North Carolina lawmakers began their “short” session this week with a flurry of filing activity, mostly centered on school safety but also delving into principal pay and whether or not schools should be forced to post the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on campus.
The latter bill, filed Thursday by several House Republicans, is likely to raise some eyebrows.
House Bill 965—co-sponsored by Bert Jones, Linda Johnson, Dean Arp and Phil Shepard—would require that public schools, including both traditional schools and charters, display the state and national mottoes in “at least one prominent location of each school, such as an entry way, cafeteria or other common area.”
The national motto is “In God We Trust.” The state motto, “Esse quam videri,” means “To Be, Rather Than To Seem” in Latin.
State House lawmakers, meanwhile, released a handful of bills that follow this year’s recommendations of a school safety legislative panel. The committee met after a February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., touched off a wave of student-based activism, including calls for gun reforms in North Carolina.
As expected, the GOP lawmakers that led the panel will focus on school resource officers, peer counseling programs and threat assessment, rather than guns.
Among other things, the bills—filed by Republicans like House Majority Leader John Bell, David Lewis and John Torbett—would budget $1.8 million in grant funds for school resource officers in elementary and middle schools.
They would set state standards for school resource officer training and reporting while ordering the state to ready assessments of “facility vulnerability.”
And the panel’s legislation would direct publicly-funded traditional schools and charters—as well as private schools receiving state-funded vouchers—to develop school risk management plans, hold school safety exercises and provide details about their plans to local law enforcement.
Such provisions won’t spur controversy in the legislature, and are likely to be passed speedily.
Senate lawmakers also moved to address some critics’ concerns with a GOP-led, principal pay overhaul last year. Influential Republicans Jerry Tillman, a former school administrator, and David Curtis filed Senate Bill 718 Wednesday, which would extend “hold harmless” provisions for veteran administrators worried about impending pay cuts, a major point of contention for some district leaders and members of the State Board of Education.
GOP lawmakers moved last year to shift away from principal pay that’s based on years of experience and advanced degrees, instead determining pay according to school enrollment. Principals would also be eligible for thousands of dollars in bonuses if students score higher on exams or they boost performance in a struggling school.
Critics of the Republican plan—which lifted base pay for new principals but may have yielded pay cuts for some veteran administrators—worried the new model would speed early retirements.
Katherine Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA), said the new bill addresses those concerns.
Joyce said the draft proposal would also create a new, three-year “hold harmless” easing transitions for high-performing principals into low-performing schools. Critics said the state reforms would discourage top principals from moving into schools that need the most improvement.
And this week’s bill combines the two principal bonus programs, ensuring administrators who made gains in their first year at a low-performing school aren’t left out.
“These are good changes overall that NCASA can support and are in line with changes we have requested lawmakers to consider,” Joyce said Thursday.
Legislators began restructuring principal pay in recent years after the state’s administrator pay was ranked near the bottom of the nation.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are expected to announce details of their budget plans in the coming weeks. Senate and House leaders say they’ve agreed to a spending target just short of $24 billion.
Legislators were welcomed back to session Wednesday by roughly 20,000 protesters demanding better teacher pay and better school funding.