House Passes Summer Learning Bill, Senate Action Likely Next Week
Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs & Policy Manager
Members of the NC House unanimously voted 120-0 on Wednesday to approve a bill requiring all school districts to offer in-person learning opportunities this summer. House Bill 82: Summer Learning Choice for NC Families was amended several times earlier in the week in both the House K-12 Education Committee and House Pensions Committee to incorporate some changes recommended by the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) and other groups before being amended a final time on the House floor. H82 has been sent to the Senate for further action, likely next week. Major bill provisions and recent changes are outlined below:
- Funding — While no additional funds were provided for LEAs to implement the summer program, the bill was amended in the House K-12 Education Committee to include language stating the General Assembly’s “intent” to direct the State Board of Education to provide LEAs with additional funding for the program from remaining federal ESSER II funds allocated to the NC Department of Public Instruction. It is not yet clear how this new mandate will impact SBE/NCDPI proposed budgetary requests. Funds allocated for summer reading camps and at-risk students could also still be utilized for the program.
- Staffing — Despite ongoing concerns shared by NCASA and other groups, the employment provisions of the bill remain largely unchanged. LEAs shall employ teachers and other school personnel as “temporary employees” on a contract basis for the six-week period of the program. They would not be considered employees and would not be deemed as earning “compensation,” and therefore, would not earn retirement credit or accrue leave time; however, the bill was amended during the House Pensions Committee to allow individuals who “retired on or after Dec. 1, 2020,” but “on or before March 1, 2021,” to be employed in the summer program without having to meet the usual six-month employment separation requirement. Such employees would have to meet a one-month employment separation requirement instead.
- Program Planning Deadline — LEAs would still have to submit plans for these summer programs no later than 30 days prior to the final instructional day of the 2020-2021 school year.
- Mandatory Only for LEAs — The bill still applies only to LEAs and not other public school units that include charter, lab, and regional schools. Charter schools are encouraged, but not required to hold the summer learning programs. NCASA proposed language which would have allowed LEAs to charge a tuition fee for non-LEA students who participate in the summer program, but this language was first added and then dropped from the final House version of the bill.
- Instructional Day Requirements — The bill was amended in the House K-12 Education Committee to change the mandated schedule, which had been five hours per day and five days per week for six weeks, to “at least 150 hours or 30 days over the course of the program” and not starting before the 2020-21 school year ends. Curriculum requirements would still vary for K-3 students, grade 4-8 students, and high school students. Separate amendments also changed instructional requirements to now include time for “in-person social-emotional earning supports for all students in the program” and to allow for small-group and individual instruction.
- Transportation & Meal Service—The bill was amended to clarify that LEAs would provide transportation under Plan A requirements established in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit issued on February 2, 2021. A separate amendment changed the requirement that LEAs provide “lunch” to a “meal.”
- Grade Promotion — Kindergarten students who participate in the program shall be exempt from retention for the 2021-2022 school year; for all other at-risk students, school principals would reassess the student’s promotion eligibility upon program completion.
- K-3 Class Size Waiver — Class size limitations for K-3 would not apply to the summer program.
- Competency-Based Assessments Reporting — The bill was amended to require LEAs to report to NCDPI by Sept. 1, 2021 on the following: results of competency-based assessments given to students in grades K-8 at the beginning and conclusion of the program; the number of students who progressed to the next grade level or were retained after participating the program; and the number of students who received credit recovery in high school.
- Innovative Benchmark Assessments – The bill would require the State Board of Education to provide for and require LEAs to implement innovative benchmark assessments in certain grades and core subject areas to allow teachers to more frequently measure student learning and address student learning loss throughout the school. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt has signaled her intent for NCDPI to contract with a student assessment tool called “gooru” to satisfy this section of the bill, which would allow LEAs to use that tool or others of their choice.