Under the Dome

College scholarships ahead for future science and math teachers

Shanta Lightfoot, senior administrator for middle school English language arts for Wake County Schools, works in her office. Lightfoot was a teaching fellow at N.C. State University before graduating in 2008.
Shanta Lightfoot, senior administrator for middle school English language arts for Wake County Schools, works in her office. Lightfoot was a teaching fellow at N.C. State University before graduating in 2008. madams@newsobserver.com

North Carolina will pay college tuition costs for students who commit to teaching science, technology, engineering, math or special education within the state.

The N.C. General Assembly eliminated a similar program in 2011. The Teaching Fellows program dated to 1986 and awarded loans each year to pay four years of tuition for 500 students who agreed to pay back the loan by teaching in the state for four years.

Under the revived Teaching Fellows program, forgivable loans of $8,250 each year will go to 160 students as long as they commit to teaching in special education or STEM fields. The new program was included in the state budget that the legislature enacted over a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, who wanted more education spending.

Recipients of the scholarship can complete the program only at one of five public or private universities to be selected by an appointed committee by Nov. 15.

Here are some of the other education ideas that the N.C. General Assembly considered during more than five months in Raleigh, and where those ideas stood by the time state lawmakers adjourned early Friday morning. For even more, read our roundups of what happened on the environment, public safety, employee pay and benefits, elections, taxes, conflicts between the branches of government and some of the other notable issues of session.

Class size

State lawmakers put together a deal intended to save art and physical education classes.

School districts said they were struggling to meet a requirement from the legislature to lower maximum class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students beginning this fall.

Some districts were preparing to lay off art and P.E. teachers so they could hire more classroom teachers.

The legislature agreed to delay the limits that had been written into a state budget, and Cooper signed the change into law. Smaller classes are still required this fall, but not as small as originally intended.

Pre-K

The state budget that took effect Saturday also set aside enough money to get rid of about 75 percent of the wait list for NC Pre-K, the state-run pre-kindergarten program.

NC Pre-K is free for all eligible 4-year-olds. It works to teach them basic math and language arts, along with more general social skills.

Last year 27,019 children were in NC Pre-K classes and 4,668 were on the wait list.

Private school tuition

The budget allows for a new way for state funding to go to students at private schools.

Public money will be loaded onto debit cards for families to pay disabled children’s private-school tuition and other education expenses.

Supporters say these education savings accounts, which give parents $9,000 a year, open more options to disabled children. Critics say the system is ripe for fraud and provides no assurances that students will receive a good education.

Five other states have laws allowing education savings accounts, according to EdChoice, a pro-school-choice group.

The program joins North Carolina’s taxpayer-funded grants for special-needs students that pay up to $8,000 a year and its voucher program paying up to $4,200 a year for children whose families meet income guidelines.

Governor’s School

The Governor’s School will keep its funding that had been threatened in the budget process.

The Governor’s School is a five-and-a-half week summer program at Meredith College in Raleigh and Salem College in Winston-Salem for gifted high school students pursuing academic and artistic endeavors.

The Senate had proposed stripping the program of its $800,000 in state funding and directing money to revive a different summer program, the Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service, and to a four-week science, math and engineering residential program run by the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.

School bond

A House bill asking voters to borrow $1.9 billion for school construction projects passed a committee and could be considered in a future session.

School boards and county commissions pushed for the first statewide school-construction bond election since 1996.

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