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The Daily Tar Heel

Bill Aims to Upgrade Low-Performing Schools

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Howard Lee, D-Orange, would give the state's 38 lowest-performing public schools an additional $33.6 million during the next two years. None of the schools targeted by the legislation are located in Orange County.

"This bill is designed to recognize that a number of our schools need additional resources in order to help students achieve at a higher level," Lee said.

The bill is targeted at schools where more than 80 percent of the students receive subsidized lunches and fewer than 55 percent pass state tests in reading and math.

Lee said the bill provided for reduced class-sizes, capping all K-3 class sizes at 17.

He added that teachers would be required to sign 11-month contracts, instead of the standard 10 months, and the school calendar would be extended by 20 days during the next two years.

The bill also includes incentives, such as subsidized housing and day-care service, to lure teachers to the targeted schools.

"This will cost $12 million a year," Lee said. "But in light of the budget trouble we are having, we'll have to find as much money as we can.

"We'll have to reduce the number of schools we can cover, maybe start with 12 or seven schools, probably the lowest-performing schools."

Lee added that the program could impact more schools if the fiscal situation improves in the coming years.

"This will have a positive impact on these schools," Lee said. "I'm sure the program will grow over time."

Sen. Wilbur Gulley, D-Durham, was pleased with Lee's bill.

"I think it's a great thing we perhaps should have been doing for several years," Gulley said. "Accountability only works if these schools get additional resources to make good grades."

Gulley said he expected the bill would gain bipartisan support, despite budget troubles. "We have to make a start anyway," he said.

But some legislators say the state's nearly $800 million budget deficit renders new programs fiscally irresponsible.

Sen. Robert Carpenter, R-Buncombe, said he recognized the need for education. But he said the state could not spend more money than it has.

"The attitude of our leaders is, we gotta pay what we gotta pay," Carpenter said. "A budget shortfall will not be acceptable."

But John Poteat, research director at the N.C. Public School Forum, a non-profit educational research advocacy group based in Raleigh, said he expected the bill to pass.

"It would mean reallocating some resources, and it wouldn't cost a whole lot since this bill is only aimed at 38 of the schools."

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