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Tillman seeks to eliminate North Carolina’s personal education plans for at-risk students

Senate Bill 516, “Public School Regulatory Reform [1],” throws out requirements for maximum class size and minimizes other school district reporting requirements. If you read the bill all the way to the end, however, you’ll notice Part VII, titled “Eliminate Personal Education Plans.”

Personal education plans [2], or PEPs as they are widely known, have been around for more than a decade and are intended to help at-risk students in North Carolina achieve academic success. North Carolina law requires that any child who does not meet grade-level proficiency (he or she who scores a Level I or Level II on EOG or EOC tests) be eligible for a PEP.

PEPs aid parents, teachers and administrators in planning out the special interventions a student needs. These interventions can include, but are not limited to, smaller classes, tutorial sessions, extended school day, and alternative learning models.

Last year, Senators Tillman and Stein strengthened support for PEPs in their education reform bill. A call to Tillman’s office seeking an answer as to why he has changed course went unreturned.

Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina), explained that most of his clients have PEPs. “When our clients have good personal education plans implemented, we see their achievement go up,” Langberg said. School districts across North Carolina have made considerable efforts to comply with the law and offer PEPs to at-risk students.

What is frustrating, Langberg pointed out, is that the law requiring PEPs for at-risk students has been an unfunded mandate. “The funds districts need to provide students with truly individualized assessments, interventions, and progress monitoring is not there. Failing to fund PEPs, claiming they don’t work or are too burdensome, and then eliminating them will inevitably cause hurt student achievement and lead to violations of the state constitutional mandate to provide a sound, basic education and extra services for at-risk students.”

That state constitutional mandate that Langberg refers to is commonly known as Leandro. In 1994’s Leandro v. State, boards of education in North Carolina’s low-wealth school districts and individuals in those districts filed an action against the State, claiming a violation of the state constitutional right to equal educational opportunity.

North Carolina Supreme Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. heard the case in 1997 and again in 2004. The Court unanimously held that every child in the state has a constitutional right to the opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education. While the Court did not explicitly require districts to offer personal education plans, it was understood that PEPs were a tool to be used in complying with Leandro.

Eliminating PEPs without offering an alternative that districts could use to satisfy Leandro’s requirements raises the issue of whether it would be unconstitutional to eliminate them.

On Tillman’s effort to strike down PEPs, Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt said, “PEPs are meant to identify struggling students, tailor education to a particular student’s needs, and ensure that children aren’t getting left behind. There has been bipartisan support of this concept in the past, and eliminating these plans will do a disservice to struggling students across North Carolina. You can’t reduce accountability and funding and expect to improve education.”