Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

Former deputy state superintendent rejected for Mississippi’s top K-12 education post

Rober Taylor

A funny thing happened to former N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) administrator Robert Taylor en route to becoming Mississippi’s second black state superintendent of education. His nomination was roundly rejected by that state’s Republican-led Senate this week in a largely partisan vote that angered many Black lawmakers.

Old fashioned Southern racism coupled  with comments Taylor made in 2020 article on the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Black Studies website discussing the university’s and the state’s racist past likely derailed Taylor’s nomination, Black lawmakers said.

“The members of the Black caucus, we’re all disappointed that he was rejected,” Sen. David Jordan, a Democrat from Greenwood, Mississippi told Policy Watch. “When they rejected him [Taylor], they rejected someone that God made. He’s not responsible for being Black, so all that I can see there is racism.”

Taylor is a Mississippi native and 1990 graduate of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg.

He joined NCDPI in early 2021 as deputy secretary of student and school advancement before being hired away by the Mississippi State Board of Education in November. He’d been working as Mississippi’s state superintendent since Jan. 17.

Taylor began his 10th year as superintendent of Bladen County Schools in 2020. Before taking the job in Bladen County, he was assistant superintendent for Clinton City Schools.

Jordan said there’s no appeal process, so the Senate’s vote is final.

“It’s over for Dr. Taylor,” Jordan said.

The Mississippi state board named an interim superintendent this week and said in a press release that it would set a timeline for its search for a permanent superintendent at a later date.

“The State Board of Education conducted a fair, competitive and rigorous application process to select the most qualified candidate to fulfill the duties of state superintendent of education,” Chairwoman Rosemary Aultman said in a statement. “The search firm we hired was helpful in giving the board direction, and we are confident we selected the best candidate.”

The Senate’s rejection of Taylor was mostly along party lines. Several Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of Taylor’s nomination.

Mississippi news outlets reported that the Senate rejected Taylor’s nomination due to comments he made about a newsletter he published as an undergraduate student at Southern Miss titled “The Unheard Word,” which he said gave Black students a voice on campus that the campus paper often ignored.

“‘The Unheard Word,’ in my opinion, recognized that The University of Southern Mississippi was in the most racist state in the Union, and that while historical focus has always been on the University of Mississippi, Southern Miss had a past that was tainted as well,” Taylor told the Center for Black Studies.

Mississippi’s Black lawmakers said Taylor was treated unfairly, the Associated Press reported.

“Dr. Taylor did everything that we tell people in the state of Mississippi to do — get a good education, try to use that good education, go out and get your experience and then come back to the state of Mississippi and give Mississippi all of your educational talents and all of your educational experience and give back to the community that gave to you,” Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, Mississippi said.

Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers said Taylor’s performance as superintendent of Bladen County Schools worked against him. The North Carolina School Report Cards website shows that eight of the districts 15 schools earned C letter grades, six earned D’s and one school received an F in 2019. Letter grades were suspended the next two years due to the pandemic. Taylor had joined NCDPI by the time they resumed in 2022.

House Republicans revive ‘academic transparency’ legislation in budget proposal

A display of banned books at the San Jose Public Library (Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library via Flickr).

The North Carolina House budget proposal calls for a 10% pay increase for teachers over the next two years, but would have to work harder for the extra money under a substantive provision that would require “Academic Transparency.”

The House budget bill would require teachers to prominently post, course materials, lessons plans and supplemental materials on school websites.

“The governing body of a public school unit [school board] shall ensure that the following information for each school it governs is prominently displayed on the school website, organized, at a minimum, by subject area and grade level,” the budget provision says.

The academic transparency provision in House Bill 259 is mostly the language from House Bill 755 that was filed and backed by Republicans in 2021.

Course materials include all instructional materials, supplemental materials, videos, digital materials, websites and other online applications.

A teacher’s lesson plan from the previous year would have to be made available on a school’s website by June 30 of each year.

In 2021, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, who sponsored HB 755, said it would improve academic outcomes for students by involving parents in their children’s education.

“I think it may be pretty well established over many years that where parents are actually active and engaged in their children’s education, that their children have better outcomes,” Blackwell said.

Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, said HB 755 would allow parents to review teachers lesson plans before the start of the school year.

“To me, this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just going teach the kids and we’re not going to try to indoctrinate them and teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge and the ability to write and the ability to read,” McNeely said.

The budget bill also requires school boards to establish a “community media advisory committee” to investigate and evaluate challenges from parents, teachers and members of the public who deem certain instructional material and supplemental materials unfit. The State Board of Education would be required to establish a “State Community Advisory Committee to review challenges to instructional and supplemental materials on appeal.

“The State Committee’s determination shall be limited to considerations of whether the material is unfit on the specific grounds of the material being (i) obscene, (ii) inappropriate to the age, maturity, or grade level of the students, or (iii) not aligned with the  standard course of study,” the provision says.

House committee Ok’s bill to increase penalties for educators, other school personnel who engage in sexual misconduct with students

A bill that targets teachers and other school personnel who engage in sex or sex acts with students continues to make its way through the House.

On Tuesday, House Bill 142, titled “Protect Our Students Act” received a favorable hearing from the House Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee.

