One of the longest legislative sessions in more than a decade (possibly the longest since 2002) came to a close during the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Here’s a quick update on some last minute controversial proposals affecting public education that ultimately didn’t become law.
Charter school funding
Sen. Jerry Tillman breathed new life back into a proposal heard earlier this session that would have diverted funds typically reserved for traditional public schools over to charter schools.
Using the ‘gut and amend’ process, Tillman shoved the complicated language into a House bill that was previously about school playgrounds a week and a half before the close of session. Loads of push back ensued from the school boards association, school administrators and other education advocates.
The bill would have allowed charter schools to receive more federal and local tax dollars—as well as private grants— than to which they are currently entitled. And some of that money could have been reimbursements for services that charter schools may not be providing to students, like school lunches. (State law doesn’t require charter schools to provide school lunches, although many do participate in the federal school lunch program.)
Senate lawmakers approved the measure Monday evening and sent it back to the House for concurrence—but the bill was left to die last night. It could come back next year.
Republican House lawmakers successfully banded together Tuesday morning in an effort to block a proposal put forward by school voucher champion Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam that would have set up the state’s new school voucher program for expansion.
Stam gutted and amended S456 to require the state to award more Opportunity Scholarships (also known as school vouchers) to kindergartners and first graders, a move seen by some as a set up for the program’s expansion down the road.
But there appeared to be growing discontent among some Republican lawmakers over the school voucher program, as Rep. Bryan Holloway led efforts to block Stam’s proposal by telling his colleagues they “might find it interesting” to look at what kinds of schools voucher students are picking and choosing.
Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Smithfield) told colleagues that a private school in his district accepting school vouchers didn’t seem fit to take tax dollars.
“I went to visit this school [receiving school vouchers, in his district]. It’s in a back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half teachers,” said Rep. Daughtry. “And I think you need to go slow with Opportunity Scholarships. From what I saw…the school there that I visited didn’t seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to.”
Stam’s proposal was narrowly defeated in the House appropriations committee, 24-26, after a careful count of the ayes and noes.
Achievement school district
Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) pushed hard for months behind closed doors to pitch a proposal to his colleagues that would have created an ‘achievement school district’ in which some of North Carolina’s lowest performing schools would be placed, teachers and staff at those schools could be fired, and the schools would be subject to the management of for-profit (or not-for-profit, too) charter school operators tasked with bringing them up into the ranks of the state’s top performers.
The idea is controversial thanks to the mixed results its seen in places like Tennessee and Louisiana, coupled with the notion that for-profit charter operators subject to fewer checks and balances and not accountable to an elected school board would be tasked with the care of a vulnerable student population.
As the end of session neared, it began to look as if Bryan’s proposal would be heard publicly only at the very last minute—but ultimately the bill, which was another ‘gut and amend’ of a Senate proposal that had already passed that chamber, never made it into committee. Rumors of the idea being placed into a ‘study committee’ never materialized, but the pitch could come back next year.