Innovate; do not decimate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 6, 2014

State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell’s suggestion to let North Carolina students attend any public school — not just in their districts, but anywhere in the state — got the puzzled reception it deserved during a legislative committee meeting Monday.
Can we call a moratorium on scattershot school reform bills for at least a year?
It’s hard to believe Hartsell, a longtime Republican lawmaker from Cabarrus, was serious about his “wherever” proposal; he was not at the meeting in which the bill came up, and it was tabled. But don’t think that’s the end of it. The issue could resurface after further study. Hartsell would have to come up with powerful evidence to reassure fellow lawmakers that such a measure would not throw the schools into utter chaos. Innovation is one thing; decimation is another.
Hartsell has said he got the idea from a study of the Douglas County school system in Colorado. Shall we start a list of all the education bills lawmakers introduced in 2013 based on random ideas, studies and theories? What is it about running for public office that confers the status of education expert on everyone who goes to Raleigh?
The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee (whew) that tabled Hartsell’s bill OK’d other bills to be introduced in the upcoming short session, bills related to the approval of charter schools and paying for private- and home-school students to take courses from the N.C. Virtual School. The measures are hardly sweeping in nature, nor are they essential. It would seem lawmakers could desist in this kind of tweaking and fiddling with education for the short session.
Of course, legislative action may be needed to undo some of the damage the 2013 General Assembly wrought, if legal action doesn’t accomplish it first. The Guilford County school board has voted to sue the state over a law to abolish teacher tenure, and a Superior Court judge ordered that distribution of funds in the state’s new voucher program be stopped until issues in two pending lawsuits have been resolved., according to Rural Policy Matters. Some re-reform may be necessary.
Legislative sessions in even-numbered years are supposed to be short, focusing only on adjustments to the two-year budget approved the previous year. Along those lines, this could be the year lawmakers solve the riddle of how to give teachers and other state employees much-needed raises. But as columnist Scott Mooneyham notes elsewhere on this page, the revenue picture is not good. It’s hard to have faith in the “Carolina Comeback” if the legislature has to dip into reserves to balance the budget — and if our teachers remain among the lowest-paid in the nation.