MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has approved dozens of legislative items the district will lobby the North Carolina General Assembly to change.
On the list are issues like the controversial school calendar law, reinstating higher pay for teachers with advanced degrees -- commonly known as master pay, and allowing retired teachers to return to the workforce full-time.
Lawmakers in Raleigh have one of the largest impacts on how schools in the state are run.
"90% of the rules and regulations that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and all the schools across the state have to follow are made in Raleigh, what time we have to start school, how many hours of school we have to have," Charles Jeter, CMS's Government Affairs, Policy, and Board Services Executive Director, said.
CMS Board members will have meetings, send emails, and even visit Raleigh to advocate for changes to laws impacting schools.
On its state legislative agenda, there are items related to teacher pay, changes to school testing, free lunch for students, and early voting at schools, among other things.
"This is an all-encompassing plan that is for not only students and their families," Stephanie Sneed, CMS Board's Vice Chair and the CMS Policy Committee Chair, said. "It is for teachers as well, that we are really seeking to be able to move forward and deal with our staffing issues."
At-large school board member Jennifer De La Jara encouraged all school stakeholders to rally around the district's legislative agenda.
"We need to have the hard discussions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg about what it says if we are satisfied with the paltry investment in education to date," De La Jara said. "As Republican leaders in Raleigh continue just this week to tout that education funding doesn’t matter."
She referenced reports from the Education Law Center which showed North Carolina among the lowest-ranked states when it comes to education investment compared to other states with relative wealth.
"I know that financial resources translate into human resources who are trained and working alongside our students, teaching them the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and also caring for their social and emotional wellbeing, helping to develop them into not only our future workforce but into well-rounded residents in our community," De La Jara said.
A long-standing legislative agenda on the list is proposed changes to the state’s school calendar law. The law requires districts to start school in late August. Many Charlotte-area schools have voted to defy the law and in turn, at least one district, Union County Public Schools, has been sued for this.
"We got to have a serious talk across the state of what we want to do with calendar law," Jeter said. "And I think what frustrates us is the 136,000 students that are in public charter schools, they already get the advantage of going to school early and taking their exam for winter break."
School districts against the law argue starting school in late August prevents students from taking state exams prior to winter break and takes them out of sync with community colleges some students attend.
"We are not asking for full flexibility like some others," Jeter said. "We just want to carry it and tie it to our community colleges and allow our students to take exams for winter break. We think that it's about an even playing field with the other public school students."
Not every legislative item on the agenda is about state-level law.
Some deal with the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The district is asking for free passes on CATS for all CMS employees and high school students.
"We're having to have express bus stops for magnet schools just because our transportation system is taxed as CMS," Sneed said. "So we need these partnerships to help us move people and move families and move staff to support Mecklenburg County."
Some issues on the district’s agenda could be a fight to gain support.
"It's critically important that we have an aggressive but achievable legislative agenda, I feel very confident that what the board is put together and passed is something we can get done," Jeter said.
The timeline for success on all the issues could be a matter of a few months or a few years.
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