Legislative Update for February 2013

With any major election comes the promise of sweeping change and education reforms. In November of 2012, change came in a big way with the success of the GOP in North Carolina. For the first time in 140 years, the NC House, Senate and Governor's mansion are in Republican majority and power. The Republican education messaging is similar to that echoed at the National level; includes calls for greater school choice and increased local flexibility from Federal regulations. The politician to watch is Senator Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) where he said to WRAL5 that, "Lawmakers are also expected to push forward with changes to the state's education system. In particular, Berger said, the Senate would push plans to give schools more flexibility to hire and fire teachers and reward better performing teachers or those who take on tougher assignments." Thus, we should anticipate an expansion of the Charter School sector as well as discussions of merit pay and test-based teacher evaluation models. (Keep in mind, preliminary research from the Institute of Education sciences has found merit pay did not have the dramatic impact they were expecting.)

Despite making a recent stir over his comments regarding higher education in the Huffington Post, Governor McCrory has a website outlining the 4 major foci of his K-12 agenda. The best means to stay on top of NC education is through twitter – much of the Governor's breaking policy news is through his twitter feed @NCCapitol.

Most recently, rumors have been circulating inside the beltway that we may finally see a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as ESEA in the 113th Congress. (ESEA is the 1965 landmark piece of legislation that included in its last reauthorization the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act or NCLB.) Due to bipartisan gridlock in Congress, many states were not meeting the regulations originally set by NCLB and required a new system to report and account for student learning. Under the encouragement of the President, the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has issued ESEA flexibility waivers to over 34 states and the District of Columbia from the 44 states who applied. On February 7th, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing with Secretary Duncan discussing the issues surrounding ESEA flexibility. The waivers have recently come under fire regarding some states lowering the accountability standards of high school graduation rates and poor data acquisition within super subgroups, and other concerns as outlined by stakeholder groups like the Alliance for Excellent Education. Yet, ESEA flexibility is just one part of the greater picture of new, federal education legislation.

To gain insight into the 2013 Federal education policies, there are webinars available throughout the month of February (and archived if you cannot attend live) that highlight the central questions surrounding teacher quality and evaluation, student assessment, school choice, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

In the coming weeks, Senator Franken will be reintroducing his STEM Master Teacher Corps Act. This legislation creates the STEM Master Teacher Corps from the top 5% of K-12 STEM teachers in a participating area. Corps members will be offered career advancement opportunities and higher pay. In turn, they will mentor other STEM teachers and share best practices with the STEM education community to improve the ability of all teachers to impart strong STEM skills and an eagerness to learn to their students. Corps members will also serve as role models for other STEM teachers, demonstrating the opportunity for continued professional growth if they decide to stay in teaching.

Support this legislation by contacting your Senators (Senator Kay Hagan: 202.224.6342 and Senator Richard Burr: 202.224.3154) and your local Congressional Representative. If you don't know who that is, click here to find out. Urge your elected officials to publically support STEM based commerce and education in North Carolina by being a co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Submitted by Rebecca Hite
NCSLA Legislative Liaison