by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Bills, bills every where,
And so the Stoops did think;
Bills, bills every where,
May push a man to drink.
(With apologies to Coleridge…)
I have numerous pieces of legislation, including the state budget, on my radar, but here are a few key ones:
Senate Bill 815: Ensuring Privacy of Student Records: Senators Barefoot, Brock, and Soucek are the primary sponsors of SB 815, a long overdue measure that would ensure that government agencies secure student data, inform parents about data collected on their children, and provide them opt-out opportunities.
Members of the House included data collection prohibitions in their Common Core repeal bill, House Bill 1061: Replace CCSS with NC’s Higher Academic Standards (see Section 7). Nevertheless, there are no assurances that HB 1061 will pass in its current form, particularly because it is competing with Senate Bill 812: Maintain State Authority Over Academic Standards. I believe that legislators should take care of the data collection piece through SB 815 and allow debate over HB 1061 and SB 812 to focus exclusively on academic standards and Common Core.
House Bill 1164: SBOE Rulemaking Clarification: Representatives Moffitt, Murry, Brian Brown, and Brandon have sponsored an incredibly important bill that would clarify that the State Board of Education is subject to rule making under the Administrative Procedure Act.
In 1985, the General Assembly established the Office of Administrative Hearings to carry out the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The APA increases transparency and accountability by requiring state agencies to follow established procedures for approving operational rules and policies. Despite the importance of the rulemaking process and the obligation of the N.C. State Board of Education (SBE) to follow it, those of us who follow the SBE hear bellyaching every time the issue of rulemaking arises. SBE Chairman Bill Cobey has even called on legislators to exempt the board from the APA. After all, Cobey’s predecessors, Howard Lee and Bill Harrison, largely ignored the process without consequence.
Senate Bill 793: Charter School Modifications includes two key provisions. It requires that charter schools adhere to the state’s Public Records Act, a source of controversy and confusion within the charter school movement. Charter schools are public schools. Thus, I agree that charter schools should be subject to open records laws that apply to their district school counterparts. This would include information on government funds used for employee salaries, as well as expenditures on capital, goods, and services and the names of the vendors receiving these funds. I sympathize with those concerned about the effects of that public information on the morale and collegiality of employees, but I believe that the benefits of transparency outweigh those costs.
By far the most important aspect of SB 793 is the requirement that the State Board of Education adopt a process and rules for fast track replication of high quality charter schools currently operating in North Carolina. This is long overdue. North Carolina has some of the finest charter schools in the nation, but the state maintains regulations that impede the growth of successful charter schools. And our children are worse off because of it.
Virtual charter schools
Section 8.35 of the proposed House budget, Senate Bill 744: Appropriations Act of 2014, would initiate a virtual charter school pilot program. The pilot program would allow two virtual charter schools to operate in the state for four years and provide instruction for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. As it is currently written, an enrollment cap would restrict growth to 20 percent a year, so that a maximum of 2,600 students would be enrolled by the fourth year.
Increasing educational options is essential, and I think this is an excellent way to do it. For those hesitant to embrace the concept, the virtual charter schools have four years to demonstrate their effectiveness. If they are unable to do so, then they will be kindly escorted out of the state. If, however, parents clamor to enroll their children in the virtual charter schools (and I believe they will), then the state could simply make their operation permanent after the fourth year.
I have been asked whether I prefer House Bill 1061: Replace CCSS with NC’s Higher Academic Standards or Senate Bill 812: Maintain State Authority Over Academic Standards. I see strengths and weaknesses in both bills. For example, I believe that the review commission established by the House bill is too small, given the time and scope of the work that must be done. It is somewhat unreasonable to ask nine people to thoroughly review English and math standards for grades kindergarten through twelve. The Senate’s commission would have eleven appointees, which is better but still insufficient.
On the other hand, the House and Senate bills accomplish much-needed reform. Both establish independent commissions that would conduct a critical examination of Common Core standards and assessments. In addition, both would remove Common Core from state statute. In sum, either bill is better than what we have now. Legislators who are involved in the conference committee negotiations must try to reach a satisfactory compromise. The last thing we need is a legislative standoff that allows the status quo to endure.
Facts and Stats
Senate Bill 880: Education Simplification Amendment is the most important bill that will never pass. It is "an act to amend the Constitution of North Carolina to simplify the management of public primary and secondary education by providing for a secretary of education to replace the current system of a Superintendent of Public Instruction and State Board of Education.
Acronym of the Week
APA — Administrative Procedures Act
Quote of the Week
"The world is not going to be saved by legislation."
– William Howard Taft, Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers, 1916
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