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Blue-ribbon panel makes NC education recommendations

A blue-ribbon commission has recommended ways to improve North Carolina’s public education, from preschool to universities.

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — A bipartisan panel of education leaders, legislators and representatives of government agencies and outside groups on Monday recommended ways to improve North Carolina’s public education and access to it, from preschool to universities.

Members of the Hunt-Lee Commission, which was formed to address inequities in student outcomes, backed 16 proposals, some of which need General Assembly approval. Others require better coordination between entities that already have authority to act, the report’s authors said.

“We have a set of tangible, actionable priority items that have the opportunity to meaningfully impact the lives of students,” said commission co-chairs Republican Sen. Michael Lee of Wilmington and Howard Lee, a former Democratic senator and previous State Board of Education chairman. Commission members released the report at a news conference.

The commission, which met four times starting in August, praised current successes in education and discussed ways to make the system better. The report also urged testing new ideas, such as monetary incentives and benefits to make early-childhood education an attractive career. Pilot programs should be created to encourage increasing spaces for toddlers and infants in child care centers through incentives, another recommendation said.

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As children get older, school systems could develop programs to ease the transition for students from middle school to high school, the report said. And providing in-state college tuition rates to some high school graduates in the state who lack legal residency could be considered, the report said.

The commission praised several current initiatives, including the state's long-running prekindergarten program, the high number of nationally board-certified teachers and a longitudinal data system that links educational and workforce outcomes to program effectiveness. But the report said each could be improved. For example, board-certified and other highly effective teachers could receive more compensation for agreeing to work in high-poverty schools.

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In addition to Howard Lee and Michael Lee, the commission was named for former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt, who is founder of The Hunt Institute. The institute is an affiliate of the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy that facilitates efforts like the commission to improve better education and student outcomes.

In a news release, Hunt said the commission outcomes show that “even within our diversity of backgrounds and beliefs we can indeed find common ground that advances our work.”

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The commission had over 30 members, including University of North Carolina system President Peter Hans; state community college system President Thomas Stith; State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis; state schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt; Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson; Geoff Coltrane, Gov. Roy Cooper’s senior education adviser; and representatives of chambers of commerce and charitable foundations.

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