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Education bills but no budget; plus, back-to-school message barrage

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) addressing reporters after Tuesday's session and the North Carolina General Assembly's adjournment until late April.
Rusty Jacobs
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) addressing reporters at North Carolina General Assembly.

This article originally appeared in WFAE reporter Ann Doss Helms' weekly education newsletter. To get the latest school news in your inbox first, sign up for our email newsletters here.

Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly returned from its August vacation to override the governor’s veto on three education bills. There’s one requiring school districts to take new steps to empower parents, one making it easier to expand charter schools and opening the way for counties to provide money for charter school buildings, and one restructuring the authorization and oversight of charter schools.

But even more striking is what the legislature has not done: Passed a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Lawmakers extended their August break while schools across the state were desperately trying to hire teachers — without being able to tell them what their pay scale would be.

We can debate whether the state needs new rules for parents to review school library books or more seats in low-performing charter schools. But the state constitution makes it clear that the General Assembly has a duty to provide “a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

It feels like the folks charged with that duty are dragging their heels about doing it.

In past years, budgets have been delayed by partisan gridlock over issues like Medicaid expansion. This year the Republican supermajority can override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes — and they’ve agreed to the Medicaid expansion Cooper has sought for years. Leaders of the House and Senate, both led by Republicans, say they’re working through a list of small disagreements and now hope to wrap up sometime in September.

Meanwhile, here are some of the other things our lawmakers have not done this session:

  • Responded meaningfully to the years of expert studies and court rulings in the Leandro case telling them to significantly boost their spending for public education. Instead, lawmakers have focused on arguing that the courts can’t tell them what to do.
  • Acted on a proposal crafted by education and business leaders to restructure teacher pay and licensure — a plan that’s supported by the Republican state superintendent and the state Board of Education as a step to recruit and retain sorely-needed teachers.
  • Improved on the state’s school performance ratings, the A-to-F letter grades based primarily on student proficiency on state exams. There’s widespread bipartisan agreement that those grades say more about demographics and disadvantages than about school quality.
  • Dealt with the open rebellion against the state’s school calendar law by more than a dozen school boards. Again, there’s bipartisan support for local calendar flexibility that includes state Superintendent Catherine Truitt, but the state Senate won’t budge.

It’s hard to imagine any other job where you could miss your most important deadline, take a couple of weeks of vacation before resuming the task and return with no clear sense of urgency. But as public schools across the state gear up to do their work, that’s exactly what our lawmakers are doing.

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CMS' back-to-school countdown includes a barrage of messages

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is cranking up the communications as the Aug. 28 return to school approaches — so much so that some families were joking on social media about blocking CMS to control the flood of calls, texts and emails.


“Yes!!! What the hell is going on?! It’s constant!!!” another replied.

The messages cover vaccinations, lunch and bus schedules and other topics, but the ones that seem to irritate parents most are about LaunchPad. “None of my people know what Launch Pad is and leaving me several messages a day about it will not help them know any better!” one wrote.

A screenshot of launchpad
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

According to the CMS website, LaunchPad is a new web portal that will provide access to student information. It went live last week, and families can get help logging in once classes begin. Or get a head start with this tutorial.

CMS Communications Director Susan Vernon-Devlin says the district is aware of frustration, which came partly because the initial round of messages about setting up a LaunchPad password neglected to mention that it could be done only on a CMS-issued laptop or an iPad. The volume may be high, she says, but “with the first day of classes just 10 days away, the intent was to prepare our families.”

And if you want more information about such topics as open houses, buses and enrollment, CMS has created a back-to-school page — with a second-by-second countdown to opening day.

If you’re new to the district, it helps to get your kids enrolled before classes start. CMS is holding enrollment events from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Governors’ Village upper campus, 7910 Neal Road, and from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Harding University High media center, 2001 Alleghany St.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.