Thursday, 18 April 2019 11:57

Senate Committee backs key education-reform bills

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RALEIGH — Wednesday was a busy day for the Senate Education Committee, which approved six bills during its April 17 meeting. Three of them directly affect K-12 education.


Senate Leader Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, kicked off the meeting with an explanation of his sponsored bill: the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019.

Senate Bill 438 makes a variety of changes to the Read to Achieve, the state’s K-3 literacy program aimed at improving reading scores of public school students statewide. Changes include establishing individual reading plans, creating the Digital Children’s Reading Initiative, creating the Comprehensive Plan to Improve Literacy Instruction, creating a uniform reporting structure for Read to Achieve data, expanding the Wolfpack WORKS program, as well as a few other new instructional requirements.

Berger said that Read to Achieve hasn’t made the gains promised. While some school districts have seen improvements in reading scores, Berger said others haven’t benefited as much.

“There have been, I might as well acknowledge it, some disappointments as far as what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes,” Berger told committee members. “The key thing is we recognize that and are trying to make corrections.”

Berger said one strategy to address the lack of progress are individual reading plans or IRPs. Students identified as reading below grade level would receive an IRP specifically curated to help them improve. The Senate leader said Florida and Mississippi have similar programs and they appear to be working.

The overhaul of the Read to Achieve program also includes convening education leaders to devise a long-term plan to improve reading scores. Under S.B. 438, the Superintendent of Public Instruction will assemble a task force with members of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina, the State Board of Community Colleges, the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the State Board of Education, and the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission. The group will develop a more efficient plan to improve literacy.

“We are hoping that by bringing everyone to the table to develop a long-term plan we can streamline the process,” Berger said.

The committee approved S.B. 438, which goes to the Rules and Operations of the Senate.

Committee members also authorized a bill letting some retired teachers return to work. Under Senate Bill 399, retired teachers could teach in high-need schools without affecting their pensions.

A high-need school is defined as a Title 1 school — a school with a large concentration of low-income students — or a school that has received a D or an F on the school performance report card. Returning retired teachers would be paid on the first step of the teacher salary schedule, between $35,000 and $40,000 a year. The retired teachers also could collect their pensions. An amendment to the bill would allow the teachers to receive local salary supplements.

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, one of the bill sponsors, said S.B. 399 is necessary to help address teacher shortages. Horner said under the bill, seasoned and qualified teachers could fill vacancies.

The education committee backed Senate Bill 621, an act to ease testing in the state’s public schools.

S.B. 621 is the Senate’s answer to a similar House proposal.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, one of the primary sponsors, said eliminating some standardized tests would allow teachers to focus more on teaching and less on testing.

The bill directs the State Board of Education to eliminate the N.C. Final Exams. Additionally, the bill requires local school districts to report how many hours students spend on standardized tests. If either the amount of tests required or the amount of hours spent on testing is more than the state average, then the local school district is required to submit to the SBE and Department of Public Instruction a plan to reduce the test burden.