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A bill filed this week by Sens. Wells, Brock, Wade and Soucek would limit school employees’ political activities — and while it only pertains to what teachers can and can’t do during working hours, some are concerned the bill could keep teachers from speaking out altogether on issues they care about.

“I think it could have a chilling effect,” said Guilford County Spanish teacher Todd Warren in an interview with the Greensboro News & Record on Thursday. “Teachers aren’t the most politically active people anyway, but right now there are a lot of people who are afraid for their jobs if they speak out on some of these issues. This could just make that worse.”

Senate Bill 480 would disallow school employees from working on political campaigns during working hours, use the authority of his or her position to secure support or opposition for a political candidate, and use public funds to these ends. Read More

Commentary

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the General Assembly, now that there’s no longer any snow or ice to contend with (our neighbors in DC are not so lucky on this first day of spring).

Lawmakers have set their sights already in the 2015 session on a number of education policy reforms, and here are some of those bills to track in the weeks ahead.

SB272: Eliminate Personal Education Plans

Filed by Sens. Jerry Tillman and Tom Apodaca, this bill would jettison PEPs, which are intended to provide additional academic supports to at-risk, academically struggling students.

Some teachers are cheering the proposition, saying it’s an unfunded mandate resulting in unnecessary amounts of paperwork. Others worry about taking away helpful interventions from underperforming students in an era of increased accountability. Read more here.

The bill will be heard in a Senate rules committee on a date TBD. A companion bill is in the House. Read More

News

Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) filed a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the requirement for public schools to offer Personal Education Plans (PEPs), which provide academically struggling, at-risk students with strategic interventions to bring them up to grade-level proficiency.

“Personal education plans are just a lot of paperwork for a lot of students who really just don’t need them,” Sen. Tillman told N.C. Policy Watch on Thursday.

Tillman said he filed the bill to eliminate PEPs because teachers are already saddled with a lot of work, and the good ones already know which students need help.

“The good teachers are doing informal assessments all the time, and they already know what they’re doing. PEPs are just needless paperwork,” said Tillman.

Personal education plans were first introduced in 2001 as a way to help at-risk students who struggle academically yet don’t qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which are federally mandated for students with disabilities.

The PEPs offer a mechanism for students and parents to work alongside teachers in developing customizable plans that would improve students’ academic achievement. Focused interventions that could be included in the plans include additional tutoring, mentoring, smaller classes and afterschool instruction, among others.

Jane Wettach, Duke University law professor and director of the Children’s Law Clinic, doesn’t dispute that teachers likely already know which students need more help than others.

But the point of the PEPs, says Wettach, is to provide students with additional academic supports outside of the standard academic day, because teachers don’t have the time or means to help all at-risk students during regular hours.

“The thing that PEPs do differently is that they require additional instructional services to be done outside of the normal school day,” said Wettach.

“Even really excellent teachers cannot necessarily in a regular school day provide everything that an at-risk student needs to get to grade level,” Wettach added. Read More

News

Members of the House Education – Universities committee discussed draft legislation Tuesday that would require the UNC School of Government to develop evaluation standards for state agencies to use when implementing pilot programs enacted by the General Assembly.

The impetus for the bill stems from the failure for state agencies to properly manage and assess pilot programs, according to John Turcotte, director of the program and evaluation division at the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Without being disrespectful to my colleagues at DPI, they did not do the pilot project very well,” said Turcotte.

That pilot project, which was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, directed the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education to manage a pilot program that would test the efficacy of providing driver’s education instruction online.

Turcotte said the pilot program was poorly managed by DPI officials and the methodology for evaluating the pilot was flawed. Toward the end of the program the UNC School of Government intervened to provide assistance, but it was too late in the process.

Turcotte cited a second problematic pilot handled by the Department of Health and Human Services that studied overnight respite services at adult daycare facilities. For that program, said Turcotte, DHHS’ handling resulted in an inability to tell whether or not it was even worth scaling up statewide.

House Bill 72, introduced by  Rep. Hurley (R-Randolph) would require the UNC School of Government to develop standards for pilot projects that lawmakers enact no later than December 1, 2016. The standards would “identify approaches for designing projects that collect appropriate and adequate data for sound evaluation of pilot projects,” according to the bill.

If passed into law, the standards would apply to new pilot programs that begin after June 1, 2017.

Current pilot programs, such as the N.C. virtual charter school pilot program or the Opportunity Scholarships program, also described as a pilot, would not be required to adhere to the new standards.

News

After a slow start thanks to snow and ice wreaking havoc on legislative meeting schedules for the past two weeks, members of the House K-12 Education committee finally gathered this morning to get acquainted and begin moving legislation.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), co-chair of the committee, introduced House Bill 18, “Planning Year for CIHS,” which would provide institutions seeking Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) status (also known as early college high schools) with a planning year prior to opening.

Members of the committee approved the bill, but stripped its $750,000 appropriation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Education Innovation.

Also up for debate was HB35, “Education Innovation Task Force,” which Rep. Elmore said would offer a more permanent solution for the work of the Education Innovation study committee by establishing a permanent entity to examine innovative practices happening in schools across the state of North Carolina.

The task force would comprise 19 politically appointed members that would include teachers, parents, administrators and lawmakers.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin, Wayne) stressed the importance of choosing for the task force teachers and school officials who are near the end of their careers. “I have found in my district a tremendous hesitancy for school teachers and school personnel to speak up out of various concerns that they have from the administrative level,” said Dixon.

“There’s great wisdom to be gained once teachers who have been in the trenches for a long time understand where the problems are and are unencumbered by the fear of retaliation if they speak up,” said Dixon.

Members approved HB35.

Earlier this morning, the joint education appropriations committee met to continue the orientation process before getting down to work on the state education budget. For a thorough look at how the state funds North Carolina’s schools, check out this presentation by the Fiscal Research Division’s Brian Matteson.