North Carolina Republicans Meet Privately Over Education Issues

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A private meeting set to take place this week among Republican lawmakers of the North Carolina General Assembly will discuss education policy that could be brought up during the legislative session slated to begin this month.

Key House and Senate members will be in attendance with outside speakers slated to inform the discussion on education issues. Republicans currently have veto-proof majorities in both chambers and have power over what is discussed during the work session.

Rep. Tim Moore, who is expected to be elected speaker at the ceremonial opening next week, announced that while there will be no official decisions made at the joint caucus meeting, the GOP members will seek some level of consensus.

Hopefully “we can come to common agreement in our educational reform efforts,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee during the past session, but “all we’re going to be talking about are ideas.”

Speakers at the meeting this week are expected to include representatives from think tanks like the John Locke Foundation and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The chambers’ partisan caucuses are known to meet privately during the session in the Legislative Building, and will meet off-site for more political matters.

Some are concerned about the closed-door approach, however. Government watchdog groups would like to see legislators allow the public to hear about the education policy too.

“If you really want citizens to think you are operating on their behalf, you should be as open as possible,” Jane Pinsky with the North Carolina Coalition for Government Reform told The News & Observer.

An education retreat for legislators of both parties is routinely held by The Hunt Institute.  This year the event is slated to take place next week.

According to the institute’s executive director, Judith Rizzo, the retreat will be held away from the public eye in order to create “a safe environment where they can probe and ask questions.”

The meeting is expected to offer attendees the opportunity to hear from experts and “see where the two bodies agree” on the issue of education; always a major issue for the state and routinely the topic of heated debate, writes Lynn Bonner for The Charlotte Observer.

The legislature in the state has had at least two committees hearing presentations and working on draft legislation pertaining to education in the latter half of 2014.

So far the committees’ suggestions include offering health insurance coverage for retired teachers who return to work, as well as waivers to the state school calendar law for districts who discuss specific educational needs.

Meanwhile, high schools in the state are planning to change to a 10-point grading system beginning this fall, where a 90% will equal an “A.” The change, expected to be phased in over the next few years, will only apply to ninth-graders for the first year.