Politics & Government

NC would require schools to teach about Holocaust. What else is in the state budget?

North Carolina lawmakers are using the new state budget to require that schools teach about the Holocaust. But lawmakers have backed away from a plan to phase out funding for the popular early college high school programs.

The new $24 billion budget released this week by Republican legislative leaders includes a wide range of items affecting the education of the state’s 1.5 million public school students. Changes cover things such as how teachers buy supplies and what classes students are required to take.

But some controversial items from earlier budget plans were dropped.

Here are some things to know about the new budget:

Holocaust education

The budget requires the State Board of Education to include instruction of the Holocaust and genocide in the English and social studies standards used in middle schools and high schools.

Supporters say it’s needed because some people still deny that the Nazis killed millions of Jews, Roma and other people they considered to be undesirable. A bill requiring teaching of the Holocaust was adopted by the House earlier this year.

There’s been a nationwide push to require public schools to teach about the Holocaust.

Financial literacy

There’s also been a nationwide push to promote financial literacy instruction in schools. The budget requires that students take a personal finance class to graduate from high school.

The new class would be one of the four social studies classes that high school students are required to take. Critics say that squeezing in the new course will force state education officials to eliminate one of the two required U.S. history courses.

It would be required beginning with freshmen entering the ninth grade in the 2020-21 school year.

To try to ensure that the new class becomes law, legislators have been trying to get separate legislation on the new course adopted.

Required arts class

Legislators also included a long-sought requirement that students take an arts class before they graduate.

The budget would require students to complete an arts education credit between sixth grade and 12th grade. The new requirement would go into effect with students entering sixth grade in 2022.

Classroom supplies

Lawmakers are changing how school supplies are purchased by requiring school districts to provide $150 this year and $200 next year to each teacher to buy items for their classes.

Under the new program, teachers would use an app to either purchase the supplies or to get reimbursed for their purchases. Supporters argue that the change will give teachers more control over what they buy.

Critics say individual teachers won’t be able to buy items as cheaply as districts that purchase in bulk. To ease concerns that the new program would take away too much money from district budgets, lawmakers are providing an additional $15 million in state funding and are scaling back how much money each teacher would get in the new program.

Read To Achieve

The budget includes efforts to try to improve the Read To Achieve program, an effort that has seen test scores for third-grade students fall despite the state spending at least $150 million since 2012 to improve reading skills.

Legislators included wording from the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019, which has steps such as requiring K-3 teachers to develop individual reading plans for students who are not reading at grade level. Other changes include revising training standards for teachers and requiring school districts to get state approval for their summer reading camp plans.

How schools are graded

Budget writers would make permanent the 15-point grading scale used to evaluate the performance of every public school in the state.

North Carolina’s public schools are currently given A-F letter grades based primarily on how well they perform on tests. In the 15-point scale, a school with a score of 85 to 100 gets an A.

State test scores account for 80% of the grade, with 20% based on how much growth students are showing on the tests.

Even though state law calls for a 10-point scale, lawmakers have annually used a 15-point scale for schools. Some television news stations had incorrectly reported that lawmakers were considering changing the scale used to grade students as opposed to schools.

The compromise plan doesn’t include the House proposal to also make growth 51% of the grade. But the Senate Education Committee backed a bill Wednesday that would both make the 15-point scale permanent and would direct the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Mark Johnson to recommend whether to revise the balance given to growth and achievement.

Early college funding

The compromise budget eliminates a cut from the Senate that supporters of early colleges warned could cause some schools to close.

The Senate budget would have phased out supplemental funding over the next three years that early colleges use for things such as purchasing textbooks and paying for an adviser for students. Supporters of the program noted that they have both high graduation rates and test scores compared to traditional high schools.

Under the new budget, lawmakers would increase state funding for early colleges. But legislators would also cap state funding for new early colleges to four additional schools a year.

Dropped from the budget

Several budget items that were in the House and Senate budgets didn’t make it into the final plan, including:

Eliminating the section that removes the ability of school districts to sue county commissioners for more money for school construction projects.

Eliminating the section that removes the ability of teachers to take personal leave on school days to participate in protests such as the last two May marches in Raleigh that caused many school districts to cancel classes.

Funding to start a pilot virtual pre-K program.

Funding to hire 100 new school psychologists.

Wording easing reporting requirements for private schools that receive voucher students under the Opportunity Scholarship program.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.