Monday, July 21, 2014

Mission Impossible: Keep up with General Assembly

Last summer I kicked myself for paying too little attention to the legislative session.  Like many others, I struggled to figure out changes to tenure,  teacher pay,  charter school rules and other developments in public education after lawmakers had gone home and everything was a done deal.

This year I vowed to make sure readers knew about education proposals in time to react.  But I'm no longer sure that's possible.

I set out with good intentions,  dutifully trying to keep up with the education bills being introduced.

In June I spent a week in Raleigh covering the General Assembly.  Mostly I learned that not being there isn't as big a disadvantage as I'd thought.  The legislative web site has a lot of great information,  including audio links to key discussions.  After scurrying around to grab a seat in the chambers,  I discovered that the more experienced political reporters often stayed in the press room following the discussions on audio.

So it's great that we can do that from Charlotte.  But I've concluded that the volume and complexity of this system makes it nearly impossible to keep up,  even in this ostensibly short and simple off-year session.

A search for education bills in the 2013-14 session gets 532 results.  I'm pretty sure that only those in the lighter typeface are active in 2014,  but that's still a long list.

Sometimes the content changes dramatically as it moves through the system.  House Bill 1224,  for instance,  began life in May as  "an act to modify the job maintenance and capital development fund provisions."  But when it went to the Senate Finance Committee last week it morphed into a bill that could kill the Mecklenburg County commissioners' plan to hold a referendum on a sales-tax hike to boost Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools salaries.

I've paid especially close attention to Senate Bill 793,  which has been through five versions, 11 proposed amendments and 39 actions since it was introduced in May.  It's the one that,  depending on the day,  either ensures that charter schools will follow the same personnel disclosure and privacy laws as other public schools,  removes all references to said topic or blocks disclosure of charter school employees' names.  (Meanwhile,  the Observer finally completed the database of Charlotte-area salaries last week,  when Lincoln Charter provided its information.)

Because I was dogging that bill,  Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg,  realized that his protect-the-names amendment has consequences far beyond his intentions.  He says he asked the conference committee to delete the amendment he got the House to pass.  Best I can tell,  there's been no action since that committee was created July 1.  What will emerge is anyone's guess.  Meanwhile,  a search for charter school bills turns up 47 other options to keep track of.

In my efforts to serve as a better watchdog,  I've ended up feeling like a mutt trying to chase a forest full of squirrels.  Even with the state's press corps doing their best,  I can't help wondering what  surprises may emerge after the last gavel bangs.  (Public Schools First NC is doing the best job I've seen of tracking education proposals.  Last week's summary filled nine pages.)

I voiced my frustration to Tom Tate,  the CMS board's senior member,  when we were talking about something else.

"I don't know how anyone is keeping up with it at this point,"  Tate sympathized.  "Even the legislators themselves."


Anonymous said...

It's a fool's circus down there being run by a bunch of clowns. I can't think of anything more dangerous for our schools...and our state. Everyone is pushing their own private little the meantime, students and teachers suffer,

Kenneth Allen said...

Back when I was in the Raleigh bureau, we had two reporters, the News had one and during the legislative sessions one other reporter was dispatched from Charlotte, and specialists parachuted in for things like education bills. That was possible because there were two education reporters in Charlotte. What Ann has detailed is the logical consequence of newspaper cutbacks and their effect on the running of government.

Anonymous said...

The picture of Tom Tillis at the beginning of this article is perfect! A picture is worth a thousand words.

Anonymous said...


Focus you efforts on the wastefull spending within CMS and the reason droves of its teachers are leaving. You will have better results and do more for your community.

Anonymous said...

As they struggle to balance the budget, I wonder if the Republicans will ever figure out that the state couldn't afford the huge tax cut for their rich buddies or if they will continue with their plans to give them yet another one next year.

Wiley Coyote said...

That's how the legislature works, whether Democrats or Republicans have a majority.

This is nothing new.

Unknown said...


"Ann's Adventures in Wonderland"

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”
― Lewis Carroll

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Ann, Were you trying to make a plug for "Public Schools First"? This looks like a group that's against any and all attempts at education reform. No to charters. No to vouchers. No to tenure reform. Yes to increased taxes.

