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Morning Memo: A new 2014 map, McCrory mum on second big departure

UPDATED: WHAT REDISTRICTING MEANS: Only one competitive congressional race in 2014. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball political rankings show what happens when congressional districts are packed with like-minded folks. Of the state's 13 congressional races, only one is deemed competitive between parties. The seat is Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre in District 7. McIntyre won a close race in 2012 -- one of the few where Mitt Romney won the president vote -- and another tight contest is expected in 2014. The pundits at University of Virginia give him the early edge, though, ranking the race "leans Democratic."

***You are reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more news and analysis below.***

Senate committee votes to dump high school tests

A Senate committee passed a bill to do away with four end-of-course tests for high school students, despite a warning from a judge that the move could lead to a constitutional challenge.

House Bill 48 would eliminate standardized tests in U.S. history, civics and economics, Algebra II and physical science. The bill had bipartisan support in the House, but in today's Senate committee, Democrats spoke against the bill while Republicans supported it.

Dumping the tests would violate students' rights under the state constitution and the Leandro ruling that guarantees a sound basic education for all students, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. has warned.

Today, the N.C. Association of Educators, the teachers group, spoke in support of the bill, saying the high stakes standardized tests rob teachers of the ability to be creative and address current events. "You can't talk about Egypt," said Brian Lewis, government relations manager for NCAE. "There's no time."

But others said dropping the tests would deal a major blow to accountability in public education. Ann McColl, lobbyist for the State Board of Education, said the board is ready to go to a next generation of improved tests.

"If we take out these tests, we won't be able to tell you what kind of progress we're making in our low-performing schools," she said.

A high school math teacher from Warren County wants to see the tests continue. "I think this bill seriously jeopardizes public education in North Carolina," said Pablo Friedmann, who teaches Algebra. He said doing away with the tests would conflict with the state's goals and promises to the federal government for the $400 million Race to the Top grant.

The bill passed the House 94-13 and heads to the Senate floor next.

Dalton seeks to link high school, jobs

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton has a cause.

In North Carolina, lieutenant governors have little real authority or duties and are left to carve their own niche in state government.

On Monday, Dalton is lauching a commission to help make high school more relevant.

The commission, Joining Our Businesses and Schools (JOBS) seeks to link high school with local economies. The panel will include 20 business and education leaders who will work on making high school graduates more prepared for a career.
"I’m excited about this opportunity to strengthen our high school curricula and make education more relevant for students," Dalton said. "They’ll be getting a leg up on 21st Century jobs, and our employers will benefit from a better-prepared workforce."

The JOBS Commission is a grant-funded legislative commission that will tour the state and try to build on the success of the state’s award-winning early college themed high schools, which give high school students a head start on a college degree, an associate’s degree or a job.

Dalton wrote the 2003 law that led to the establishment of more than 70 early college high schools across North Carolina.

House delays graduation project

The state House voted overwhelmingly today to lift the state requirement for seniors graduating in 2010 to compete special projects to get their diplomas.

The 115-3 vote for House Bill 223 to delay the requirement until the class of 2011 graduates rubber stamps a decision the State Board of Education made last month, reports Lynn Bonner.

Local school districts can still choose to require the projects for 2010.

Senior projects drew praise from some legislators, but even a few supporters said the projects are easier for students who have extensive support.

Rep. Tricia Cotham, a former teacher and school administrator in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, said many good things come from projects, but they create "a system of haves and have-nots."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

More Senate bills

A few more interesting Senate bills:

S.B. 64: Motorcycle Learner's Permit, Sen. Harry Brown

S.B. 65: Amend Computer Solicitation of Child, Sen. Jerry Tillman

S.B. 66: Require Arts Educ. Credit for Graduation, Sen. Katie Dorsett

S.B. 68: No ABC Establishments W/I 1,000 Ft. of Sch., Sen. Dorsett

S.B. 74: Increase Penalty/2nd Degree Murder, Sen. Ed Jones

Campaign season solstice?

Campaign season opens today.

Although many candidates have been running TV ads, holding barbecues and appearing at debates, the official filing for 2008 elections start at noon today.

The issues that will likely dominate this year's elections: The Iraq war, illegal immigration, jobs and the economy, the high school dropout rate, health care and corruption in state government.

Democrats hope to use Iraq against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and U.S. Rep. Howard Coble. Republicans hope to use corruption to aim for a clean sweep in Raleigh.

Candidate filing closes on Feb. 29. (N&O)

Day 2: Roundup

A total of 173 bills competed in the second qualifying round of Speed Week.

Among the 23 that passed a third reading in either the House or the Senate yesterday:

Mega Millions High: A House bill would ban the lottery from advertising at high school sporting events. Not that they were, but a college ban died.

HPV FYI: A Senate bill would require schools tell parents that a vaccine can help prevent human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer.

Smoked out: A Senate bill would add blunts, a type of cigar often used to smoke marijuana, to the list of prohibited drug paraphernalia.

In other news, a Senate bill would allow terriers to compete in digging contests known as "earthdog trials," two House bills would let teachers receive their pension even if they're elected to the school board or go back to work and a House bill would let Morrisville regulate golf carts driven on town roads.

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