North Carolina families will see some changes as they go back to school this fall thanks to education reforms put into place earlier this year.
Notably, legislators approved a measure to end social promotion. Rather than automatically passing students on to the next grade, all third-grade students will be required to read at grade level before advancing to the fourth grade. Other states that have implemented this policy suggest that it is helpful in boosting student achievement.
Families will also benefit from a new grading system for schools that will boost accountability and transparency to parents. Schools will now be graded on a simple A–F scale based on student test scores, allowing parents to see how their children’s schools measure up.
However, while the state assembly approved reforms that would have ended teacher tenure and implemented a merit pay system for teachers, the Senate blocked these efforts. Such changes would have allowed school administrations to dismiss teachers based on poor performance and would have allowed schools to reward high-performing teachers with additional compensation.
Perhaps the most critical reform that failed to become law was a proposal by House Majority Leader Skip Stam (R–Wake) for a new tax credit scholarship program for lower-income children. This school choice proposal would have allowed tax credits for corporations that donate to private school scholarships. While North Carolina has one private school choice program, put into place in 2011, it is limited to students with special needs. Expanding school choice would give more children the opportunity to attend schools that meet their unique learning needs, such as Upper Room Christian Academy (URCA) in southeast Raleigh. According to Civitas Review, URCA “demonstrates the way in which rigorous academics, a strong community, and ethical guidance can help students flourish.” URCA parents note the importance of the school’s safe environment, the strong curriculum, and the positive relationships between students and teachers. And with per-pupil expenditures at 60 percent of what the public schools spend per student, URCA is providing a great value.
In the last couple of years, North Carolina has made promising steps forward to improve education. Its move to introduce private school choice for special needs children last year was particularly exciting. Expanding choice to more students, as several states around the nation have done recently, would further empower North Carolina families to give their children the best education possible.
Additionally, policies to support quality teaching—by eliminating tenure while rewarding teachers for their good work—would increase the likelihood that students in the state have access to effective teachers.
Tess Liegeois is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.