Legislative Update 3.10.2021
The Professional Educators of North Carolina Working for Teachers and Our Profession!!!
On Wednesday, March 10, 2021 The Professional Educators of North Carolina conducted their annual Legislative Day. The day consisted of 5/30-minute sessions and one mini-follow up session with key legislators that have laser focus on elements of our school systems and are influential to legislative priorities and decisions. The PENC Board of Directors participated in this annual event and worked extremely hard to address concerns and ask questions about what matters most in our teaching profession.
One can only imagine how excited and elated that our Board members/educators were for these legislators to take their valuable time to listen and share their feedback! Each session consisted of a brief summary of PENC priorities followed by an intensely focused Question and Answer period.
Several common denominators that resonated from all of the legislative participants was their appreciation, admiration and respect for the way that PENC leaders and members represent themselves and how they remain positive during these challenging times.
Leading off the virtual sessions was Representative Ashton Clemmons, District 57 (Guilford), a second term legislator that is a member of the House Standing Committee for K-12 Education. Representative Clemmons commented on her educational vision in hopes of “restoring and actively advocating for the resurrection of “professionalism and respect” that the teaching profession has seen eroding over time. This is “music to our ears” as teachers have felt this from legislative action and in the public’s eye over the years.
In our next session Representative Graig Meyer, District 50 (Caswell, Orange) a 4.5 year term legislator and a member of the Standing House Committee on K-12 Education, graciously contributed his time and thoughts on education and responded to questions from PENC Board Members. One topic of note is the impact of Charter Schools in our state. Where Representative Meyer is in agreement that Charter Schools are here to stay, he also concurs with other legislative and school leaders that there needs to be a more refined process for accountability so that public schools and charter schools are not pitted against one another.
In a subsequent session with up-and-coming Freshmen Legislator Brian Farkas, District 9 (Pitt) the participants were intrigued by Representative Farkas’ responses for what his stance will be in the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers in our state. As an example, Representative Farkas sited a fact that when Master’s Pay was removed as a source of supplemental pay for teachers he witnessed the Graduate program at East Carolina University enrollment diminish from 58 students down to 8 in a single year as a result. Our state should be in the business of bolstering and shoring up our pipeline for highly qualified classroom leaders rather than implementing measures to “gut the programs.”
Past PENC president and presently a 5 term House Member, Jeffrey Elmore, District 94 (Alexander, Wilkes) and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee spoke candidly with the Board on matters of finance and accountability. Representative Elmore listened intently as Board conveyed their thoughts on teacher pay, testing and waivers for testing and school grades. There has been a little delay in addressing these items due to the focal work in both chambers on federal COVID-19 allocations and the school reopening debate. The General Assembly is also waiting on federal guidance on how waivers for standardized testing may impact the state’s decision on School Grades, Teacher Accountability, Proficiency and Growth. To comment on these items presently would be only speculation. Representative Elmore commented on the professionalism of PENC and how the experiences and interactions with members of the organization is always refreshing, positive and uplifting.
In the concluding session, the virtual audience had the pleasure of exchanging thoughts and ideas with Senator Paul Lowe, District 32 (Forsyth). Senator Lowe addressed matters regarding curriculum and calendar flexibility. During the session, Senator Lowe was gathering facts and absorbing the concerns of PENC Board Members. He conveyed that he was approaching the deadline for filing bills and wanted to gather as much information as possible so that he could craft a working bill that would accommodate the priorities and ideas of the PENC organization. Senator Lowe was so intrigued with the PENC Board interactions that he requested a follow up session for the afternoon to finish what had not been completed because of other meeting obligations.
In summary, the willingness of Board Member participation coupled with the very thoughtful questions, comments that were provided to legislators and the responses and feedback from legislators provided a very concrete foundation to another successful Legislative Day. PENC members can be proud of the fact that there are a great group of professionals seated as Board Members that are working tirelessly to provide a voice for you in Raleigh.
Other Major Legislative Updates
The Governor and the Legislature agreed to compromise legislation on the reopening of schools. The Governor vetoed Senate Bill 37 over some safety concerns, and an agreement was made using a new vehicle, Senate Bill 220. The bill passed the legislature this week, and the governor signed it on Thursday, March 11th. A brief summary of the compromise bill does the following:
· Elementary schools will be mandated to operate under Plan A. Local districts will have discretion to operate under Plan A or B for middle and high schools.
· Local districts will be able to close in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
· Districts must provide an option for remote learning for all students.
The bill takes effect 21 days after becoming law. However, districts can act more swiftly if desired. The bill became law on March 11th.