Standards and assessment, teacher pay and school vouchers were some of the hottest education issues that key stakeholders predicted would dominate this year’s legislative session at a breakfast hosted Wednesday by the Public School Forum in Raleigh.
Tom Campbell, host of the weekly talk show NC SPIN, held a special taping of his program at the breakfast, during which he quizzed Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) and others about what lawmakers plan to do this year for education.
“I do think we need to look at expanding it [the school voucher program],” said Horn. “The number of applications alone for these vouchers show the demand by the public.”
“We need to watch it very carefully,” Horn added. “I’m not at all suggesting that we fling the doors open, but we have got to allow parents to take control of the education of their children.”
Last year lawmakers passed legislation that opened the door for school vouchers. Taxpayer funds in the amount of $4,200 annually can be used by students to attend private schools. The program is on hold, however, until its constitutionality is determined by the state Supreme Court in February.
Keith Poston, head of the Public School Forum, was more cautious about school voucher expansion.
“I’d like to see our resources devoted to the public school systems that are frankly struggling right now,” said Poston. “We’ve got teachers that don’t have textbooks for their kids…but if we’re going to have them we’d like to see them focused on those disadvantaged kids that are not being well served.”
As North Carolina reexamines its commitment to the Common Core State Standards, the rollout of A-F school grades begins in February and a chorus of complaints over excessive testing dominate education policy debates, there was a consensus that changes are coming down the pipeline to address these issues.
“Standards, testing and accountability is also a top priority,” speculated NC SPIN panelist John Hood, president of the conservative John William Pope Foundation.
Teacher pay, a heated issue last year that drove the legislature to offer educators their first pay raise in several years, will be on the agenda once again — but Rep. Horn said lawmakers would have to work within the constraints of available resources this time around.
“We’re not going to spend more than we have,” said Horn, adding that within that context, it’s important to consider differentiated pay–which translates to paying some teachers more than others based on whether they are working in hard to staff areas.
Other hot button issues included attracting and keeping high quality teachers in the classroom, making charter schools accountable, and reevaluating the formula for awarding schools letter grades of A-F in a way that accounts for a school’s progress over time.
At the event, the Public School Forum released a report detailing their top ten education issues for 2015, which are:
- Build a Principled Path on Teacher Compensation
- Make Sense of A-F School Performance Grades
- Maintain High Standards
- Emphasize Quality and Equity in School Choice
- Expand Opportunities to Learn Any Time, Any Place at Any Pace
- Recruit and Retain Excellent Teachers
- Manage Student Enrollment Growth
- Shift to Elements of a Digital-Age Learning Model
- Streamline Assessments
- Meet Milestones on the Path to College and Career Readiness
You can read the report below.