Legislature changes UNC system policy on admissions

Staff WritersJune 16, 2011 

  • The chairman of the Wake County school board will now be able to vote on all issues.

    The state Senate approved a bill Tuesday that eliminates the restriction that the Wake school board chairman can vote only to break ties.

    The bill was approved by the state House in April. It now goes into law.

    Staff writer T. Keung Hui

— Reacting to high school accreditation fights in Wake and Burke counties, state legislators have changed the admissions policies for every university in the University of North Carolina system and every state community college.

Under a bill passed Tuesday by the state Senate, state-run colleges, universities and community colleges would be prohibited from considering whether a student came from an accredited school when making admissions, scholarship and loan decisions. The only exception would be accreditation from a state agency.

The bill would direct the State Board of Education, which formerly accredited schools, to resume the practice. School districts could request the accreditation at their own expense.

The bill now goes to Gov. Bev Perdue, whose office did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday about whether she would sign the bill.

The legislation is aimed at the private nonprofit groups that accredit most of the nation's high schools.

AdvancED, a Georgia-based group, has warned that it might remove accreditation from high schools in Burke and Wake countiesover questions about how both school systems are being governed.

"Hopefully passage of this bill will send a message to AdvancED that they're being too overbearing," Ron Margiotta, Republican chairman of the Wake County school board, said Wednesday.

Wake board member Kevin Hill, a Democrat, called the legislation short-sighted.

"With the money they are already withdrawing from education," Hill said, "I don't know how they are going to pay for the ongoing mechanism that would be necessary to accredit all the schools in the state of North Carolina."

AdvancED's charges

In March, AdvancED accused the Wake school board of regularly violating its own policies as it made key strategic decisions such as eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment.

The group, which investigated after the state NAACP complained about school board operations, gave Wake a year to make changes.

Loss of accreditation could make it harder for students to get into some universities or receive some scholarships and financial aid.

Key Republican legislators responded to the agency's probes by introducing the legislation in March.

The votes were largely along party lines in both the House, which passed the bill June 6, and Senate.

State Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and House Majority leader, has called AdvancED a "big bully."

He notes N.C. School Boards Association support of the legislation to deflect charges of partisanship.

Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the UNC Board of Governors, said she doubted the bill would significantly change students' admissions to schools. Gage noted that the system has adjusted in the past 15 years to accepting students from nonaccredited educational settings such as home schools.

"When we make admissions decisions, it's not based on the institution," Gage said. "It's based on the student. We can tell if a student is qualified."

Mark Elgart, president of AdvancED, said the bill will hurt students going to out-of-state universities that won't accept state accreditation. "It's a short-sighted bill does at the request of special interests," he said.

Wake's decision

Wake leaders will have to decide whether to cut ties with AdvancED and seek state accreditation.

Wake school board member Chris Malone and other GOP board members have accused AdvancED of exceeding its mission by looking into issues such as student assignment.

"I applaud the General Assembly for what they've done," Malone said. "It certainly gives us options we need to consider."

But Hill thinks the bill is designed to circumvent the investigation of Wake's high schools by AdvancED.

Elgart said the bill won't change their investigations even if it causes Wake and Burke to drop out.

"We will continue to work with school systems that place value in our accreditation," he said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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