Berger's education bill passes committee over objections

Several groups representing educators and school administrators say they still object to the bill, including a provision that eliminates teacher tenure.

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Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Senate Education Committee today approved S 795:Excellent Public Schools Act, Sen. Phil Berger's, R-Rockingham, education reform plan. 
Update: You can read a legislative analysis of the bill here and a fiscal analysis of the potential cost here.

The bill next goes to Senate Appropriations and Berger, the president pro tempore of the Senate, told reporters the plan was to pass it out of his chamber as a stand alone measure. It's worth noting that the House has not accounted for any of the cost of the bill -- $45 million next year rising to $82.3 million in 2016 -- in the budget proposal it will send to the Senate.

For a time, the most intense discussion in the committee revolved around school calendars. School systems in areas of the state that get lots of snowfall say they don't have enough flexibility to deal with snowy winters, while tourism businesses say they need to ensure that their workforce will be out of school in time to staff their summer jobs. 

School calendar bills have been very controversial in prior legislative sessions. 

As well, the bill faces opposition from a number of teacher and school administration groups. Among them:

Leanne Winner, N.C. School Board Association: Winner said there were problems with the school calendar provisions in the bill. The measure would tweak the school start and end dates, and would give schools more flexibility in scheduling instructional time. Winner said that the changes in timing could run up against constitutional requirements.

She also said that provisions of the bill that require teachers be hired on one-to-four year contracts could lead to lawsuits from teachers who lose their tenure status.

And, she said, some school districts would not be able to create the "performance pay" plans called for under the bill.

"We have districts who, in all honesty, do not have the capacity to develop performance pay plans," she said. 

Katherine Joyce, NC Association of School Administrators: Joyce raised concerns about the section of the bill that would assign schools and A-through-F letter grade based on their performance. She was one of several people who spoke who said that the grades should take into account not just the raw performance of students but how well students improve year over year.

"We believe that assigning letter grades to schools largely on test performance may mislead the public, be overly punitive to schools, and ultimately erode the parental and community support that is essential to the continuing viability of our schools," Joyce said. 

Joyce said that principals should have the power to grant exceptions to requirements third graders pass reading tests in order to pass their year. 

Carol Vandenbergh, Professional Educators of North Carolina: Vandenbergh raised concerns about the removal of teacher tenure as well. 

"We understand the many folks are still operating under the assumption that bad teachers cannot be fired in North Carolina. That is simply not true," she said. 


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