fallen apart about a month before the end of session. During the last week of session, Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) resurrected negotiations on the Senate side and pushed a very broad measure through the Senate within hours of public notice, H539. The bill was placed on the House calendar Sept. 29 for consideration of the Senate’s changes. Supporters on both sides of the issue engaged in heavy lobbying for their side. A closed door meeting among House Republicans revealed insufficient votes for passage and the bill was sent back to the House Appropriations Committee. This bill could resurface during the short session in April, 2016.
PENC did not take an official position on this matter because some PENC members teach in charter schools. PENC does, however, believe that funding disputes should be resolved in an open process and have ties to services that charter schools provide. Furthermore, charter schools that receive state and federal funding should be required to hire certified, licensed educators as do traditional public schools.
Thank you to all PENC members who supported PENC’s advocacy efforts throughout the session. PENC is here to serve members – but is reliant upon member support for advocacy successes on their behalf. Your responses to alerts and questions to PENC are very important – and appreciated. Thank you for all that you do to advance the profession – and to support North Carolina’s students.
The end of session wrap-up – the Legislative Summary – will be posted soon. Gov. McCrory will have 30 days from the end of session to sign or veto bills. PENC aims to post the legislative summary soon after Gov. McCrory’s deadline.
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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.