Lawmakers weigh education changes

State lawmakers turned their attention to North Carolina's education system Tuesday with four bills that could bring big changes to the state's K-12 schools.

Posted Updated

Laura Leslie

State lawmakers turned their attention to North Carolina’s education system Tuesday with four bills that could bring big changes to the state’s K-12 schools.

In the Senate, legislators approved S498, which would allow parents to deny schools permission to paddle their kids. The measure provides for an opt-out decision in the 17 districts that still permit the use of corporal punishment in schools.

“Some form of parental consent already exists” in those districts, said sponsor Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne. “This would simply standardize that process.”

The measure’s Democratic co-sponsor, Dr. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland, said 30 out of 50 states have already outlawed corporal punishment, and numerous studies have shown it doesn’t change long-term behavior. “It doesn’t outlaw corporal punishment,” Purcell said. “It just makes it a little more difficult to do.” 

Senators also approved H197, which affords some school districts more flexibility in meeting the state’s school calendar law, including those affected by this spring’s tornado outbreak (like Wake, for example). State law requires 180 days and 1000 hours of instruction per school year. This measure allows counties with a lot of weather-related closures or tornado-damaged schools to add hours to the days left in their calendar to make up for lost time. 
But the most interesting school measure the Senate approved today could blow the calendar law right out of the water. Senate Bill 724, co-sponsored by Education chair Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and Minority Whip Josh Stein, D-Wake, would allow the 25 schools with the state’s worst drop-out rates to add hours to the school day and days to the calendar to help augment education. 

“No one in the industrialized world has a shorter day or a shorter year than we do,” Tillman told his colleagues. “Something’s got to change.”

The measure is only permissive at this point – that is, those schools can choose to lengthen their calendars, but they’re not required to do so. But Tillman said once the money is available to pay for the added instruction, he expects it’ll become a mandate. “One day, we’ve got to move to a longer day and a longer year. We’re behind the other nations, and the reason is we don’t have the class time.”

In fact, the measure expresses the intention that all schools, not just the low-performing ones, will expand their calendars to 190 days of education as soon as it’s feasible. “We’re at 180. Nobody else is at 180,” Tillman said, “It’s not working anymore.”

Who's the Boss?
On the House side, lawmakers discussed but didn’t vote on H823, a proposal to amend the NC constitution to make the Superintendent of Public Instruction the head of the state’s educational system, instead of the State Board of Education.

“Every four years, the electorate of NC, they go to the polls and they elect a Superintendent of Public Instruction. I bet if you asked those folks, 9 out of 10 believe they are electing a person to run our state education system,” said sponsor Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes. “This is something I think needs to be corrected. I think we all know that if it’s put on the ballot, it will pass overwhelmingly.”

The bill’s critics expressed concerns that one person would have total power over the state’s educational policy. But Holloway argued the governor already has that, by virtue of the fact that she appoints almost everyone on the State Board. “The fact is,” Holloway argued, the Superintendent “sits on a stump and does nothing.”

Other critics brought up the fact that the governing model of school boards over superintendents is replicated at the local level as well. But Holloway pointed out that local school boards are elected, not appointed. He said the change would improve accountability and let voters have more say in oversight of the educational system.

“Respect the voice of the people,” Holloway said. “Are the people of this state not smart enough to decide how the education system should be run? I just think we should empower the people of this state over the governor."

House Education is expected to vote on H823 next week. Here's my Q&A overview from today's noon newscast.  


Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.