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State Lawmakers To Reconvene After Governor's Veto

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley vetoed a teacher-licensing bill Thursday that he said would lower professional standards in the classroom, creating a showdown with legislators who overwhelmingly approved the measure.

House Bill 706

, sought by school administrators and local education boards struggling to fill thousands of classroom vacancies annually, would have loosened the requirements out-of-state teachers must meet to get hired.

"This bill reduces North Carolina's teaching standards to the lowest in the nation," Easley said during his first public veto during nearly five years in office.

Easley said that a compromise with legislators and educators had not been reached despite weeks of negotiations, setting up the possibility that lawmakers may try to override the veto.

The measure approved in the Legislature last month would have designated out-of-state schoolteachers as "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act if they earned that distinction in their home states.

The bill also would have removed a requirement that new middle school and high school teachers pass standardized tests of the subject matter they would teach.

Standing beside North Carolina Association of Educators and state Board of Education members, Easley said the move would create the false impression that incoming teachers meet North Carolina certification standards. The bill also usurps the board's licensing authority, he said.

"If our teachers aren't highly qualified, we are not going to designate them as highly qualified," Easley added. "We're not going to lie to the parents of the state who have children in the school system."

Accommodations made in Georgia this year to meet the "highly qualified" requirements, for example, raise questions about teacher quality coming from that state, the governor said.

"I call these lipstick-on-a-pig pieces of legislation," Easley said after stamping "VETO" on the bill before reporters and television cameras.

"You can take a pig and put lipstick on it and call it Monique but it's still a pig," he added. "And you can take an unqualified teacher and pass a law that says she's qualified or he's qualified. But they still are not."

But many lawmakers disagree with the governor's take on the bill.

"We've got our governor worried about putting makeup on barnyard animals instead of focusing on how we're going to provide teachers to educate our kids," said Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange and Caswell counties.

Lawmakers will have to return to Raleigh before Oct. 12 to decide whether to accept a compromise or attempt to override his veto, which requires the vote of three-fifths of the members present in each chamber.

Because the bill had virtually no opposition, lawmakers say they should have no problem overriding the veto. The bill passed unanimously in the state House by a vote of 113-0, and by a vote of 45-4 in the Senate. It will take just 72 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate to override the veto.

"The governor then vetoing that without, what I can tell, is any real good reason and then bringing us back into session to deal with that. I don't believe that's going to be a popular move," Faison said.

If the bill fails, school districts will continue to have trouble filling positions permanently, said Katherine Joyce with the North Carolina Association of School Administrators.

"How much lower can you get then having long-term substitutes staffing classrooms on a daily basis?" Joyce asked.

The State Board of Education is willing to work with the bill sponsors to give local districts more hiring flexibility. In April, the board gave teachers at least three ways of meeting certification that didn't require taking a standardized test.

The policy "gives superintendents more flexibility to bring in teachers than ever before," board chairman Howard Lee said. But Joyce said the changes didn't remove the red tape that keeps out-of-state teachers from coming to North Carolina.

Easley still has 18 bills to consider before Sunday night's veto deadline. He can either sign bills into law, veto them or let them become law without his signature.

The veto is Easley's sixth since taking office since 2001. Easley was the first governor to use the veto after voters approved the power in a 1996 referendum.

Easley said he held a public veto ceremony because the bill "hurts the state so badly and is so dishonest ... that it needs public scrutiny and people need to cry out and say, 'This has to change.'"

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