2016 Legislative Wrap-Up: Education Budget and Bills

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This article was contributed by Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ASNC. It is the second of three parts wrapping up the NC General Assembly’s 2016 short session.

Teacher and school staff raises, education programs and supplies: The budget adjustments bill adds $240 million for teacher and school staff raises, plus an additional $10 million in merit-based incentives. This represents an average 4.7% increase in school staff salaries. Additional funds were added for school supplies ($2.5 million R), digital learning programs ($4 million R, 0.7 million NR) and textbooks and digital materials ($10 million NR). Cuts were made to central office administration at the LEA level ($2.5 million R), the NC Department of Public Instruction ($250,000 R), and grants to 17 afterschool providers from the at-risk supplemental funds ($4.7 million).

K-12 Disability Scholarships: Adds $5.8 million (R) to address the waiting list in the scholarship program for kindergarten through high school students with disabilities attending non-public schools. The program provides scholarship grants of up to $4,000 per semester for eligible students. The revised net appropriation for Special Education Scholarships is $10 million. For more information on who qualifies and how to apply for the program go to the website of the NC State Education Authority. A special provision (technical correction bill) in the budget expands the type of students who qualify for the scholarships. A reminder that only students from K-12 with disabilities who leave the public school system or enter the non-public school system in kindergarten or first grade qualify for the scholarships. The new requirements in the budget now categorize eligible groups based on a priority system which also expands eligibility:

1st priority: Eligible students who received a scholarship in the previous semester

2nd Priority: Students who were enrolled in a public school during the previous semester, OR  who received special education or related services though the public schools as a preschool child with a disability the previous semester, OR a child identified as a child with a disability in the public school system before the end of initial enrollment in kindergarten or first grade, OR (new) a child whose parent or legal guardian in on full-time duty status in the armed forces.

3rd/last priority: (new) a child who has been living in the state for at least 6 months.

These changes allow children with disabilities who are in military families (those currently here and those who moved to the state recently) as well as children with disabilities who left the public school system in previous years to attend non-public schools the opportunity to apply for scholarships. Because qualification for the program is complicated, we encourage families who think they may qualify to contact the NC State Education Authority directly. Please note that if applications for scholarships exceed the funds available for the program, children will be put on a waiting list until funding is available.

Student assault on teacher/felony offense, S343: Advocates including ASNC were closely monitoring this bill that would have made any “assault” (not defined in law) on a teacher or school staff a felony offense. There are a number of objections to the law: NC treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults and charges, tries, and penalizes them in an adult system; assaults that result in injury already are classified as a felony; and for individuals with behavior disorders, such as autism, their disability may be at the core of the behavior problem. Making it a felony would not change behavior or address the issue of managing behavior in school. Disability advocates were able to get children with an IEP exempted in the bill, but many children with disabilities are not identified by schools. The NC Senate passed the bill, but the NC House still had it under review by committees at the end of session, and it did not pass.

Math curriculum changes, H657: This bill, which came very close to passing in the final weeks of the session, would have required changing North Carolina’s public school math curriculum, despite evidence that changes made in the past four years to the math curriculum are improving students’ math testing and college readiness. ASNC and other advocates were concerned that a new curriculum adapted for students in Occupational Course of Study or for those with learning challenges would not be ready in time given the short deadlines for implementation, that changes might require a return to older standards for passing college-ready math courses for OCS students, and that students enrolled in virtual schools would not have access to math courses. Advocates asked that students with disabilities be exempted from the curriculum changes. Conference committees appointed to sort out differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill were not able to meet, and the bill did not pass.

If you have questions about North Carolina policy issues, please contact Jennifer Mahan, ASNC Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5068.

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