With the special session wrapped up, legislators returned to interim committee work this week. This week, legislators discussed how public schools are financed and organized and a House committee took up the Senate’s version of HB 189: Water Safety Act, for discussion. The Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound, Basic Education held their second meeting, delving into the topic of school finance.

Education Finance Task Force Talks Charter School Funding

Yesterday, the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform held their fifth meeting of the interim to discuss charter school funding. Committee members heard an overview of the funding structure from the Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) as well as perspectives on the current funding structure and what changes could be made from members of the charter school community.

What’s It Like Now?

Currently, charter schools receive an allotment based on their average daily membership. State funds flow directly to the charter school while local funds are dispersed by the local school district. According to a presentation from NCDPI Division of School Business Director Alexis Schauss, the growth of charter schools has made the funding and budgeting system more complex. Schauss shared that the average size of a charter school in NC has increased to 600 students since 2008, when it was 400.

Anything Else?

NC State Director for TeamCFA Gregg Sinders and Vice Chair of the Charter School Advisory Board Steven Walker both shared anecdotes on charter schools getting less funding than traditional public schools.

In his presentation, Sinders emphasized that charter schools are able to produce results because of the flexibility they are allowed and encouraged the Task Force to consider granting greater flexibility to traditional public schools, while requiring accountability. Walker stressed that charter schools are public schools in his presentation and should be treated as such. He also proposed the committee consider allowing county commissioners to grant capital funding dollars to charter schools and highlighted disparity in local funding between traditional and charter schools.

What’s Next?

Committee Chair Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) noted that the committee will hear from operating charter schools at a future meeting. As the committee considers proposals to restructure the state’s education financing formula, charter schools will likely play a large role. NC’s education landscape differs drastically from what it was when the current funding formula was initially adopted. Many advocate for greater flexibility and adaptability in a new system that can account for innovative education environment.

Local School Administrative Units Discussed by Study Committee

The Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units held their first meeting on Wednesday. The Committee was formed to discuss the division of local school administrative units (LEAs) and recommend best practices to the General Assembly, including whether to allow previously merged districts to break up.

What Was on the Table?

The committee received informative presentations from General Assembly staff at the meeting. First, Legislative Analysis Division Staff Attorneys Kara McCraw and Brian Gwyn presented an overview of current LEAs, noting that there are currently 115 LEAs in NC and discussing the existing processes for merging and dividing existing units. They also reviewed national trends, noting that when comparing number of school districts to population, NC is roughly in the middle compared to other southern states and states with similar student populations.

Where is This Going?

The creation of this committee was controversial and passed mostly along party lines in the long session. On Wednesday, Committee Chair Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg) stated that it is not his intention to introduce bills to break up certain school systems. According to leaders of large districts, like Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, larger districts can reduce administrative costs and make integration easier. Proponents for smaller districts argue that larger districts can reduce local control over education.

House River Quality Committee Receives Updates & Discusses HB 189

At their first meeting since the Senate passed their version of HB 189, the House Select Committee on NC River Quality heard updates from the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), and discussed the Senate’s version of the bill.

What Happened?

DEQ Assistant Secretary for the Environment Sheila Holman provided an update on ongoing work to monitor air and water quality around the Bladen County Chemours facility. DEQ has been working with the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to test samples for the presence of GenX and other emerging compounds. The committee received an update from CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner and Chief Operating Officer Frank Styers. CFPUA received funds from the legislature in 2017 to respond to GenX, including analyzing drinking water samples and deploying drinking water treatment initiatives. According to water quality samples, CFPUA is seeing levels in treated water below the NC Department of Health and Human Services health goal.

Anything Else?

Later in the day, the committee shifted gears to discuss HB 189. In January, the House voted 116-0 to pass their version of the bill, initially titled “Short Term Responses to Emerging Contaminants.” After nearly a month of stalemate, Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) introduced a proposed committee substitute of the bill that passed the chamber nearly on party lines. One of the big disagreements between the chambers was whether or not to provide funds for a mass spectrometer to DEQ, which would allow the Department to analyze samples in house.

At Wendesday’s meeting, the committee heard from US EPA Physical Scientist Mark Strynar, who reviewed spectrometer models, including the model NCDEQ would like to purchase, which he said would be sufficient for the state’s ongoing sampling needs. DEQ Director of Legislative Affairs Andy Miller also presented to the committee, asking the committee to appropriate the necessary funds to the Department to purchase and run the equipment.

What’s Next?

The House has not voted on the Senate’s proposal, and because it is coming back for a vote of concurrence, they are stuck between accepting the changes or creating a conference committee to work out the difference. GenX is poised to be a major topic in the upcoming short session, where it may continue to spark disagreement between the chambers.

Education Commission Discusses School Finance, Equity

The Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education met for the second time on Tuesday. The Commission was formed by Gov. Roy Cooper last year to weigh in on a decades-long court case that asks how the state must fulfill their constitutional duties to provide a basic education to North Carolinians. The Commissions’ first meeting in 2017 was primarily organizational, the members were sworn in and received an overview of the case.

At Tuesday’s meeting, they delved into NC’s school finance system and discussed the concepts of equity versus equality. CEO and President of Education Resource Strategies Dr. Karen Hawley Miles underscored that declining teacher pay has led to teacher shortages, which in turn impacts student performance. Public School Forum of NC President and Executive Director Keith Poston presented to the Commission on local funding gaps, including an overview of the organization’s annual report. According to Poston, counties with high property values are able to raise necessary funds easily, while low wealth counties must rely on less flexible state funds and more aggressive tax rates to compete. He emphasized that no county should suffer for the advancement of another and equity should be ensured by the state funding system.

Governor Cooper Announces Position on HB 90

Last Wednesday, Gov. Cooper held a press conference to discuss HB 90:Changes to Education and Election Laws, which was passed by the legislature last week. The bill addresses class size and provides funding to eliminate the NC Pre-K waiting list, but the Governor opposes other legislative changes that he called, “political attacks and power grabs.” Since the legislature is now out of session, HB 90 will go into effect on March 15, 30 days after it was sent to his desk.

A Look Ahead to Next Week

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

9:30 AM Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice, Joint Behavioral Health Subcommittee

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

9:00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services

1:00 PM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice

Thursday March 1, 2018

9:00 AM Committee on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

10: 00 AM Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, Joint Subcommittee on Medical Education and Medical Residency Programs