NCSBA Legislative Update – March 19, 2021

 

Status of Notable Bills

HB 32: Equity in Opportunity Act (three of the four primary sponsors are former school board members: Representatives Dean Arp, R-Union; Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke; Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth; Jason Saine, R-Lincoln) will be heard in the House Education K-12 Committee next Tuesday, March 23, at 1:00 pm. The bill does the following:

  • Expands eligibility for recipients of opportunity scholarships and personal education savings accounts
  • Increases the opportunity scholarship grant cap by an estimated $446 in the 2022-2023 school year, with an additional increase in the 2023-2024 school year
  • Increases the maximum personal education savings account amount per eligible student by an estimated $1,091
  • Authorizes counties to appropriate local funds toward these scholarships, beginning with the 2021-2022 fiscal year

HB 32 does not include a method of measuring educational attainment or success when using these public tax dollars. If you have concerns about the bill, please contact Committee members prior to the Tuesday meeting. For a more thorough bill summary, click here to access a previous Legislative Update.

HB 335: Timely Local Payments to Charter Schools (primary sponsors: Representatives John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg; Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance; Jon Hardister, R-Guilford; Jason Saine, R-Lincoln), which was filed this week, enforces a financial penalty on LEAs that do not transfer funds to a charter school within 30 days of receiving a written request from the charter school. The bill increases the amount that a LEA must transfer to a charter school by 8%, plus accrued interest, if the LEA fails to meet its 30-day deadline. Charter schools receive funds equal to the per pupil share of the local current expense fund. Charter school advocates say that HB 335 is necessary because some LEAs do not transfer funds on-time, and it can sometimes take several months before funds are received.

HB 205: Abuse & Neglect Resources in Public Schools (primary sponsors: Representatives Ted Davis, R-New Hanover; Donna White, R-Johnston; Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston; Pat Hurley, R-Randolph) was approved by the House Committee on Families, Children, and Aging Policy and will be heard in the House Education K-12 Committee next Tuesday, March 23, at 1:00 pm. This bill requires public schools to provide students in grades 6-12 with information and resources on child abuse (including sexual abuse) and neglect. The information and resources must be distributed to students in a document at the beginning of each school year, displayed on a poster, and include warning signs of abuse and how to report it.

HB 136: Encourage Healthy NC Food in Schools (primary sponsors: Representatives Julia Howard, R-Davie; Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba; Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin) was approved by the House Agriculture Committee and referred to the House Rules Committee, which is the last stop before a House vote. The bill requires public schools to ensure that 100% muscadine grape juice is available to students in all schools. It does not include an appropriation.

HB 284: Repeal Right of Action/Capital Outlay Fund (primary sponsors: Representatives Larry Potts, R-Davidson; Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck; Ben Moss, R-Richmond; Mark Pless, R-Haywood), which removes local school boards’ ability to take county commissioners to court if capital funding disputes are not resolved in mediation, is currently scheduled to pass through four different committees before going to the House floor for a vote.

Athletics Attendance Bills

This week SB 170: Students, Parents, Community Rights Act (primary sponsors: Senators Kevin Corbin, R-Macon; Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland; Dean Proctor, R-Catawba) passed the Senate and was referred to the House Rules Committee. This bill allows up to 50% occupancy at outdoor sporting events in 11 counties.

In addition to SB 170, five other local athletics attendance bills have been filed since the beginning of session (HB 118, HB 129, SB 115, SB 232, SB 256), and two have passed their originating chambers (HB 118 and SB 115). SB 232 and SB 256 are on Monday’s Senate calendar for a potential vote. Two statewide athletics attendance bills have also passed their originating chambers but have not seen action since the beginning of March (SB 116 and HB 128, which includes graduation ceremonies and other outdoor events). All six local bills affect a total of 47 counties and would not require the Governor’s approval. All the athletics attendance bills exceed the Governor’s current 30% capacity limit at sports arenas and fields, which expires on March 26.

Budget Process

Joint appropriations committees will wrap up their meetings next week, which will be followed by the start of the Senate budget process. We have heard that the Governor plans to release his budget next Wednesday, which will be presented to the full Joint Appropriations Committee next Thursday. Dependent upon this schedule, we will provide highlights of the Governor’s budget in next week’s Legislative Update.

Bill Chart

Click here for a chart of all education-related bills that NCBSA is tracking.

 

Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its physical distancing guidance between students in schools to be at least 3 feet instead of the previously recommended 6 feet:

  • Students in elementary schools “should be at least 3 feet apart.”
  • Middle and high school students “should be at least 3 feet apart in areas of low, moderate or substantial community transmission”, but “in areas of high community transmission…should be 6 feet apart.”

