Legislature Sends Cooper Bills Designed To Address Learning Losses

By David Bass
Carolina Journal News Service

RALEIGH — Two bills sitting on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk are designed to remediate learning losses for K-12 students left behind by classroom closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first — House Bill 82, Summer Learning Choice for N.C. Families — would require all public school districts to offer a minimum of six weeks of in-person summer school this year.

For K-8 students, the curriculum includes reading, math, science, and at least one enrichment activity — such as sports, music, or the arts. For high school students, the focus is on end-of-course subjects and one elective course. The bill gives precedence to at-risk students.

In addition to addressing academic losses, H.B. 82 prioritizes socialization by prompting school districts to offer “a fun, positive environment with enrichment activities to counteract the negative impacts from COVID-19 on student social interactions and development.”

H.B. 82 passed the House and Senate unanimously and was presented to Cooper, a Democrat, on April 1.

“Parents are ready to see their children going back to school and to recover from the learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic,” said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, a primary sponsor on the bill. “After bipartisan work from the House and Senate and input from educators around the state, this legislation will give North Carolina families an option for their children to grow and learn during this summer.”

The need for summer remediation was made event by recent data from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction showing that a majority of students failed end-of-course tests in fall 2020.

The second measure — Senate Bill 387, Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 — would make key updates to the 2013 “Read to Achieve” law, built around ensuring students are reading proficiently by third grade. The bill would switch literacy instruction from a “look and say” method to the phonetic method.

S.B. 387 covers in-classroom instruction, reading camps, data collection, and other student interventions. For struggling students, teachers will create plans specific to each child’s needs and inform parents of individual reading plans. The bill would also create an online initiative for parents to help their kids, based on the Read Charlotte approach.

In 2019, a similar measure passed unanimously in the N.C. Senate and with bipartisan support in the N.C. House before falling prey to the governor’s veto pen. In his veto message, Cooper called the legislation “a Band-Aid” approach.

The new iteration of the literacy bill unanimously passed both chambers — except for five Democratic “no” votes in the House — and landed on Cooper’s desk April 1.

“Early literacy is a major determining factor of a child’s future success, so we have to get this right,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, primary sponsor of the bill. “After extensive learning loss for hundreds of thousands of children during the last year of school closures, it is critical we put our politics aside so we can finally enact improvements to early childhood literacy.”