Education working group considers calendar flexibility, waiving testing

By Lindsay Marchello,
Carolina Journal News Service-
With K-12 schools across the state closed until May 15, lawmakers and education officials are working to ensure students are still able to get an education and that school employees are paid.

The education working group of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 met virtually Thursday, March 26, to discuss the range of issues facing the N.C. public school system as the coronavirus outbreak continues to plague the state.

The education working group meeting featured a presentation of requests from the State Board of Education. The state education board will meet March 27 to finalize these requests, but lawmakers got an early preview.

The State Board of Education has already received a waiver from the federal government so they don’t have to send testing data to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2019-20 school year. Now, the state education board is seeking waivers from the state for various testing and accountability requirements, including end-of-course and end-of-grade tests.

While the General Assembly doesn’t need to take action to cancel the EOCs or EOGs, lawmakers are looking to see how certain programs would be affected without those tests.

“Lawmakers would need to postpone summer reading camps and third-grade retention requirements under the Read to Achieve law,” Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, wrote in a policy brief.

Lawmakers should consider alternatives to awarding bonuses, as test grades won’t be available to determine which teachers and principals should receive extra money, Stoops wrote.

SBE is asking the state not to issue the A-F school performance grades for the 2019-20 school year, Freebird McKinney, the legislative liaison for SBE, told lawmakers. Schools and districts should be held harmless under the school performance grade requirements.

The SBE is also calling for a temporary waiver for teacher and student teacher evaluations.
Calendar flexibility is a concern of the education working group. The board is looking at waivers for the minimum 185 days or 1,025 instructional hours for the 2019-20 school year. Schools should get the same flexibility granted to schools affected by hurricanes.

“The ideal option is to dispense with the unnecessarily prescriptive start- and end-date requirements altogether and allow school districts to formulate calendars that better meet the needs of students, families, and communities,” Stoops said.

School employee compensation also was brought up during the meeting. Local school districts are charged with figuring out how to pay their employees while schools are closed.

The intent is for everyone to get paid, said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, co-chair of the education working group.
Paying employees shouldn’t be a problem, Joe Coletti, a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation, wrote in a policy brief.

“It costs no additional money to continue paying teachers and other state employees for work when school is closed,” Coletti wrote. “That money is built into the budget. If the school year runs long, payments will fall into the next fiscal year.”

No recommendations were advanced during the meeting. The working group will meet next week to hear more recommendations, some of which may contradict those shared today, said co-chair Rep. John Fraley, R-Iredell.

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