Masks remain mandatory, and 6 feet of distance should still be maintained:

  • Between adults (school staff)
  • Between adults and students
  • When masks cannot be worn, like when eating
  • During indoor activities, like band and sports
  • In common areas

This updated CDC guidance follows a study published last week that found similar rates of COVID-19 transmission in schools with 6 feet of physical distancing and schools with 3 feet of physical distancing.

 

On Monday, the State Board of Education and DPI submitted a 52-page Comprehensive Remedial Plan for the decades-long Leandro court case that addresses how the State can abide by its constitutional obligation to provide every student the opportunity to a sound, basic education. The plan currently costs $5.6 billion and addresses the seven key areas outlined in the Superior Court’s January 2020 Consent Order and the WestEd report that was released in December 2019:

  1. A high-quality teacher in each classroom
  2. A high-quality principal in each school
  3. A finance system that provides adequate, equitable, and predictable funding to school districts
  4. An accountability system that reliably assesses multiple measures of student performance
  5. An assistance and turnaround function to provide support to low-performing schools and districts
  6. A system of early education to ensure that all students enter kindergarten on track for school success
  7. Alignment of high school to postsecondary and career expectations

The long-term plan outlines actions aligned with the seven key areas that the State plans to achieve by 2028. The appendix includes costs tables for the Plan, with some items not yet including cost totals. In addition to the SBE and DPI, the Plan includes the General Assembly and the Governor as responsible parties for carrying out the Plan’s goal. The Plan was submitted to Superior Court Judge David Lee, who needs to sign off on it. A court hearing has not yet been scheduled. For more background on the Leandro case, click here.

 

The SBE met for a called meeting on Monday to approve the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II (ESSER II) application and DPI’s Lighting Our Way Forward amended guidance for reopening K-12 public schools. Federal law dictates that at least 90% ($1.44 billion) of the ESSER II funds be distributed directly to public school units, with the remaining 10% ($161.3 million) being reserved for DPI. The ESSER II application lists allowable uses of the funds, including:

  • Addressing learning loss
  • Sanitizing and cleaning supplies
  • Mental health services

DPI staff added that teacher bonuses are an allowable use of the federal funds. The ESSER II application is scheduled to open on April 1 and DPI hopes to have all submissions by May 31. Click here to access the ESSER II draft allotments for each public-school unit. ESSER II funds are available through September 30, 2023.

DPI’s Lighting Our Way Forward guidance operationalizes DHHS’s StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. With the recent updates to the Toolkit and the passage of SB 220: The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021 (SL 2021-4), DPI amended its guidance to include the following:

  • K-5 students are required to be in school at least four days a week under Plan A
  • Students in grades 6-12 are required to be in school either in Plan A at least four days a week or Plan B to the maximum extent possible
  • Plan C is not an option unless it is needed to ensure the health and safety of students in a specific school or district

DPI staff stated that because charter schools were not included in SB 220, they do not have the authority to require more than what is included in the Toolkit, which allows elementary schools to be in Plan A and middle and high schools to be in Plan B. (This week HB 324: Plan A for Charter Schools was filed, which allows K-12 charter schools to return to school under Plan A.) The DPI guidance takes effect on April 1.

Click here to access all meeting materials.

 

This week Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson announced the creation of the FACTS Task Force: Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students. “The primary goal of this task force is to allow the voices of concerned citizens to be heard regarding public K-12 education in North Carolina.” The task force seems to be in response to the State Board of Education’s (SBE) recent 7-5 approval of new K-12 social studies standards, which the Lieutenant Governor voted against citing the more than 30,000 people that signed his online petition stating their concern about the content of the standards. The task force’s webpage allows people to submit concerns to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, which will use the submissions to “hold the system accountable.” Members of the task force include NC Senator Kevin Corbin, R-Macon, who is a former local school board member; NC Representative David Willis, R-Union; SBE Member Olivia Oxendine; Lindalyn Kakadelis, who is a charter school advocate; Dr. Terry Stoops with the John Locke Foundation; Union County School Board Member Melissa Merrell; Onslow County School Board Member Melissa Oakley; and Judy Henion with the Classroom Teachers Association of NC. The Lieutenant Governor’s Office has not officially released the task force’s full membership. For an article covering the announcement of the task force, click here.

 

The following education-related bills were filed this week:

Statewide Bills

Local Bill

 

Tuesday, March 23

1:00 pm – House Education K-12 – Legislative Offices Building, rm 643 (live stream)

2:00 pm – House Pensions and Retirement – Legislative Offices Building, rm 423 (live stream)

Wednesday, March 24

11:00 am – House State Government – Legislative Offices Building, rm 643 (live stream)

 

 

 

Bruce Mildwurf
Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
bmildwurf@ncsba.org

Richard Bostic
Assistant Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
rbostic@ncsba.org

Rebekah Howard
Governmental Relations Research Specialist
N.C. School Boards Association
rhoward@ncsba.org

Rebekah HowardNCSBA Legislative Update – March 19, 2021