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House Approves Innovative School District Expansion That Would Allow LEA Restart Schools To Be Targeted

The House late Thursday night voted to approve Senate Bill 15 that expands the Innovative School District (ISD) annually and allows the entity to target and take over “restart” schools remaining under control of local school districts. The bill then moved to the Senate, which at the time of this newsletter’s distribution today had not taken up the legislation to decide whether or not to concur with the House’s proposed ISD expansion.

The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) and several superintendents worked tirelessly this week to urge both House and Senate lawmakers to amend the restart schools portion of this bill and to eliminate a provision calling for the ISD to expand by two schools annually beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Given lawmakers’ self-imposed goal of finishing all legislation subject to the Governor’s veto authority by today and since the Senate had not yet taken up S15, NCASA is hopeful that it will not move forward before final adjournment of the 2018 session. The bill could, however, still be acted upon by the Senate in the next couple of weeks and sent on to the Governor, who then could sign, veto or let it become law without his signature. Due to this possibility, NCASA will continue to advocate that the bill not move forward unless the concerns we have shared are addressed through further changes to the legislation, and we will provide additional alerts and updates on S15 if additional developments occur.

NCASA and other public education advocates have asked both House and Senate lawmakers this week to give LEA restart schools at least two years in that status for the LEA to make progress before allowing that school to become subject to ISD consideration. Lawmakers also were urged to keep the ISD capped at its current limit of 5 schools without an annual expansion plan until the first ISD school gets up and running and there is time to determine if this pilot approach is working to improve low performance.

The legislation was requested by the State Superintendent’s Office and the State Board of Education on behalf of the current ISD Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, and many lawmakers particularly in the House have been reluctant to stop or change this legislation they viewed as a state agency request.

Other ISD changes would include:

  • Require the State Board of Education to select prospective innovative schools by November 15.
  • Require local boards of education to submit a closure plan to the State Board of Education and adopt a resolution to transfer or close the school by December 15.
  • Grant the innovative school operator (IS operator) first priority in the use of capital expenditures at the school.
  • Change the timeline for memoranda of understanding between the IS operator and the local board to 45 days.
  • Require the ISD Superintendent's approval of the innovative school principal.
  • Allow teachers to retain career status if the school at which they teach becomes an innovative school.
  • Allow, rather than require, low-performing schools in an innovation zone to become an innovative school.

There also are two other components of Senate Bill 15 that are unrelated to the ISD. Those include:

  • Needs-Based School Capital Funds – Clarify that for the 2018-19 fiscal year, a county is a Tier 1 area for purposes of the county matching funds requirement if that county was designated by the Department of Commerce as Tier 1 in either 2017 or 2018 and it filed an application for a needs-based school capital grant.
  • Triangle Literacy Council – Directs that DPI use $740,000 of funds appropriated for 2018-19 to support the juvenile literacy centers operated by the Triangle Literacy Council, which serves court-involved and other at-risk young people.