Local News

State Legislature Meets Wednesday To Discuss Teacher Bill

Posted October 12, 2005 8:35 a.m. EDT

— Legislators on Tuesday averted -- for now -- a veto showdown with Gov. Mike Easley by agreeing to work on a compromise that would loosen licensing rules for teachers and help shrink the state's teacher shortage.

House Speaker Jim Black said lawmakers won't attempt an override vote Wednesday when the General Assembly returns for the veto session called by Easley. Instead, Black and Senate leader Marc Basnight announced they will form a committee to resolve differences between state education officials and sponsors of the licensing bill rejected by Easley. The panel will include legislators, state education board members and educators.

Both legislative chambers approved the bill in August by wide margins. If those margins stood, lawmakers would have the three-fifths majority needed to cancel Easley's veto and make the bill law.

But Black, D-Mecklenburg, prefers not to hand fellow Democrat Easley a defeat.

"A compromise is always better than bleeding in the street," Black said after House Democrats met Tuesday morning behind closed doors. "It's always better to work together to improve education for our children."

The decision doesn't eliminate the option of a veto override later if a compromise can't be reached. The Legislature could act on the bill as late as next year. For now, however, a handful of lawmakers are scheduled to meet briefly Wednesday morning and go home.

The bill vetoed by Easley would designate out-of-state schoolteachers as "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act if they earned that distinction in their prior states. The bill also would remove a requirement that new middle school and high school teachers pass standardized subject matter tests.

Easley contends that accepting other states' certifications would lead to a decline in teacher quality. The measure also usurps authority from the State Board of Education, he said.

The governor, who used strong words against the bill during a rare public veto ceremony two weeks ago, appeared more accommodating Tuesday. He said he had "several productive conversations with legislators" since then and that he and Black agreed on this course of action.

None of the six vetoes issued since the power was added to the constitution through a 1996 referendum has been overridden.

The education board last week passed what was billed as a compromise proposal to avoid an override. The new policy would give a full North Carolina license to out-of-state teachers with at least three years experience if they are hired back by their local districts after one year of teaching here.

A change in board policy in April also made passing the standardized test one of four ways for a teacher with less than three years experience to gain certification.

But bill sponsors said school boards facing chronic teachers shortages _ about 9,000 per year recently _ want an even less cumbersome process to hire teachers from other states.

"But we're not going to give up on putting competent teachers in the classroom," said Rep. Doug Yongue, D-Scotland, one of the sponsors, who agreed to keep looking for a compromise.

At a minimum, Black and Basnight said in a joint statement, certified teachers from states at least equal to those in North Carolina should be immediately licensed.

The Senate will convene in its old chambers in the Capitol building while its current chambers undergo a massive renovation.

That will make this the first year since 1888 that all three branches of state government have used the old Capitol for regular business, according to Raymond Beck, the building's historian.

The state Supreme Court has been using the old Senate chamber this year while its building is remodeled and Easley's office already is located in the Capitol.

"Tomorrow will be a rather historic day," Beck said.