Children in grades K-3 in North Carolina have surpassed the rest of the nation when it comes to their early-literacy skills. That’s according to N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, who shared the news at Tuesday’s Council of State meeting. 

The results were based on a reading diagnostic test given in all 50 states. 

“This is due to the incredibly hard work of our K-3 teachers who have been undergoing a very intense 18-month professional development, referred to as Letters Training, that is essentially a return to a phonics-based approach to early literacy instruction,” she said. “This is a topic that is being discussed nationally, as 20 states right now have passed legislation, on the heels of Mississippi and North Carolina, to require some kind of curriculum mandate. In the case of North Carolina, a professional development mandate to ensure that our students are learning how to read given the fact that before the pandemic, about 36% of our 8th graders were starting high school reading proficiently.”

Truitt said this could not have come soon enough.

She also said the State Board of Education would be hearing from her Office of Learning Recovery & Acceleration this week that they are seeing the largest gains in recovery in middle-grade math and elementary reading but not in middle-school reading. Truitt said they would work on policies in the coming year with middle school teachers to help their students. 

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said he wanted to give kudos to Truitt and her staff at DPI for all the great work they have done.  

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said he agreed that everyone needs to work on improving public education and was glad to hear the positive results from Truitt. However, it was important to note, he said, that the state received a $5 billion investment from the federal government to help pay for summer school.

“To help us pay these teachers and educators across our schools, recognizing that if you make a strong investment in public schools, you can get a good return on learning, so that’s something that we should keep in mind,” Cooper said.

The good news about new businesses in the state continued, with Secretary of State Elaine Marshall saying 60,000 to 61,000 new businesses were created from January to April, compared to 39,000 during the same period in 2020.

Her office also completed a record number of annual report filings between January and April, with more than 461,000. She said that is nearly 50,000 more than last year and 127,000 more than 2020.

State Auditor Beth Wood praised the N.C. Department of Transportation for implementing all her office’s recommendations from a 2020 audit. She touched on an audit released last week that had no findings for the department.

NCDOT overspent its budget by $742 million. The department planned to spend $5.94 billion in 2019, but exceeded that amount by more than 12%, according to a 2020 report by Wood. Transportation officials overspent because they didn’t base their budget on actual cost estimates for projects. The department also failed to monitor or enforce its spending plan at DOT’s 14 highway divisions. 

“I don’t get that opportunity often in a follow-up performance audit, so kudos to Secretary (J. Eric) Boyette and his staff and the great job they’ve done to implement all the recommendations that were so critical and so necessary that have prevented the issue that happened in 2019,” Wood said. 

State Treasurer Dale Folwell thanked the state Senate for unanimously passing S.B. 321, the Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act, on Monday. He called it a “pro-family, pro-consumer piece of legislation.”

“It not only protects the living but also protects those surviving widows and widowers whose decedent has run up tremendous medical bills, and they themselves have had their credit rating destroyed because of things associated with medical debt,” he said. “This is something that’s on the minds and the hearts of the consumers of North Carolina, and we look forward to the bill getting to your desk so that consumers can be protected from medical debt.”

The Senate Health Care Committee held a discussion last month on the bill, and members hoped that the second time would be the charm.

The bill is similar to H.B. 1039, also known as the Medical Debt De-Weaponization Act, which stalled out in a House Banking Committee hearing last June.