House Bill 26 would award $9 million education technology contract without bid process

By: - January 31, 2023 5:00 pm

Jamey Falkenbury (Left), the NCDPI director of government affairs and Rep. John Torbett (Right), discuss GOORU on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo: Screenshot from livestream)

Jamey Falkenbury (Left), the NCDPI director of government affairs and Rep. John Torbett (Right), discuss GOORU on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo: Screenshot from livestream)

A $9 million appropriation to purchase software to evaluate student learning and performance would be awarded without a formal bid process under an education omnibus bill approved by the House K-12 Education Committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 26 would require the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to use federal Emergency and Secondary School Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) School Funds to contract with California-based GOORU Inc., to provide academic support to help students recover from pandemic learning loss. The software gives students and parents real-time feedback about a student’s progress in math and reading so that teachers can adjust lessons if needed.

Lawmakers approved funding for an unspecified software provider during the last budget session, but committee leaders said the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) has been slow to release an RFP and appropriate the money.

Normally, a contract of that amount requires the state to release a request for proposal (RFP) to give other organizations a chance to submit bids. Committee leaders want to bypass that process because ESSER III funds expire Sept. 30, 2024.

“We are wanting to get this done next school year so we have waited and waited and waited and now if we go typical speed it will not be available for next school year so this bill would enact it and it would be ready for implementation next school year to best learning capabilities of our kids,” said Rep. Committee co-chair Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican.

Jamey Falkenbury, the NCDPI director of government affairs, said that even if an RFP was released today (Tuesday), the state would be pressed to train teachers and implement the program before the new school year starts.

Falkenbury said NCDPI is comfortable with bypassing the normal process and awarding GOORU the contract. The nonprofit would have likely won the contract, he said.

“If it had gone to RFP, I feel very comfortable that it [GOORU] would have been ranked very highly,” Falkenbury said. “What separates [GOORU] apart from all the other competency-based platforms that are out there is that other platforms can feed into it [GOORU].”

Rep. Laura Budd, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, asked if GOORU would eventually replace software already being used to assess student achievement.

Torbett responded: “That is something that would always be up for evaluation by the General Assembly, and yes we would be looking for economic expediency and what’s best for teachers in the classroom … and more importantly what’s best for students in the classroom and how their parents have access to how their kids are doing in the classroom.”

HB 26 would also:

  • Revise the governance structure and admissions standards for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT).
  • Require DPI to purchase and share attainment data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
  • Require the Superintendent of Public Instruction and DPI to study and recommend changes to the system of evaluating schools.

Currently, school performance letter grades are mainly determined by student scores on state end-of-grade and end-of-course tests. Eighty percent of the grade is based on student proficiency on state tests and 20 percent on the academic growth students experience from one year to the next.

Critics have argued since the inception of the Republican-backed grading system in 2013 that it paints an inaccurate picture of the teaching and learning occurring in North Carolina’s schools. Letter grades are used by parents to make big decisions such as where to buy homes and which school to enroll their children.

Superintendent Catherine Truitt has created a working group to discuss and redesign school performance grades and to explore additional indicators to measure school quality such as school climate, school safety, parent engagement and career/college readiness. Any new model must comply with federal requirements.

North Carolina modeled its A-F school grade system largely after the one used in Florida. That state started assigning school letter grades in 1999 based on state test scores.

Florida revamped its letter grading system for the 2014-15 school year and grades are now based on achievement (proficiency), learning gains (growth), graduation rates, and college and career acceleration, which includes student success on AP or International Baccalaureate exams.

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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.