Legislature Approves Innovative School District Changes, Expands Advanced Teaching Roles
Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs & Policy Manager
Members of the N.C. House and Senate gave final approval on Tuesday to a bill making changes to the Innovative School District Program, as well as the Advanced Teaching Roles Pilot Program. If signed into law by the Governor, Senate Bill 522 would create a three-year process before qualifying schools are transferred into the Innovative School District (ISD), and release the State Board of Education (SBE) from its obligation to choose four schools to be added to the ISD next year. The new process would give notice to qualifying schools in year one and place the schools on a “watch list” in year two, before finally placing the schools on a “warning list” in year three if school performance has not improved. If a school on the warning list has not made requisite improvements before year four, the bill states the SBE must select the school for transfer to the ISD. In addition to the ISD changes, lawmakers also included in the bill an unrelated provision eliminating the cap on the number of local boards of education that can participate in the Advanced Teaching Roles Pilot Program.
Legislators created the Innovative School District in 2016 with the goal of improving some of the lowest-performing schools in the state by moving them to a virtual school district, to be operated by a third party, such as a private education management organization. Since the program’s creation however, ISD opponents have continued to advocate for a repeal of the program, noting little to no evidence of school improvement in the one school currently participating in the ISD. Members of the State Board of Education (SBE), the entity tasked with formally approving schools for ISD participation, have also repeatedly expressed their desire to lengthen the ISD’s short timeline for school selection. Under current law, schools are identified and formally chosen for ISD participation near the end of one school year, and chosen schools must decide to join the ISD or close only two months later. During Tuesday’s vote on S522, some ISD opponents voted in favor of the ISD changes to allow for a longer school selection and improvement timeline, while still maintaining they would rather eliminate the program entirely.
Unlike the ISD Program, the Advanced Teaching Roles Program has been met with continued public enthusiasm and support since its creation as a three-year pilot program in 2016. Legislators created the program to “develop advanced teaching roles and organizational models that link teacher performance and professional growth to salary increases in selected local school administrative units for classroom teachers.” The pilot program was limited to 10 LEAs, six of which were granted class size flexibility. Senate Bill 522 would eliminate the cap on the number of LEAs that may participate in the program, while also exempting all participating schools from class size requirements.
If signed into law by Governor Cooper, the ISD changes in S522 would apply beginning with schools identified as qualifying schools for the 2019-20 school year, based on 2018-19 data. The Advanced Teaching Roles changes would be effective immediately; however, the bill notes if the vetoed state budget becomes law, the Advanced Teaching Roles changes in S522 would be repealed and replaced with similar changes contained in Section 7.9(b) of the state budget.