Anti-reform groups are springing up across the country. They're organized, funded and have a sympathetic press to help get out their message.

Anonymous said...

12:03, they definitely have an agenda and I'm not trying to plug it. They just seem to be using some of those resources to keep tabs on and disseminate legislative info. I think I'd find it useful even if I disagreed. If you know another group with different views that's also tallying so much info, let me know and I'll share that, too.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of like the NEA, which definitely has a vested interest in teacher pay and working conditions. But a lot of different people, including those who are not big NEA boosters, use their annual teacher pay report because they do the work to compile it.

Wiley Coyote said...

Legislation and rules... Hard to follow as well...

No more bake sales coming to a PTO near you, courtesy of Michelle Obama and the USDA.

...As of July 1st, the Federal mandate of Healthy Snacks will essentially gut fundraising where cookies, cakes and other food are for sale.

The latest round of federal guidelines for healthier food choices could mean fewer biscuits, doughnuts and bake sales for school fundraisers.

The Smart Snacks in Schools nutrition program, which took effect July 1 as part of the Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010, is tightening restrictions on snacks and beverages sold to students during the school day. Among the new regulations is a requirement that snack items to have 200 calories or less. Sodium must be 230 milligrams or less, although that number will drop to 200 milligrams in 2016.

“The biggest impact is the food fundraisers. We have PTOs and booster clubs that sell stuff during the school day like biscuits in the car line,” Roof said (Richland School District 2). “You can’t do that anymore. Sometimes these food sales are a mainstay for clubs to raise money, so they will have to look for creative ways to raise money because of the law.”

bobcat99 said...

Ann, thanks for your hard work on this. It is comforting to know even those whose job it is to report the news find it a challenge to keep up with the process. I don't mind that the process is complicated. I do worry about someone slipping in proposals that none of us know about.

Anonymous said...

1:16pm My son's school makes a lot of money selling Krispy kreme doughnuts for the PTA. Guess those days are over, what a joke.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, someone told me they have to have whole-grain chicken nuggets now, which taste like ... well, not good.

Ghoul said...

Anonymous said...

As they struggle to balance the budget, I wonder if the Republicans will ever figure out that the state couldn't afford the huge tax cut for their rich buddies or if they will continue with their plans to give them yet another one next year.
July 21, 2014 at 8:47 AM

The state does not own money earned by individuals, so any bill or law changing the tax code does not "have to be paid for". The state of NC takes in plenty of money, but it is still learning how best to use it after 100 years of living the high life with other people's money.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't anyone looking at administration for cuts? I am sure DPI and many of the central offices throughout the state could use a trim. At least assistants work with children. I agree with the senate about pushing money back into the classroom. I just think the wrong people are being cut. How many assistants can you get for one of the clowns downtown in a cubicle?

Anonymous said...

The healthy snack mandate is pretty futile if the universal breakfast program feeds kids fruit loops, golden grahams, juice, chocolate milk, and a pancake tortilla ( a pancake folded like a taco with sausage in it and syrup to dip in). I teach at a title 1 school. The kids at my school eat this breakfast everyday. 18 out of my 20 students ate every morning. Surely, we can provide healthier choices for the kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy to see the new guidelines for healthier food in schools and that it means many fundraisers will be affected.

Selling Krispy Kreme was nothing but free advertising fattening their bottom lines and our behinds. Good riddance.

There are plenty of ways to raise funds without resorting to selling garbage food.

Anonymous said...

It is not in the "BROAD PLAYBOOK" to cut administrative staff. Quite the oppisite. MOrrison continues to add layers of non-qualified and unlicensed staff around him. Few in the tower can even teach in the classroom.

Non impact sad use of taxpayer $

Anonymous said...

You need to fundraise 4 something other than a NC public company ? How do you expect to pay the taxes that run this business thats called CMS and public education ?

Common Core for a Common Cause

Anonymous said...

So now the Governor has signed a bill to replace Common Core Standards. Would someone please explain why the state spent $66 MILLION to implement Common Core Standards if they were not appropriate?

And if they are not appropriate for North Carolina, why were they adopted in the first place?

And who are the people that will be selected to serve on the oversight committee to write new standards? What are their education credentials?

Un flippin believable!!!!!