NCSBA Legislative Update – May 14, 2021

NCSBA Legislative Update – May 14, 2021

 

Crossover week has come and gone for this legislative biennium. Voting sessions lasted for hours at a time but neither chamber had to stay late into the night, with the latest voting session ending at 10:00 pm. This is relatively early compared to past years when sessions would go well past midnight. What makes this year different is that we have been experiencing the urgency of crossover week for nearly a month. These past few weeks have been scheduled full of committee meetings and voting sessions. Many education-related bills passed out of their originating chamber this week, which we have listed below.

Bills that Passed the House

Statewide bills

  • HB 324: Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination/Schools (primary sponsors: Representatives Jason Saine, R-Lincoln; James Boles, R-Moore; Larry Yarborough, R-Person; John Torbett, R-Gaston)
    • Passed the House 66-48 along party lines
    • The original contents of this bill were replaced with a bill that prohibits public school units (PSUs) from promoting the following:
      • There are/were superior races or sexes
      • An individual, by virtue of his/her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress
      • An individual, by virtue of his/her race or sex, bears responsibility for past actions committed by members of the same race or sex
      • The belief that the U.S. is inherently racist or sexist or was created by racist or sexist members
    • Many Democrats spoke out against the bill, including Representative James Gailliard, D-Nash, who said it is a bill of hatred, privilege, and fragility. HB 324 received praise and approval from House Speaker Tim Moore and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.
    • Click here and here for articles on HB 324
  • HB 729: Charter Schools Omnibus. (primary sponsors: Representatives Larry Yarborough, R-Person; Jon Hardister, R-Guilford; John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg; Mark Brody, R-Union)
    • Passed the House 63-52
    • This bill quickly passed through two committees and voting on the floor, with legislative leaders not allowing public comment in committee or debate on the House floor. NCSBA worked with a House Republican on an amendment to remove the section of the bill that authorizes counties to provide capital funds to charters. After House leadership learned about Republican support for this amendment, the bill was withdrawn from the calendar. On the following day, the bill was placed on the House calendar, but the proposed amendment was sponsored by a Democrat instead of a Republican. The amendment was tabled, meaning no one was allowed to vote on the amendment. All but one Democrat voted against the bill, as well as four Republicans.
    • HB 729 makes the following changes to charter school laws:
      • Allows charter schools to provide a combination of remote and in-person instruction
      • Authorizes counties to provide capital funds to charter schools
      • Expresses the General Assembly’s intent to ensure parity in funding of students in charter schools and other PSUs
      • Permits charter schoolteachers to receive residency licensure
  • HB 621: Increase Dropout Age/Completion Indicator. (primary sponsors: Representatives Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Charles Graham, D-Robeson; Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba)
    • Passed the House 109-3
    • This bill raises the dropout age from 16 to 18 over a five-year period and establishes a completion rate indicator for school performance grades.
  • HB 794: Allow Schools in All Zoning Districts. (primary sponsors: Representatives Dean Arp, R-Union; Jason Saine, R-Lincoln; Mark Brody, R-Union; John Torbett, R-Gaston)
    • Passed the House 109-3
    • This bill designates public schools as a permitted use in all zoning districts, which streamlines the process to build new schools, saving time and money.

Local bills:

Bills that Passed the Senate

  • SB 593: Special Education Due Process Hearings. (primary sponsors: Senators Brent Jackson, R-Sampson; Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga; Michael Lee, R-New Hanover)
    • Passed the Senate 33-16
    • This bill alters the appeals process for special education due process hearings by eliminating State Hearing Review Officers (SHROs). The SHROs currently review, upon the request of a party, the decisions made by administrative law judges. Under SB 593, such decisions would be appealed in state or federal court. School attorneys believe that this bill will likely violate federal regulations, which could put federal funds in jeopardy.
  • SB 668: Anti-Pension Spiking Amds & Litig. Moratorium (primary sponsor: Senator Jim Burgin, R-Harnett)
    • Passed the Senate 49-0
    • This bill does the following:
      • Adds another payment option: 12 years with no early pay-off penalty
      • In certain situations, two or more employers will share the liability
      • Creates a working group consisting of NCSBA and the State Treasurer’s office to develop recommendations to the General Assembly that will reduce pension spiking cases and lawsuits
      • Requires a pause on pension-spiking litigation until June 30, 2022, during which the working group will create its recommendations
        • As a result of this pause, the statute of limitations will be extended

Bill Removed from Calendar

  • SB 355: Government Transparency Act of 2021 (primary sponsors: Senators Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico; Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick; Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth)
    • Was scheduled to be voted on by the Senate this week but was later removed from the calendar and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee
    • This bill requires local boards of education (as well as counties, municipalities, community colleges, State agencies, etc.) to not only maintain the date and general description of the reasons for each promotion, but also for each demotion, dismissal, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position. An employee can appeal to not have the date and description of their promotion, demotion, etc. disclosed if the information is protected by an applicable confidentiality law, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • There is still the possibility that the contents of SB 355 will get added to another bill that met the crossover deadline.

