NC House Committee passes recommendations to improve K-12 education

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston.

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  • An N.C. House standing committee first met in January to discuss ways to improve K-12 public education. This week, the committee approved its final set of recommendations.
  • The committee's findings emphasized the importance of early literacy, critical thinking skills, and exposing students science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM) fields.

Increase teacher pay. Change the school calendar. Give the state superintendent of public instruction more power. Invest in character education. Improve discipline in the classroom. Expand partnerships between high schools and community colleges.

Those are a few of the recommendations adopted Dec. 12 by the North Carolina House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future. The committee has met over a dozen times in 2022 to explore options to improve K-12 public education in the state.

The findings are recommendations and would need final approval by lawmakers — and possibly the governor’s signature as well — to become law.

One of the recommendations to catch the most attention is to adjust the mandatory school calendar to “better fit the needs of students and educators.” The current requirement is that schools begin no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, the chairman of the standing committee, has suggested a Memorial Day to Labor Day school calendar, an idea that he plans to still look into even though it didn’t make it into the final report.

Another recommendation is to provide “all students with instruction in character education” in order to “create a school climate free from bullying and other distractions.”

“This is an issue out there and it’s a dominant issue,” said Torbett. “We have to let teachers know we’ve got their backs with support in the classroom with disciplinary issues, and also let administrators know that they are to have the backs of teachers in the classroom without fear of repercussions.”

The comments reflected remarks made in February by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who testified before the committee calling for greater accountability and discipline in public school classrooms.

“A lot of teachers who are leaving and who have left don’t feel that the administration has their backs, and they are very concerned with how anything will be handled. When nothing is done, sometimes it encourages them to leave the profession, and we don’t need that,” said Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph.

The committee also recommended that lawmakers “continue to review the current salary schedules for educators and look for opportunities to adjust job duties to increase the high-quality educator workforce” in North Carolina. The State Board of Education is currently considering licensure reforms that would offer higher instructor pay based on performance rather than years of experience.

Another recommendation came in the form of fostering greater collaboration between high schools and community colleges. The committee “finds that real-life and hands-on learning experiences offered through partnerships with community colleges and community stakeholders engage students, providing a way for them to enjoy learning and experience various careers as they set their paths to becoming successful North Carolinians,” the report concluded.

One of the more controversial recommendations comes in the form of a constitutional amendment that would take powers away from the N.C. State Board of Education and grant it to the superintendent of public instruction.

In June, House lawmakers considered a bill that would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballot making the superintendent chair of the State Board of Education. The amendment would also expand the state board membership to 14 seats that correspond to North Carolina’s number of congressional districts.

Additionally, the amendment would require that vacancies filled by the governor must be OK’ed by the legislature. As it stands, the governor’s appointments serve until the term of the person they replaced expires.

The bill was pulled from the House calendar before a final vote could be taken.

Torbett said the standing committee would continue meeting in 2023 as lawmakers work to turn the recommendations into policy.