NC Republicans override vetoes of K-12 education bills

By: - August 17, 2023 5:55 am

Rep. Tricia Cotham discusses House Bill 618 on Wednesday, August 16, 2023. (Photo: Screenshot from stream)

The Republican-led General Assembly on Wednesday overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 49, which has sparked controversy because it requires educators to alert parents if their child changes their name or uses a different pronoun at school.

SB 49 also restricts instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms.

Critics debating the bill on the Senate floor called it an unwarranted attack on LGBTQ students.

Sen. Natasha R. Marcus

“When I talk with parents in my district and even across the state who have school-aged children about what they want the General Assembly to with regards to public education, not one of them have said to me that they want to erase LGBTQ kids and their families from the classroom or make them feel excluded or out them to their parents before they’re ready to talk about it,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg.

SB 49 was overridden in the House on a 72-47 vote largely along party lines. The Senate approved the override on a 27-18 vote.

Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance, said that school districts would endorse a “system of lies” if they don’t require educators to notify parents when children change names or pronouns.

“The entire school community — teachers, students, administrators and non-classified personnel — would engage in a conspiracy to hide an essential truth about the mental health of their child,” Galey said.

In the House, Rep. John Autry, D-Mecklenburg, said Republicans lawmakers are being hypocritical by supporting SB 49 but voting against parents’ rights to seek gender-affirming care for their children.

“I’m thinking about having some T-shirts printed up,” Autry said. “My head is spinning because we want ‘Parent’s Bill of Rights’ unless they’re seeking gender-affirming care for their children who are in grave need of that care.”

Autry was referring to the General Assembly’s override of Cooper’s veto of House Bill 808. The bill bans most gender-transitions surgeries for children.

Rep. Abe Jones, D-Wake, said that Republican lawmakers are inviting lawsuits with its approval of SB 49.

“I can assure you of one thing about this bill, you’re going to increase litigation,” Jones said.

Charter schools

Republicans also overrode Cooper’s vetoes of two controversial bills that clear a path for the establishment of more charter schools.

House Bill 219, the Charter School Omnibus Bill, will allow willing counties to use public money to pay for charter school construction projects, prevents the State Board of Education from considering impact statements from local school districts when approving charters, allows low-performing charters to increase enrollment, and allows charters to give preference to students from certain preschools with which they have formed agreements.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, acknowledged that the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had concerns about HB 219 when it was introduced.

“All of those concerns were addressed and the parties that were involved ended up equally unhappy, as they often say, to make a good bill,” Torbett said.

Rep. Laura Budd, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill remains a bad one.

“This charter school bill allows for the diversion of local county funds to be used to build charter schools with absolutely no authority or oversight in the bill with regards to how those funds will be used and what should take place for the taxpayers to have any recourse should those funds be lost, misappropriated or wasted,” Budd said.

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper (File Photo)

Cooper issued this statement in response to the vetoes being overturned:

“The legislature finally comes back to pass legislation that discriminates, makes housing less safe, blocks FEMA disaster recovery funding, hurts the freedom to vote and damages our economy. Yet they still won’t pass a budget when teachers, school bus drivers and Medicaid Expansion for thousands of working people getting kicked off their health plans every week are desperately needed. These are the wrong priorities, especially when they should be working nights and weekends if necessary to get a budget passed by the end of the month.”

House Democratic leader Rep. Robert Reives also criticized Republicans for overturning Cooper’s vetoes.

“Instead of coming back to Raleigh to fund our schools, support our law enforcement or provide health care to our neighbors, the Republican supermajority used their power to exploit vulnerable children, make it harder to vote, hamper educators and otherwise stoke culture wars. There has never been a clearer demonstration of what their priorities really are,” Reives said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Robert Reives
House Minority Leader Robert Reives

Conservative lawmakers also overrode the governor’s veto of House Bill 618, which strips the state board of its oversight of charter schools. The legislation creates a new Charter School Review Board with the power to grant, amend, terminate and renew school charters. The review board would replace the Charter School Advisory Board, which makes recommendation to the state board for new charters, terminations and renewals.

Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, a bill sponsor, said the changes help to improve and streamline the oversight process for charter schools.

“However, the most important thing that this bill does is it puts kids first,” Cotham said. “It ensures that the outdated concept of one size fits all in education is not the case in North Carolina.”

Cotham said parents want options for children and taxpayers want accountability and thorough vetting of charter schools.   

The state board currently gives final approval for new charters, terminations and renewals. It retains accountability, appellate, funding and rulemaking responsibilities.

Democrats contend that the current system works well. They argue that the state Constitution gives the state board the oversight authority for public schools, including charter schools.

“This Charter School Review Board bill is further eroding transparency and accountability of schools in North Carolina that receive public funds,” said Rep. Lindsey Prather, D-Buncombe.

State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis expressed concern about the bill in a letter to lawmakers earlier this year.

“The SBE is uniquely positioned to weigh the issues for all NC student within charter request,” Davis wrote.

Davis said the current process “clearly shows that quality charter school proposals with the recommendation of CSAB and the background provided by the [NC Department of Public Instruction] DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, are receiving a fair review.”

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.