General Assembly

The North Carolina legislative office building
Wikipedia

Lawmakers returned to Raleigh today to begin preparation for their first legislative session of the year. 

Interstate 40 traffic
Dave DeWitt

Wake County school leaders said Thursday that the state’s decision to eliminate funding for driver’s education could put students at risk and lead to higher costs for families and taxpayers.

This summer, state lawmakers passed legislation to eliminate the $26 million school districts now receive to fund the program. That means starting next July, when the new fiscal year begins, districts will have to find other means to cover program costs.

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging Wake County’s school board election maps.

The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice is challenging the 2013 redistricting on behalf of a handful of Wake County residents and two local organizations. They argue that the new districts drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly disfavor urban voters.

Sharing economy illustration
North Carolina General Assembly

North Carolina lawmakers are taking their first look at how to regulate networks of individuals who buy and sell services between each other, a billion-dollar global industry that already operates in dozens of cities across the state.

One of the peer-to-peer economy’s biggest exponents, Airbnb, accounts for about 2,700 residential rental listings across North Carolina, and drivers who pick up passengers with their personal cars using the application Uber operate in ten cities here.

Photo of Republican John Alexander and Democrat Tom Bradshaw
Alexander for NC Senate, Tom Bradshaw for NC Senate

The friendship between Tom Bradshaw and John Alexander has lasted more than 40 years, and has revolved around YMCA gymnasiums.

Bradshaw has been dedicated to the Y since he went to youth camps growing up. And Alexander, whose father got involved decades ago, has spent much of his life at the YMCA.  

They’re both on the executive board of the YMCA of the Triangle and on other community boards.

This year they both want to be the state senator for the northern part of Wake County.

On February 2, between 50,000 and 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of ash pond water waste were released at Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station (pictured above) north of Eden, N.C.
Steven Alexander / USFWS

Governor Pat McCrory says he'll allow a coal ash management plan to become law without his signature.

The governor says Duke Energy needs to take action as soon as possible. It needs to take care of the coal ash that's in ponds across the state. But that doesn't mean the governor is happy with the plan.

"I am letting the bill become law without signing it because there are major deficiencies that need to be corrected," he said in a recorded statement.

photo of the North Carolina Senate
Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC / Flickr

  After a prolonged legislative session marked by delayed talks and Republican infighting, the General Assembly has finished its work and adjourned for the year.

The short session dragged on as lawmakers struggled to compromise over key issues, including teacher pay and coal ash. Legislators managed to strike a last-minute deal on Wednesday that would work to remove coal ash from 33 ponds across the state.

  

Gerry Cohen is probably the most important North Carolina politician you don't know.

school bus maintenance
Dave DeWitt

Local school districts in North Carolina will have less state funding for school buses this year. The General Assembly cut $4.6 million from the budget for school transportation.

The cut comes one year after the Legislature upped the number of miles a school bus could stay on the roads.

"We do have a bit of an older fleet out there, not dramatically, but it is an older fleet now," says Derek Graham, the director of transportation services at the Department of Public Instruction. 

Lawmakers voted this summer to eventually eliminate teacher tenure, replacing it with temporary contracts. The State Board of Education will discuss a model contract this week.
cybrarian77 / https://www.flickr.com/photos/cybrarian77/6284181389

Governor Pat McCrory has signed a $21 billion dollar state budget that includes pay increases for teachers. He and other Republican leaders have been trying to send a loud and clear message that teachers will be getting a historic pay raise, the first major one in years.

They’ve been touting it as an average seven percent increase. But there’s been a lot of confusion over how that’ll actually pan out and whether all teachers will see a pay bump.

McCrory signs budget plan
Reema Khrais

Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law the state’s $21.1 billion budget bill that was approved by the legislature last week.

The signing comes five weeks after the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1st, a deadline lawmakers did not meet because of stalled negotiations and debate largely over teacher pay and Medicaid funding. 

McCrory signed the 260-page budget deal on Thursday at the executive mansion, proudly noting that the spending plan includes raises for teachers and state employees, while not increasing taxes or making reductions in Medicaid eligibility.

N.C. General Assembly, State Legislature
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Many of the smaller changes that came out of last week's state budget could have a sizable impact on local schools. One of the changes, added late in the negotiating process, cuts $9 million from programs aimed at helping at-risk students.

The cut was one of the many smaller pots of money that Republican budget writers used to pay for teacher raises.

Glenwood Elementary students
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Wake commissioners voted Monday against a referendum that could have raised the county's sales tax by a quarter-cent to generate about $28 million to go toward public schools.

Some Wake Commissioners wanted to hold the vote because the General Assembly might limit their ability to raise sales taxes. Lawmakers want to cap the local sales tax rate to 2.5 percent. The measure would allow some of the large urban counties, including Wake, to bypass that requirement if they levy a quarter percent tax this November.

North Carolina House Chamber
Jessica Jones

Lawmakers in the state House have tentatively passed a 21 billion dollar budget adjustment for this fiscal year. It would give teachers average 7 percent raises at a cost of 282 million dollars. Republicans say the spending plan is sustainable. But Democrats in the House are asking whether the combination of pay raises and this year’s lower tax rates will be sustainable over the long term. 

