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District 8 Senate update

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By Sen. Bill Rabon

Guest Columnist

 

The 2014 short session has proved to be nothing short of eventful, and we are continuing to work hard in order to accomplish our goals during this time. 

The House has officially released its 2014 budget proposal, but it has not yet passed. We hope to produce a favorable compromise between the three proposed budgets as soon as possible. There is still much work to be done, especially considering the disappointing 5 percent teacher pay raise outlined in the House budget. We plan to uphold more extensive and significant benefits to our valued teachers in the Senate budget. 

In transportation, we are continuing to ensure the improvement of proper road maintenance. Completely reconstructing roads is exponentially more financially compromising than preserving them, thus we are focused on maintaining instead of replacing.

Additionally, our attention is still directed to the coal ash clean-up efforts. I would like to see North Carolina have the strictest and safest standards in this regard in the nation. 

Ensuring strong educational standards

We can all agree it’s vitally important to have rigorous academic standards and accurate measures of student achievement to make sure our kids are getting the education they deserve. But for months, we have heard concerns from teachers and parents about how previous leaders’ decision to implement Common Core without tailoring the program to fit North Carolina public schools is hurting our children.

Common Core was adopted by Gov. Perdue’s State Board of Education in 2010, before we assumed leadership of the General Assembly. Since then, we’ve heard multiple accounts of how Common Core is requiring teachers to create lessons that are age-inappropriate, confusing or both.

That’s why last fall, the General Assembly commissioned a Legislative Research Committee (LRC) to study the issue of Common Core. Through several meetings that took place during the legislative interim, LRC members heard extensively from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the state board of education, school administrators, teachers, parents, students, elected officials and members of the general public.

Incorporating public feedback, the LRC came up with a plan to establish a temporary Academic Standards Review Commission to provide an independent review of the Common Core standards for math and English language arts.

This week, the Senate passed a bill that creates an 11-member commission to be made up of parents, classroom teachers, content-area experts, researchers and other stakeholders tasked with ensuring North Carolina has the most rigorous, coherent and age-appropriate math and English standards in the nation.

While Common Core has become a hot button issue, our bill provides a common sense path forward — it reasserts North Carolina’s rightful authority over academic standards, provides continuity for our teachers and students and — most importantly — ensures our state has high, rigorous academic standards that prepare our children for academic and professional success in the future.

We will remain focused on helping North Carolina move forward with a standard course of study that best fits our state and our schools.

Strengthening transparency in public-private partnership

This week, the Senate tentatively passed legislation authorizing the state department of commerce to partner with a newly formed private nonprofit organization.

The bill contained a number of safeguards to strengthen transparency and accountability in the use of tax dollars and it requires greater private investment on joint economic development efforts.

The legislation will require the private Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina to raise at least a quarter of a million dollars in private donations before entering into a contract and receiving any state funds, and raise at least $1 million in private donations each year afterward.

It will also prohibit the comingling of state and private funds and establish a stringent ethics policy to require disclosures of potential conflicts of interest.

An Economic Development Accountability and Standards Committee will also be created to monitor performance and ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely. There will be a ban on using compensation as a reward for the closing of any specific deal.

This bill will help recruit and retain jobs in North Carolina, while allowing for greater collaboration of the public and private sectors and increasing transparency and accountability in the use of tax dollars.

Providing schools flexibility in reading assessments

Responding to feedback from parents, teachers and school administrators, the Senate passed legislation that will enable a more seamless implementation of a major student literacy initiative designed to ensure reading proficiency among North Carolina third-graders.

The modifications to the Read to Achieve program — first adopted by the General Assembly in 2012 to provide a safety net for third graders who have not yet learned to read — will provide additional flexibility to local school districts and address concerns about the amount of time spent on assessing student proficiency.

The bill ensures local school districts have the option to develop alternative assessments of student proficiency that will be reviewed by state officials to make sure they are consistent with state standards. It also provides additional exemptions for students with learning disabilities.

The legislation gives more discretion to local school districts on the length of remedial reading camps by requiring a minimum of 72 hours of reading instruction over at least three weeks and offers additional choices to parents on whether to send their kids to the camps.

Finally, it clarifies that student portfolio assessments should begin in the first half of the school year, thus giving teachers and students more time to work through the material.

The Senate is continuing to listen and respond to educators throughout the state. This revised plan will help ensure that every child is given the tools necessary to succeed in life.

Film incentives

From intern Catherine Kilian: “This particular subject has been included as a part of Senate Bill 743 (House Bill 1031).  It has passed in the Senate and is now in the House. North Carolina Economic Development Partnership Modifications (SB 743) has passed the first reading in the House and has been referred to the Finance Committee. Further details of this bill can be found by going to www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2013&BillID=s743.”

Bills filed

There were no new bills filed this week, but if you are interested in viewing information on bills currently being discussed in the General Assembly, you may do so at http://www.ncleg.net. You can search for legislation from sessions dating back to 1985 by bill number or keyword via the search function in the top right corner of the page. Search results contain the bill’s text, legislative history, and summary (i.e., bill digest). From the front page, clicking on “Legislation/Bills” will lead you to other search functions that will allow you to find bills and legislation by sponsor, year, topic, or other criteria. These handy tools will allow you to stay more in touch with what is happening here at the General Assembly.

We will be hard at work for the next few weeks and expect the rest of this session to be eventful as usual. Thank you all for your support, and please do not hesitate to contact me at my office in Raleigh at (919) 733-5963 or email Bill.Rabon@ncleg.net. My legislative assistant, Paula Fields, or Kilian will assist you.

 

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Southport, represents Brunswick, Bladen, New Hanover and Pender counties in the North Carolina Senate and faces Democrat Ernie Ward in November’s general election. He can be reached in Raleigh at (919) 733-5963 or Bill.Rabon@ncleg.net.