Budget Process

Legislative leaders have still not agreed on how much to spend on this year’s budget. House Speaker Tim Moore stated that the House wants to spend $500 million more than the Senate. Senate leader Phil Berger said that once an amount is agreed upon it will take up to three weeks for the Senate budget to be released. For comparison, in the past few years the first version of the budget was released in late April or early May. Click here for an article on the budget disagreements.

Bill Chart

Click here for a chart of all education-related bills that NCBSA is tracking.

 

This week the SBE held its Bi-Annual Planning and Work Session on Tuesday and Wednesday. Click here to see topics, presenters, and materials. On Thursday, the SBE held is monthly meeting and was presented with the following:

DHHS COVID-19 update: This week the FDA expanded authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to include 12–15-year-olds, followed by the CDC recommending that authorization. This announcement comes as already roughly 43,000 16- and 17-year-olds in the State have been vaccinated. Additional CDC guidance that was released on Thursday says that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or social distance in most settings. This afternoon Governor Cooper announced the lifting of the statewide mask mandate in most settings, not including schools, as well as the lifting of all mass gathering and social distancing requirements. Regarding student metrics, DHHS staff pointed out that a majority of COVID-19 clusters in middle and high schools are linked to athletics. Screening testing continues to be available to schools at no cost for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year, and DHHS has submitted a funding request and plan to the CDC to receive additional funding for the next school year.

ABC Collaborative report: The SBE received its first report from the ABC Science Collaborative since the passage of SB 220: The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021/SL 2021-4, which requires middle and high schools that are open under Plan A to partner with the Collaborative to collect data related to reopening schools. The report is based on data from April, which found that 99 LEAs and 20 charter schools are in Plan A. Cases of COVID-19 in schools consisted of 2,214 community acquired cases, but only 42 cases of within-school transmission. Based on data previously presented to the General Assembly about transmission between August 2020 and February 2021, within-school transmission appears to be similar whether schools are in Plan A or Plan B. This can be largely attributed to the continuous mask mandate. The presentation concluded with the statement that “There is no medical-safety reason to support Plan B compared to Plan A.”

Updated DHHS StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit: Last week DHHS updated its Toolkit to remove the mask mandate for outdoor settings at schools but still recommends wearing a mask outdoors when social distancing is difficult. When asked what conditions need to be present to lift the indoor mask mandate at schools, DHHS staff pointed to data presented by the ABC collaborative contributing low transmission rates to the wearing of masks. DHHS staff also stated that lifting the indoor mask mandate could look different for different grade levels, since students 12 and up can receive the vaccine but elementary age children cannot. SBE Chair Eric Davis presented a motion to approve the amendments to the Toolkit, provided that the amendments are not inconsistent with SB 220: The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021/SL 2021-4. As we have noted before, SB 220 requires compliance with the Toolkit as that guidance existed on March 4, 2021.

ELISS Competitive Grant Program: HB 196: 2021 COVID-19 Response & Relief/SL 2021-3 appropriated $15 million from the 10% DPI reserve of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II (ESSER II) for the Extended Learning and Integrated Student Supports (ELISS) Competitive Grant Program. ELISS is designed to support at-risk students who have been negatively affected by COVID-19. Grants are to be awarded to new or existing programs operated by nonprofits working with LEAs. DPI staff stated that they will open the application process soon with a due date in August. Following application submissions, DPI will present funding recommendations to the SBE in October. For more on ELISS and its requirements, click here.

Click here to access all meeting materials.

Click here to access an article on the meeting and other legislative action this week.

 

The following education-related bills were filed this week.

Statewide Bills

 

Wednesday, May 19

10:00 am – Senate Redistricting and Elections – Legislative Offices Building, rm 544 (live stream)

Thursday, May 20

2:00 pm – Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Subcommittee on Interscholastic Athletics – Legislative Building Auditorium (live stream)

 

 

 

Bruce Mildwurf
Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
bmildwurf@ncsba.org

Richard Bostic
Assistant Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
rbostic@ncsba.org

Rebekah Howard
Governmental Relations Research Specialist
N.C. School Boards Association
rhoward@ncsba.org

Rebekah HowardNCSBA Legislative Update – May 14, 2021