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Cursive/Mathematics Bill Becomes Education Omnibus; ‘Renewal School System,’ Testing Reduction Proposed

The Senate this week added to House legislation on cursive writing and multiplication instruction reporting to create an omnibus education bill now also proposing testing reduction in schools and providing one LEA an option for district-wide charter-like flexibility.

House Bill 986, among other changes to public education, would create a “Renewal School System Plan” for low-performing schools that authorizes a qualifying local school administrative unit to become a renewal school system, which would become new and fifth model for turning around a struggling school. The proposal is tailored so that only Rowan-Salisbury Schools would qualify to apply to the State Board of Education for status as a renewal school system and thereby be granted charter-like flexibility for all its schools.

Championed by Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), this new concept would allow the district to operate all its schools similar to those now operating under “restart” status that gives them most flexibilities enjoyed by charter schools, including flexibility in setting the school calendar, personnel salary structure, class size and freedom from many restrictions other LEAs face on use of state funding.

“This will give this school system an opportunity to operate its schools as one system again rather than two as they are currently doing, with many of its schools set up as restart schools and the rest as traditional,” Lee said in explaining the proposal Wednesday to the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee that he co-chairs.

Dr. Lynn Moody, the Rowan-Salisbury Superintendent, attended the rollout of this new proposal in that committee and is enthusiastic about discussing this potential new option with her local school board. She said the district now has 16 restart schools and 19 traditional schools, and managing two very different sets of regulations for each type is a challenge she hopes her district can overcome through this new option, if the school board chooses to pursue it.

Another part of the revised bill that drew a lot of discussion this week is a directive for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to study and make recommendations on ways to reduce testing not otherwise required by state or federal law. In a debate on the Senate floor Wednesday night, Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) said this new study will provide clarity on whether the 30-plus days of testing annually in schools is actually driven by state or federal mandates instead of being “piled on” by local districts, which he believes to be the case.

Other parts of the bill include:

  • Requiring the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to report annually on the implementation of the statutory requirements regarding cursive writing and multiplication tables.
  • Requiring, to the extent practicable, placing students who score a level five on end-of-year math tests in advanced math classes the following year.
  • Directing the State Board of Education to provide information from annual performance reports for educator preparation providers in a user-friendly format that allows comparability of data, and remove requirements for the Board of Governors of The University of North Carolina to incorporate that information into the Teacher Quality Dashboard.
  • Directing DPI to develop content standards for a mental health training program and model program, and minimum requirements for a suicide risk referral protocol, and model protocol.

As the bill moved through the Senate, where it gained unanimous approval, several Senators praised different components now included.

Sen. Jerry Tillman (R- Randolph) stated that North Carolina “ought to do away with” all testing that is not required by the state and federal government, while Sen. Jay J. Chaudhuri (D-Wake) said this bill helps ensure more deserving students are placed into higher mathematics courses.

H986, that gained final House approval of the Senate changes Thursday afternoon, would become effective when it becomes law and now heads to the Governor.

Click here to view a more comprehensive bill summary. 

Katherine Joyce | NCASA