If HB 142 becomes law, school personnel who engage in sex with students could be charged with a class G felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 47 months in prison.

Taking indecent liberties with a student is currently a Class I felony in North Carolina, which is punishable for up to 24 months in prison.

Teachers and other school personnel could also be charged for engaging in sexual activity with recent high school graduates up to six months after the former student finishes school.

“It addresses grooming where, unfortunately, someone that is out to do bad will purposefully engage in a student in the attempt to get them groomed to the point that when they exit the school, then a relationship could begin,” said State Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and bill sponsor.

School leaders who fail to report misconduct to the State Board of Education could be charged with a class I felony. Educators also risk losing pensions for engaging in sexual misconduct with students.

Torbett noted that HB 142 originated in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction after State Superintendent Catherine Truitt found gaps in the educator license revocation process.

Truitt told lawmakers last month that there have been 124 cases of sexual misconduct since 2016 involving students that led to a license revocation, suspension or surrender.

Torbett said there are likely more incidents than the 20 or so reported each year because reports only include the misconduct of licensed education professionals.

“Therefore, if someone employed by schools such as bus driver, coach or teacher’s assistant who wouldn’t have a teaching license commits one of these offenses, they wouldn’t be reflected in these 20 a year number,” Torbett said.

HB 142 would require schools to show students in grades 6-12 videos that explain the warning signs of abuse or neglect. Students would also received instruction in how to confidentially report such incidents.

Child care teachers would become eligible for child care subsidy under House Bill 483

A House bill filed Monday would establish a pilot program to allow child care teachers employed full time by a licensed child care program to automatically become eligible to receive a child care subsidy for their preschool-age children.

House Bill 483 was filed by Rep. Davis Willis, a Union County Republican.

Under the bill, the General Assembly would appropriate $10 million to the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education for each year of the 2023-2025 biennium to pay for the pilot program.

Counties that have lost the highest percentage of child care workers during the last 10 years would be chosen for the pilot program.

To be eligible for the subsidy, a child care teacher must have completed, be in the process of completing or enroll in the first available semester of an Introduction to Early Childhood class in a state community college.

Teachers who do not already hold an Early Childhood Education Infant/Toddler Certificate or Child Development Certificate must commit to completing either certificate within 18 months. Certificate courses would be paid for by the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood North Carolina Scholarship Program.

According to the N.C. Early Education Coalition, child care teachers are overwhelmingly women and primarily women of color. They earn an average of $12 per hour — less than $25,000 a year — even though 62% of them hold at least an associate’s degree. Meanwhile, the average cost of infant child care is $9,255, which is more than the cost of a year of public college tuition,

Here is  additional information the coalition shared about child care teachers on its website:

  •  One in five teachers doesn’t have health insurance, and 38% of teachers have relied on some form of public assistance.
  •  Child care teachers are seven times more likely to live in poverty than public school kindergarten teachers.
  • Teachers working with infants and toddlers earn the least, regardless of educational level. This wage gap disproportionately affects people of color, who are more likely to work with younger age groups.
  • There is an acute workforce shortage and the talent pipeline is shrinking. One in five teachers predicts they will leave the field in three years.   

Willis also sponsored House Bill 322 to create public/private pilot program under which employers, employees and the state would share the cost of child care.

HB 322 would require the state Division of Child Development and Early Education to partner with N.C. Partnership for Children to implement the “Tri-Share Child” program to make high-quality child care affordable and accessible to working families and to help employers retain and attract workers and to help stabilize the state’s childcare industry.

Senate bill would ban delta-8, delta-9 from public school buildings, school-sponsored events

A bill filed Thursday in the state Senate would ban the use of hemp products such as Delta-8 and Delta-9 from school buildings, grounds and school-sponsored events.

Senate Bill 366 titled “Ban Delta-8 & Delta-9 on School Grounds” would prohibit  hemp products and their “synthetic counterparts that are designed, manufactured, or sold to be inhaled or otherwise consumed, including the substances commonly known as “delta-8,” “delta-9,” and “CBD.”

Delta-8 is a hemp-derived product that’s manufactured from the cannabidiol that naturally occurs in hemp. Users report highs after use that are milder than those from marijuana. Delta-9 is a more potent version.

Delta-8 and delta-9 are legal in North Carolina for residents 21 and older.

The products are legal due to a loop hole created when the 2018 Farm Bill was passed. Hemp became legal and could be grown as long as it contained less than 0.3 % Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.

SB 366 would require school boards to adopt policies prohibiting the use of hemp products by any person in school buildings, in school facilities on school campuses or any other school property.

Hemp products would be allowed in instructional or research activities as long as they are conducted or supervised by a faculty member and does not include smoking, chewing or ingesting the hemp product.

Paramedics were called to a middle school in Mooresville last May after a student brought delta-9 THC gummies to a middle school and some of the students became after ingesting the substance.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has warned consumers that delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use and may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk. Ingesting the substances can lead to hallucinations, vomiting, tremor, anxiety, dizziness, confusion and loss of consciousness, the FDA warns.

SB 366 was filed by Sen. Michael A. Lazzara, an Onslow County Republican, Sen. Jim Perry, a Lenoir County Republican and Sen. Tom McInnis, a Republican from Moore County.