This has been the special session that just won’t die. In our committee meeting yesterday, we finally got a look at the bill that was crafted behind closed doors over the last few weeks. We were given 20 minutes to read it and decide how to vote. It passed out of committee, and we'll be voting on it again on Tuesday. It’s a doozy.
Class Size Fix
For months our local schools have been grappling with the #ClassSizeChaos problem caused by the legislature mandating lower class sizes without the money to pay for them. Districts have been scrambling to comply with the law, eliminating art, music, and P.E. classes, combining classrooms, reassigning students to other schools, or putting students in trailers. That kind of chaos and disruption has no place in our schools. We shouldn’t have to choose between kindergarten teachers and art teachers.
We’ve had unanimous support in the House for fixing this problem, but Senate Republicans have refused to budge. Now, after a year of pressure from PTAs, parents, teachers, and local school officials, Senate Republicans have finally agreed to fix the problem. HB 90 will restore flexibility in class sizes, phase in the reduction, and provide funds dedicated to paying for art, music, and P.E. teachers.
Thank you to everyone who has called, written and e-mailed to bring pressure to bear for this long-awaited fix.
Ending Pre-K Waiting List
HB 90 also funds one of my top legislative priorities: eliminating the pre-K waiting list.
North Carolina used to lead the nation in pre-K education. Programs all around the country were based on the model of the Smart Start program started by Governor Hunt. But, years of neglect left us with a waiting list of thousands of kids who could not get the services they needed. I’m glad we’re finally going to eliminate the waiting list.
The Catch (and there is always a catch)
With this supermajority, no good deed can stand on its own. All of these good things are in danger because HB 90 doesn’t have a “severability clause,” a common clause in complicated bills that saves the constitutional pieces of a multi-part bill if one part is found unconstitutional.
Since HB 90 doesn’t have a severability clause, if part of the bill is unconstitutional, the whole bill could go down–including the class size fix and elimination of the pre-K waiting list. So, what’s the danger?
Well, two parts of HB 90 deal with unrelated issues, and they've been included in HB90 for political theater. The bill tries again to combine the State Board of Elections with the Ethics Commission, something leadership has already tried twice. Both attempts were unconstitutional. Now they’re trying a third time. If the provision is struck down, the rest of the bill goes with it.
The other unrelated part of HB 90 deals with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The companies building the pipeline agreed to give North Carolina $58 million to protect the air and water, natural habitat and local farmers in the areas around the pipeline.
HB90 forbids the Governor from using the money as he agreed to, purposefully setting up another constitutional battle between the Governor and legislative leaders, and if this part is found unconstitutional and gets struck down, so does the rest–plunging our school systems right back into the chaos of the unfunded class size reduction, and forcing kids back on the waiting list for pre-K.
Solutions that are designed to fail aren't solutions at all. We can do better.
I'll be back in Raleigh to vote on the bill on Tuesday. Hopefully the leadership hasn't dreamed up some newfangled problems by then.