House Committee works on Omnibus bill for education fixes related to COVID-19

RALEIGH — On April 16, the education working group for the House Select Committee on COVID-19 discussed a draft omnibus bill that includes a number of waivers and legislative fixes for North Carolina schools.

The draft legislation includes giving 1-year waivers for End of Grade (EOG) tests, End of Course (EOC) exams, K-3 reading diagnostic assessments, summer reading camps, school performance grades and WorkKeys. School report cards and A-F grades are also waived under the draft bill.

Co-Chair Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) noted that the working group had “not yet dealt with the calendar.” He went on to say that the topic is “incredibly complex and they were working with national and state officials on this issue.

Horn said that the education working group will likely vote on the omnibus proposal during next week’s meeting.

The draft bill would also include a 1-year extension to North Carolina teachers whose licenses expire this year. Additional provisions of note include revising teacher observation requirements, waiving CPR graduation requirements, and allowing principals to make promotion decisions for 3rd-graders just like other grades.

Discussions also included the recommendation of waiving testing as well as the nine-month instruction and reporting requirements for non-public schools.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) asked why the committee was waiving testing requirements for homeschools.

In an effort to be consistent, we are waiving these requirements for all students,” Horn said.

While not on the agenda or in the bill, there was brief discussion about the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and the funding involved.

Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) stated she did not believe we should not be granting any more funding flexibility than is already there when it comes to the OSP.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with providing more or less money, it’s just about moving everything out,” said Rep. John Fraley (R-Iredell), a co-chair of the working group.

It was also noted that the OSP already has a 1-year carry forward for funds set in the statute and there would be no new funds carried forward. In addition, the funding source was clarified that the program does not steal from the education budget.

Private schools participating in the OSP will also have testing and related reporting and evaluation requirements waived for 2019-20.

Under the proposed omnibus, identification of new low-performing schools and new low-performing local school administrative units will be waived for the current school year and will maintain identifications based on 2018-2019 data.

The requirement that a new school be selected for the Innovative School District (ISD) based on data from the 2019-2020 school year is repealed in the draft bill. Schools added to the qualifying list will be based on 2018-2019 data and will remain on the qualifying list for the 2020-2021 school year.

The group decided that K-3 class size reductions planned for public schools in the 2020-21 school year should be pushed back a year. The average K-3 class size in 2019-20 was 19 with individual class size of no more than 22. For 2020-21, the average class size for K-3 was required to shift to 18, and an individual class size of no more than 21.

A portion of the discussion turned to Read to Achieve and grade-level retention issues.

Reading camps will be waived as will the online posting of K-3 reading outcomes. The draft bill says that reading data collected prior to the school closure period will be reported to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

For third-grade, principals are being granted the ability to make third-grade promotion decisions in the same manner as for other grades.

In order to keep reading skills on track, the omnibus order that a reading assessment will be given upon entering fourth-grade “no later than the tenth 10 school day of the 2020-2021 school year” and that schools “shall administer to all fourth-grade students the end-of-year diagnostic assessment otherwise required for third-grade students” per state statute.

Mandatory advanced math placement is waived in the bill due to being based on EOG or EOC scores which are not taking place this year. The draft bill states this placement instead ” may be determined based on local board policy, in consultation with 50 a student’s 2019-2020 school year math teacher.”

Additional sections to the draft omnibus include teacher and administrator effectiveness and performance-related waivers, principal recruitment supplement eligibility continuation and Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) data from the 2019-2020 school year.

Teachers and school employees have continued to receive pay since schools shut down due to Governor Cooper’s executive order. Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) asked if teacher pay raises would be addressed by the education working group since no deal on teacher pay was reached at the end of the long session.

Horn responded that the purpose of the working group is to address COVID-19 related issues only.

Last year, Democrats in the state senate maintained Cooper’s veto of the budget and would not override his veto of a stand-alone teacher pay raise compromise bill which came within less than .5% of the governor’s own demands.

Modifications to teacher preparatory programs include waiving requirements for minimum admissions, clinical internships, certain performance data and other factors.

More information on the proposed omnibus can be found on the House Select Committee on COVID-19 website under the appropriate working group documents folder: https://www.ncleg.gov/Committees/CommitteeInfo/HouseSelect/199

About A.P. Dillon 279 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_