Bipartisan panel says changes need to be made to North Carolina’s education system

(The Center Square) — The Hunt-Lee commission — a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, business, philanthropic and education leaders — have released a report outlining needed changes in North…

(The Center Square) — The Hunt-Lee commission — a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, business, philanthropic and education leaders — have released a report outlining needed changes in North Carolina’s education system.

The commission issued a report outlining 16 “consensus opportunities” both Republicans and Democrats can agree on to improve the state’s education system, broken down into three categories: “Build on What We Have,” “Invite and Test New Ideas” and “Implement Proven Solutions.”

The 32-member commission, created in August, is composed of state officials, business and philanthropic leaders and representatives of K-12 and higher education, and chaired by Democratic former Gov. Jim Hunt, former Sen. Howard Lee and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

The commission is coordinated through The Hunt Institute to examine key education issues including access, alignment, funding, and transitions and completion, with a focus on offering policy recommendations over the next year.

“Over the course of four meetings, the Hunt-Lee Commission engaged in comprehensive conversations around key education opportunities including transitions, structure and alignment, funding, and access. Through in-depth conversations and engagement with resource experts, we were able to find common ground on these topics,” according to the report issued on Monday. “The contents of this report dive deeper into each of these recommendations, providing a guidepost for how North Carolina can move forward with improving education systems for all students.”

Under the “Build on What We Have” category, the commission recommends improvements to the state’s longitudinal data system, modeling potential enhancements to the school funding system, increasing child care subsidies, reducing barriers to access for pre-K, and incentivizing excellent teachers to work in high-need schools.

The first category recommendations also include expanding the state’s Advanced Teaching Roles pilot program, expanding existing programs to grow the principal pipeline, and expanding operational flexibility for schools to better respond to student needs.

Suggestions under “Invite and Test New Ideas” category involve identifying opportunities to make early child education a financially viable career through bonuses and benefits, incentivizing providers to open more spaces for infant and toddler care, and improving transitions from middle to high school.

The commission suggests ways to “Implement Proven Solutions” by expanding home visiting programs, renewing and sustaining the state’s financial support for students pursuing a two-year degree, expanding eligibility for in-state tuition, increasing non-academic supports for postsecondary students, and increasing support for students to apply for federal financial aid.

Some of the recommendations will require legislative action, while others need only cooperation from state officials, but either way, Howard Lee told WRAL the commission is setting an example for how those involved can put aside partisanship in the name of progress.

“I’m thinking because of the committee’s work and the environment … it created through its work, that many of the barriers that we would expect to pop up won’t pop up moving forward,” he said.

Sen. Michael Lee, chair of the Senate Education Committee, echoed the former state senator’s remarks.

“We didn’t come into it trying to boil the ocean,” he said. “We came into it with certain topics and parameters that we felt like we could move the ball forward in a relatively short period of time, gain consensus, build relationships and then continue to move forward in these discussions.”