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NC Senate Approves Overhaul Bill

“NC public school changes approved by Senate”
by Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press
News & Observer
June 4, 2012

The Republican-led North Carolina Senate gave its final approval Monday evening to a public school overhaul bill after a Democratic amendment was defeated that would have deleted the measure’s proposed end to teacher tenure and weakened merit pay requirements.

The Senate passed the legislation on a party-line vote of 31-17, with GOP leaders calling the measure necessary to improve test scores, graduation rates and reading proficiency among children in early grades. But Democrats said the changes would demoralize teachers already discouraged by job losses, no pay raises since 2008 and other GOP-backed changes last year.

The Democrats’ amendment was defeated by the same margin as the full bill. Senate leader Phil Berger, a primary sponsor of the bill, called the Democratic ideas well-intentioned but “really represent a defense of the status quo.”

“What this bill tries to do is take us away from the status quo,” the Rockingham Republican said later in the debate.

The bill would scrap the current tenure system for veteran teachers that Republicans argue makes it difficult to fire teachers when administrators determine they are ineffective and gives them contracts of one to four school years. All teachers would get one-year contracts during this next school year. Tenure supporters argue that teachers need protections from political or other unfair firings.

The bill also would require school districts to create their own bonus or merit-pay programs to reward the most effective teachers. A program also would provide reading-intensive instruction in early grades. Most third-graders who didn’t show reading proficiency on tests by the end of third grade would be held back.

The bill now heads to the House. Republicans there have said they like the bill’s concepts but that there may not be enough time this session to pass it.

The Democratic amendment would have deleted the proposed teacher tenure change, made district merit-pay plans optional and would have given schools the ability to promote a student who doesn’t demonstrate reading proficiency.

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said teachers are doing a good job reducing dropout rates and helping students perform better on standardized tests. Nesbitt said teachers are having more pressure placed on them without commensurate extra help in the classroom.

The bill is “taking another slap at teachers, and we don’t need to be doing that,” Nesbitt said.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, scoffed at Nesbitt’s characterization, saying Republicans are supportive of teachers who work hard to help their students.

The bill – which would cost the state about $44 million next year, rising to more than $80 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year – also would:

– change the state’s current system of grading school districts based on standardized test scores to a traditional grading method using a 0 to 100 scale and grades from A’s to F’s.

– provide teachers a $250 tax deduction for out-of-pocket classroom supplies they buy.

– set aside nearly 2,300 additional slots for North Carolina’s prekindergarten program.

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