State News

Legislature gives final OK to schools reform

Posted May 27, 2010 2:13 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2010 9:34 p.m. EDT


— North Carolina districts would have more options to try to fix repeatedly failing public schools in a bill given final approval Thursday at the Legislature, a move that gives Gov. Beverly Perdue a last-minute boost for the state’s next federal grant application.

The measure passed 21-19. Perdue signed it into law Thursday evening so it could be inserted into the state’s Race to the Top application that’s due in Washington early next week, officials said. North Carolina wants to win up to $400 million.

The package lays out four options for local education leaders to use to improve more than 130 continually low-performing schools — those where less than half of the state have failed on end-of-grade or end-of-course test two of the past three years.

The biggest change would allow districts to “restart” a typical school by giving it the same flexibility as a charter school without making it independent from the district. Charter schools are exempt from many rules of most public schools and can test innovative learning techniques or focus more on children at risk of failure.

“It will strengthen North Carolina’s goal for making all schools successful and making sure all students receive a quality education,” Perdue said in a statement.

But Republicans and a handful of Democrats were uncomfortable with the bill, which went through both chambers in a week — accelerated because of the Race to the Top application. North Carolina was well out of the money during the first round of awards announced in March.

Charter school proponents didn’t like that the bill failed to lift the state’s cap of 100 regular charter schools, which hasn’t changed in 14 years. Instead, it created what they called “charter-lite” schools that won’t help the state’s application.

“The purpose of this is mainly, quite frankly, to draw down federal dollars,” Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “Federal money is not just money that falls out of the sky.”

Other methods the State Board of Education could authorize local districts to use to help continually low-performing schools include increasing learning time and improving teacher performance; removing the principal and many teachers; and simply closing the school.