Legislators will return to Raleigh in just a few weeks for the short session of the North Carolina General Assembly, which will kick off April 25, and during that session, local school board members were told recently a number of issues could raise which will affect education at the local level.
During the Elkin City Schools Board of Education retreat March 11, North Carolina School Board Association representatives Ramona Miller, who works with programs and activities, and Bryan Holloway, who works with political involvement and the NCSBA legislative agenda, shared the purpose of the association and issues coming up at the state level of which board members and citizens should be aware.
“There could be numerous education bills go through in this short session you may not like at all,” said Holloway, who served for 11 years in the NC House of Representatives before resigning his elected post to work for NCSBA.
“Number one, first and foremost is Fund 8 legislation,” he said, explaining the Senate already has sent it through and it’s in the House awaiting a vote before being signed into law by the governor. “Fund 8 is going to take more of your local dollars, it will take any federal grants and you will have to share it with charter schools, even though the charter schools can apply for their own federal money.”
One stipulation in an earlier version of the Fund 8 bill would have forced local school systems to give a portion of money raised through fundraising by Booster clubs and other sources such as child nutrition to the charter schools, even though many of them don’t offer lunch programs, Holloway said. That stipulation was removed in the bill passed by the Senate.
“We need to accept charter schools are here. We have to live with them, but we need to fight for funding to stay where it should be,” he said.
Another bill the NCSBA is watching closely and advocating against is the Achievement School District Bill. This legislation, if passed, would allow the state to identify low achieving schools and eliminate the school and replace all of its staff and personnel. It would be replaced with a charter school and the state would staff the charter school, Holloway explained.
“The bill doesn’t address the building and who maintains it,” Holloway said. “I seriously doubt Elkin City Schools will have one that falls in that category.”
His concern is the new A-F grading system for school performance which doesn’t take into account any growth made from year to year, which might not give schools an opportunity to show they’ve improved despite their overall score, and then they would fall into the category identified in the Achievement School District Bill.
A third state action to watch for is pay raises, said Holloway. “They absolutely will do pay raises this year. The House has verbally said two percent, and they made it sound like the Senate has locked in on that, but I jokingly call the Senate the House of Lords. I don’t trust the Senate and I believe the Senate will do more than two percent, but they will come out with a convoluted way to distribute it and include performance as a way of paying it,” he said. “I think if they want to do performance they should give it to the local system to determine, but they won’t do that.”
The voucher bill is another issue Holloway said he believes will sneak into the budget somewhere. “It’ll be tucked in the budget so deep you’ll have to read for weeks to find it.”
He said the bill has evolved so that instead of voucher funding going to a private school on behalf of a student, “it gives a voucher directly to a parent for that child’s [per pupil allocation] and they are enticing parents to want one of these, and then they’ll try to grow it so the parent will get a credit card so the parent can spend it anyway they want for a child’s education.
“In Arizona and Nevada, they are already doing this, and the only thing they’ve been able to say to slow it down is, ‘I thought Republicans were about small government and less bureaucracy. If they are going to oversee credit cards, they’re going to have to have a sizable bureaucracy,” he said. “In Nevada, a mother spent part of her voucher on an abortion, they’ve been used for flat-screen televisions, and they finally caught it.”
He said the North Carolina voucher bill has legs, because the Civitas Institute and John Locke Foundation met with legislators to see how they could promote the program in the state’s communities and let parents know about it. “It’s insane,” he said. “Every time they’ve been in session, they try to put more and more in the voucher bill, so that is another issue you’re going to have.”
School systems have taken issue with the A-F school performance grading system as well as school calendar requirements, but Holloway said the short session isn’t a time to be dealing with those. “Senator Phil Berger has said he will not even discuss the A-F system until there is three years’ data, and that’s not until the end of next year,” Holloway said.
He did say one other bill could come up this session. “A bill to eliminate school boards throughout the state we’ve been told is going to be introduced,” Holloway said. “I don’t think it has legs and will go anywhere, but because they are brazen enough to even be willing to file it means you’ll probably have to deal with it in the future.”
“As a board member connect locally, you’ve got the voice of your community behind you,” said Miller of things the school board can keep in mind as they reach out to local legislators on these issues. “You can share with the legislators that you’ve spoken with parents and the community and this is how they feel. That holds a lot of weight.”
Holloway pledged to send a list of talking points to the school board members to use as they reach out to legislators.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.