This morning the House Education Committee took up HB 452, the 2013 School Safety Act. Rep. Holloway, co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill, hailed it as the most comprehensive school safety legislation in the country since the Newtown tragedy.
The bill would enact numerous provisions with regard to how schools plan for and mitigate acts of violence. Ten million dollars in both 2013-14 and again in 2014-15 would be appropriated to LEAs as grant money to provide more school resources officers (SROs) and their training in elementary and middle schools—but the money must be matched locally. For every $1 that the LEA directs toward increased SROs and their training, the state would match the LEA $2.
A similar grant matching program would be provided to LEAs for additional school psychologists, guidance counselors, and social workers. Guidance counselors would also be required to spend at least 80 percent of their time providing direct counseling services to students—an emphasis made because guidance counselors find that the bulk of their time is used to administer standardized tests.
Panic alarm systems in every classroom, mandatory school safety exercises, schematic diagrams of school facilities, an anonymous tip line and school crisis kits are some of the other provisions in the bill.
Rep. Rick Glazier noted that “the biggest threat to our schools is internal, not external,” explaining why it was so important to have additional school counselors who could assess internal threats on an ongoing basis.
Rep. Shepherd questioned whether the bill would force LEAs that already have school safety plans in place to re-do those plans. Sponsors of the bill confirmed that would not be the case, but their plans would need to be reviewed by school superintendents and the State Board of Education.
Given that guidance counselors often administer many standardized tests, Rep. Warren questioned how local school districts will fill in the gap once they are required to spend 80 percent of their timing providing direct counseling support to students. Sponsors of the bill did not have a clear answer but did expect LEAs to find a way to provide extra resources to get the job done.
The bill passed through committee unanimously and moves on to appropriations.
HB 127, Arts Education as a Graduation Requirement, faced a more difficult road to passage as committee members discussed the bill.
HB 127, sponsored by Reps. Carney and Johnson, would require students in North Carolina public schools to have taken one art credit at some point between sixth and twelfth grade in order to graduate from high school. As Carney introduced the bill, she explained that companies that are hiring today want workers with creativity, hence the need for students to be exposed to the arts.
In opposition to the bill, Rep. Stam explained that some things are better taught to those who want to be taught them. Rep. Johnson replied that many of her students don’t want to be taught history, yet we still require it.
Rep. Pittman said that art should be an elective for those who have talent for it. “I wouldn’t have graduated high school if I had to pass art,” he said.
Rep. Horn replied to these sentiments, saying “I have no ability to sing, dance or draw – but arts education brings perspective, which is the key to success in business, art and life.”
The bill passed favorably through committee on a voice vote–but barely.