News: Quick Takes

Senate Committee Moves Achievement District Forward

Revised legislation seeking to rescue failing schools must pass floor vote and return to House before end of short session

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, defends House Bill 1080, "Achievement School District," before Friday's meeting of the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, defends House Bill 1080, "Achievement School District," before Friday's meeting of the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education. (CJ Photo by Kari Travis)

Following heated debate, a Senate committee on Friday approved a revised version of a House-passed bill that would seek to reboot five of the state’s lowest-performing schools by removing them from local school district control and placing them under charter-like management.

House Bill 1080, “Achievement School District,” is modeled after similar programs enacted in Tennessee and Louisiana that take failing schools and rehabilitate them in a special school district as part of an effort to increase school efficiency and accountability.

The measure, which was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, passed the House by vote of 60-49, with some lawmakers saying that any effort to force a school to participate in an ASD would impede student growth, and damage efforts to improve school management.

Similar protests over the revised legislation were raised by members of the Senate Committee on Education, who said they question the need for an ASD — and are concerned about the mandatory provisions in the legislation. Under the proposal, five schools selected among the 5 percent of the lowest-performing schools in the state would be transferred to the ASD.

“I believe you’re talking about private companies coming and setting [an ASD up] in North Carolina,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, during the committee meeting. “So we’re giving over … our children — who are low-income and mostly minority — to private companies to come in and operate something when we already have capacity within our State Board of Education. And … if those schools fail for three years, those same children who are already failing have then failed for an additional three years, and what do they do? They drop out. They get into delinquency because of what’s ahead of them.”

ASD schools will not be managed by so-called “private companies,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, who presented the legislation before the committee.

“The bill specifically spells out what qualities you have to have to be an [achievement school] operator,” Barefoot said. “These are not private companies. They have to be better than the management the school is already under. And they have to be in the school business.”

Under the legislation, school success within the ASD would be examined at the three-, five-, and eight-year benchmarks, said Barefoot, with no school allowed more than a total of eight years in the ASD program. If a school is not showing signs of improvement at those check points, it will be removed from the ASD, he said.

The bill’s fate is uncertain for several reasons, primarily because the short session is nearing adjournment. H.B. 1080 now heads to the Senate floor, but a vote has not been scheduled. If approved in the Senate, it would return to the House for a concurrence vote. If that fails, a conference committee would have to work out any differences between the two bodies and then it would face an up-or-down vote in both the House and Senate before being sent to Gov. Pat McCrory.

To read more about the history of North Carolina’s ASD proposal, follow this link.