Leaders in the House began debating the budget conference report at 10 a.m. today. Appropriations Chair Nelson Dollar began by presenting what the bill stands for.

Gov. Pat McCrory
www.governor.state.nc.us

Governor Pat McCrory says he approves of the legislature's spending plan for state and will sign the bill.

The Senate already passed the $21 billion budget bill today and the House will likely approve it Saturday morning.

Governor Pat McCrory touted the budget proposal at a press conference on Friday.

“We've got a 2.2 percent increase in the general fund budget with no tax increase, with teacher pay raises, no elimination of teachers assistants and we've kept the integrity of our Medicaid, I'm proud of it,” he said.

NC Legislative Building
Dave DeWitt

After a 15-hour day at the legislature, Senators voted this morning to pass the $21.3 billion state spending plan. 

Senators didn't leave the legislative building until about 1 a.m. They were determined to make a final vote on the budget and wrap up any loose ends before heading home. 

But they'll be back soon enough. They're expected to return in a couple of weeks to take up any possible vetoes from the Governor. Then, they'll be back in November to pick up at least two bills they didn't finish. 

Lawmakers voted this summer to eventually eliminate teacher tenure, replacing it with temporary contracts. The State Board of Education will discuss a model contract this week.
cybrarian77 / https://www.flickr.com/photos/cybrarian77/6284181389

 As the state budget is finalized, some critics say they’re skeptical of how the teacher pay raises will pan out.

Under the budget deal, public school teachers will get an average seven percent raise. On the surface, many teachers say that sounds great, but some are worried about what it'll mean for more experienced teachers.

Currently, teachers with more than 10 years of experience receive lump-sum bonuses, which will be eliminated under the new salary plan.

NC Legislative Building
Dave DeWitt

 Nearly a month past their deadline, state leaders say they hope to release a final spending plan adjustment in the next couple of days.

Top negotiators haven't officially released any details yet, but they expect to give teachers average raises of about 7 percent. 

Governor McCrory talks with reporters at legislative building
Jessica Jones

 Governor Pat McCrory says that he and Republican leaders are making headway on resolving differences over the state budget.

He made an unusual visit to the legislature Thursday where he says he touched base and continued dialogue with lawmakers. McCrory says he spent more than an hour and a half talking with Senate leaders this week.

“I did present both the Senate and House caucuses, I think, breakthrough plans on how to work out our differences,” he said.

Students at McDougle Elementary.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Since the beginning of this year, many legislators and critics have dubbed Common Core "developmentally inappropriate."

They argue that the new Math and English standards should be repealed because they are not suitable for some students.

"I know there is some age and grade inappropriateness,” said Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman at a legislative meeting earlier this year. “I’ve talked with teachers.”

Lawmakers voted this summer to eventually eliminate teacher tenure, replacing it with temporary contracts. The State Board of Education will discuss a model contract this week.
cybrarian77 / https://www.flickr.com/photos/cybrarian77/6284181389

  The Houston Independent School District is looking to recruit more teachers from North Carolina.

Recruiters first visited in May, where they made 12 on-the-spot offers and later hired about 8 more teachers, according to Shaleah Reed, a spokesperson from HISD.

The district is offering $49,100 as a starting salary. North Carolina’s starting salary is among the lowest in the nation at $30,800.

Gerry Cohen
Jorge Valencia / Gerry Cohen

One of the most respected and beloved figures at the General Assembly is about to retire.

Gerry Cohen will soon finish his current job as the special counsel for the state legislature, where he was first hired as a staff attorney back in 1977. Later, he became head of the bill drafting division, where his encyclopedic memory and reputation for fairness made him a favorite among Democrats and Republicans alike.

Gerry Cohen’s office at the state legislature is filled with boxes of mementos and papers dating back several decades.

Students at McDougle Elementary.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

  Governor Pat McCrory has signed a bill designed to review and potentially replace the Common Core academic standards.

McCrory referred to the bill as a “Common Core review bill,” despite lawmakers who say that the legislation will work to replace the standards.

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

Governor Pat McCrory met with Senate Republicans Tuesday to try to narrow their differences over budget adjustments meant to be in place three weeks ago. McCrory's office and a top budget negotiator confirmed the 90-minute visit.

But, Senator Harry Brown says McCrory and senators did not have a breakthrough in the closed-door gathering. The Jacksonville Republican says the governor and lawmakers proposed potential compromises to end the delays preventing the budget's completion.

Photo: The Department of Public Instruction revealed a dramatic drop in student performance on standardized tests Thursday.
sandersonhs.org

The NC House gave final approval to a measure on Wednesday that would review and change the Common Core standards. The bill is now before Governor Pat McCrory, who says he will sign it.

Lawmakers have argued that they want to rewrite the English and Math standards to better suit North Carolina students. They say they’re responding to critics and parents who have complained that the standards are flawed and academically deficient.

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