It was all about education this week in Raleigh as North Carolina legislators introduced, discussed, and voted on several education reform bills. The State Board of Education held their monthly meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, which included a lengthy legislative update on the 250 education bills that have been filed so far this session. The State Board of Education also approved several items that have been on their agenda for many of their past meetings, including the extension of the charter school application process and out-of-state licensure requirements.

Both the House and the Senate will reconvene on Monday next week, the House at 7:00 pm and the Senate at 2:00 pm.

Reading Program

The Read to Achieve program, which has been allocated at least $150 million since 2012, may see some changes this legislative session. The program, which is aimed at getting more students proficient in reading by the end of third grade, is largely considered a failure as students' test scores have not increased. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) filed a new bill Monday that would make changes to how reading is taught and how teachers are trained in teaching literacy.

In a press conference Monday, Sen. Berger explained the bill’s several different components, all with the same theme: replicate the areas in which Read To Achieve is working well and make adjustments to the areas where it is not. The bill would not provide any new money for the program, as he feels there is enough funding now to cover the changes, but lawmakers are not opposed to additional funding if need be.

SB 438: The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 would have teachers develop individual reading plans for K-3 students who are not reading at grade level and would revise the training standards for teachers to promote early childhood literacy. The bill also tasked the Department of Public Instruction with developing a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative to provide parents with online resources to help their child with reading. Additionally, DPI would create a model curriculum that can be used statewide, based on the curriculum that is working in other districts. DPI would also have to approve a school district's summer reading camp plan. In hopes of improving the quality of teachers working at these summer camps, the bill would offer $2,000 to retired teachers who come back for the summer. Extra credits would give to teachers who work at these camps as well to go towards keeping their teaching license.

Testing Reductions

Both the House and the Senate took action this week to reduce the amount of standardized testing given to North Carolina public school students. Test results influence a variety of factors, including teacher bonuses, principal pay, moving students on to the next grade level, and letter grades that label each public school. The State Board of Education and State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson have been discussing testing reductions in their monthly meetings throughout the year.

Wednesday, the House voted 110 to 2 on HB 377: Reduce Testing, which would make several changes to testing, including replacing the state EOG exams in reading and math for third through eighth grade students with NC Check-Ins. NC Check-Ins are given to students three times a year in each subject and are currently voluntary. The bill eliminates the state’s EOC exams in biology, English, and math for high school students and would replace them with the ACT. The bill also prohibits school districts from doing two things: giving standardized tests that are not required by the State Board of Education and requiring students to do a high school graduation project.

The Senate introduced their own bill to reduce testing on Wednesday as well. SB 621: Testing Reduction Act of 2019 would eliminate the use of NC Final Exams as part of the statewide testing program to assess teacher performance and professional growth. The bill tasks the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction with creating a plan on how to use other methods to accomplish the same evaluation by March of 2020.

Classroom Supplies

Several Republican lawmakers, joined by Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, announced a bill Wednesday that would give every licensed public school teacher throughout North Carolina $400 to purchase school supplies. Rather than sending the money to local school districts, these funds would be given directly to teachers. SB 580: Classroom Supplies to Teachers would establish the North Carolina Classroom Supply Program, which would begin with the 2019-20 school year and would be mandatory for traditional public schools but optional for charter and independent schools. Teachers would have the ability to purchase classroom supplies through an app or be reimbursed shortly after.

The bill received pushback from two North Carolina Teacher of the Year winners, as well as several State Board of Education members. Those who oppose the bill do not support it because they claim the $400 is not additional funding, it is only reallocating existing money. Some teachers expressed concerns that the $400 would not go far enough in their classrooms. During the State Board of Education meeting Thursday, several board members, including Lisa Godwin and Freebird McKinney, voiced their concerns about the bill and feel as though there is other legislation for the board to support.

Those who support the bill, such as Sen. Andy Wells (R-Catawba), one of the bill’s sponsors, feel as though this change is needed because some school districts have misspent money for classroom supplies. Supporters feel as though this plan will ensure the money is spent on classroom supplies and not on other things school districts have on their to do lists.