by Julie Ball, Asheville Citizen-Times, March 31, 2015.
Proposed legislation in the North Carolina Senate would shift the cost of remediation classes at community colleges to the counties where the students who need them graduated from high school.
The bill, which was introduced last week, would leave counties on the hook to pay those costs for any students who graduated from a North Carolina high school within two years of attending community college. The cost is estimated at $24 million.
“If they (students) graduate from high school, I think we as taxpayers have a right to think they are prepared to do college level work,” said Sen. David Curtis, R-Lincoln, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.
Statewide, of the 2013 class of high school graduates who enrolled at a community college during the 2013-14 academic year, 52 percent “enrolled in at least one developmental course during that academic year,” said Megen Hoenk, director of marketing and external affairs for the North Carolina Community College System.
Curtis said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay a second time for students “to learn what they should have learned in high school.”
“My idea is to avoid double billing of state taxpayers, to shift the burden of that education required at the community college level back to the county where the student graduated,” he said.
Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene said she is trying to determine what the financial impact might be locally. She’s requested information from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
“I think what we’ve got to know first is how many remedial classes are having to be taught,” Greene said.
Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt was unaware of the bill and also wasn’t sure of its potential impact.
Wyatt said he is withholding judgment on the proposal until he gets more information.
“On the surface, the concern I would have is that the county doesn’t run the school system. That’s a separate entity. So, the school board is responsible for educational programming and accountability,” Wyatt said.
One of the bill’s primary sponsors is Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. Apodaca could not be reached for comment.
Curtis said he does anticipate some pushback from county commissioners “who say we give money to the school board, and we have no say on how that money is used, so we’re not really responsible for the product that the school board turns out.”
But Curtis said by shifting costs to property taxpayers in counties, he hopes they will be motivated to demand more of local school systems.
“The goal is to get the local real estate taxpayers engaged, and if they get concerned about their real estate taxes going up as a result of this, then they might start asking questions,” he said. “I think that would hopefully get the local residents engaged in the quality of the product that their local school system turns out.”
The bill sends a message, Curtis said.
“This is a fairly small amount of money. It’s less than half a percent of what the counties now spend on education for their local school boards. It’s not going to be a budget breaker,” he said.
Jason Rhodes, a spokesman for Buncombe County Schools, said school officials were not available to comment on the proposal.