Under the Dome

Berger revises education plan on teacher tenure, pre-K and school calendar

A plan to overhaul teacher tenure, the school calendar and school assessment continues to evolve in the Senate as more questions and potential pitfalls emerge upon examination.

Senate leader Phil Berger presented the newest version of his legislation Tuesday in the Senate Education Committee, which approved it by voice vote roughly along party lines. The amended language retreats on the elimination of teacher tenure by allowing school systems to give educators with more than three years experience a contract up to four years. The measure -- Senate bill 795 -- also adds five days to the school calendar but a change gives districts the flexibility to meet a minimum number of hours (1,025) instead of days (185).

Teacher groups applauded the first change but still spoke against the broader measure. The latter alteration involving the calendar, however, sparked considerable concerns from Democrats and education groups who did the math: with longer school days, it's possible for districts to reduce the school year to 160 days.

Berger said after the meeting that he would support adding a provision to put a minimum cap on the number of school days, likely at 180.

Another provision added changes the eligibility of the N.C. Pre-K program and reverses eligibility requirements and fees approved last year. The addition seeks to conform state law to a judge's ruling striking limits on the state's pre-kindergarten program.

Berger, an Eden Republican, is expending serious political capital pushing the bill, with Democrats swiping at his efforts at every turn. Teacher and school district groups are concerned about the effort, too, though public comment was limited Tuesday to roughly 20 minutes.

State Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, said the bill is part of a broader effort to "disparage public education" and boost private education.

"What I'm concerned about is the signal we are sending to the state -- public schools are bad and they are failing and they are failing our students," he said.

The push comes without promises the House will consider it. In an interview, Berger said he met with the House speaker's office to pitch his bill but didn't receive any commitment about its future. 

The bill will next go to the Senate appropriations and finance committee, which will consider the financial implications. In the first year it will cost roughly $45.6 million, a price tag rising to $82.3 million by fiscal year 2016-17. The House didn't put the money in its budget proposal released Tuesday.

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