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N.C. Lawmakers Push Several Education Bills Before Legislative Deadline

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North Carolina lawmakers passed several education-related bills on Wednesday, just hours before their legislative “crossover” deadline. Most bills that do not involve money must pass either chamber by Thursday at midnight to have a greater chance of surviving the session. Education bills passed by either chamber include:  

Greater Penalty For Assaulting Teachers

The Senate passed a bill that would increase the penalty for students 16 or older who assault school employees. The penalty for the first offense would stay the same: a Class A-one misdemeanor. The second offense would result in a Class H Felony, while a third offense would charge a student with a Class G Felony.

The law would not apply to students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).  

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), argued more students are threatening or assaulting school employees.

“And some things are just not working,” he said, referencing efforts like suspensions and counseling.

Opponents of the bill argued charging students with felonies could harm their futures.

“We are potentially ruining the possibility of getting a job, being gainfully employed, having access to a high-quality education," said Democratic Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram.

The bill is now before the House.

Education delivery bills
The House passed three education bills, nearly unanimously, as part of a legislative effort to “fundamentally change how the state delivers education,” according to Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union). The three proposals do not have funding attached to them yet, and still need approval from the Senate.  

One bill creates a scholarship program for people looking to enter teaching. In return, participants would commit four years to teaching in a hard-to-staff position. When discussing the bill, many legislators made references to the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program which the state began phasing out a few years ago.

“We’ve lost the Teaching Fellows program and short of that, this is the next best thing,” said Rep. Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland).

The Fellows program is an opportunity available only for graduating high school seniors. The proposed program would be open to incoming college freshmen, college students and people who already have degrees.

The second bill would create competitive grants to education programs that prepare principals.

“Great principals make great schools,” Horn said.

A third bill would push for more classrooms use digital materials in lieu of textbooks. It would require the State Board of Education to develop and implement digital standards for schools. 

Sharing money with charter schools 

Under a Senate bill, traditional public schools would be required to share certain funds with charter schools, including local sales tax revenue, donations and grants. 

Supporters of the bill argue that money should be fairly distributed among charter and traditional public schools.

“We have asked our state’s lawmakers to go back to the way things were in 1996 when local money would follow a child no matter which public school the child attended,” said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Critics of the proposal worry that gifts and grants meant for traditional public schools could unfairly go to charter schools.

“A gift or grant would have to be shared unless that donor designated it not to be, but many times the donors do not,” argued Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg).

The proposal now heads to the House.  

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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