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NC Legislative Panel Seeks Broad Reform Plan

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When the North Carolina legislature reconvenes in February, it will consider a broad education-reform plan that includes proposals for a statewide core curriculum, stiffer graduation requirements, and minimum class sizes.

The Public Education Policy Council--created last year by the legislature and composed of 47 members, two-thirds of whom are appointed by lawmakers and one-third of whom are appointed by the governor--approved the package late last month. However, the council rejected a career-development plan that would have awarded higher salaries to teachers with more responsibility and training.

Advances Previous Reforms

The new plan is intended to build on a $280.8-million education-reform package passed by the legislature last summer on the basis of recommendations of Gov. James B. Hunt Jr.'s State Commission on Education for Economic Growth. Included in that package's 34 separate education measures was money to decrease class size in grades 4 through 6; raise teachers' salaries; and establish statewide achievement tests in grades 3, 6, and 9.

According to Lawrence J. Poore, Governor Hunt's education adviser, the policy council has considered a number of additional proposals made by the Governor's education commission.

"Members of the General Assembly were concerned that they were spending large amounts of time with education bills that were introduced that were dealing with less important programs, and they were not spending enough time debating some of the more important education legislation," Mr. Poore said.

"So they felt they needed some group that would be able to review the issues and give them some type of priorities as to what would be the best use of their time."

Peter Leousis, research associate for policy development in the department of public instruction, said the new plan's cost is estimated at about $691 million over a 7- to 10-year period, or an additional $533 per pupil if the program is fully implemented.

Basic-Education Mandate

Last year, the legislature ordered the state department of public instruction to develop basic-education and career-development plans by Oct. 15 of this year. At the same time, it established the council, according to Mr. Leousis.

The basic-education plan, submitted by the department and approved by the state board of education and the council, would, among other things, require curricula to include mathematics, social studies, English, science, computer skills, art, and communications skills; require stiffer graduation standards; set a minimum class size of 23 in kindergarten through 3rd grade and 26 in 4th through 12th grade; and expand programs for exceptional children.

It would also require that every student score above the 25th percentile on the state's annual basic-skills test in order to be promoted. And it stipulates that all schools must provide summer programs to help students who are having difficulty.

'Every Child Entitled'

"This is a basic program that every child in the state, regardless of where he lives and regardless of the wealth of the district, would be entitled to," Mr. Leousis said. "It is not ideal, but it's not minimal either."

The career-development plan, which would have established a ladder of two provisional steps for teachers new to the profession and three career steps for those with more training and responsibility, was scheduled to begin with a $7.2-million pilot program in 16 school districts across the state in the 1985-86 school year.

However, according to Hilda Highfill, senior fiscal analyst for the state legislature, the council sent the plan back to the state board. Ms. Highfill said the council felt the program's pilot stage should be expanded from one year to two years. It will now be reconsidered by the board, she said.

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