North Carolina Considers Measure to Link Schools, Businesses

By guest blogger Sean Meehan

Legislation in North Carolina that would create a grant program to promote innovation in schools, and collaboration between K-12, colleges, and businesses, is moving through state’s House of Representatives with bipartisan support.

House bill 902, the Education Workforce Innovation Act, was unanimously approved this week by the chamber’s education committee.

The measure would establish the North Carolina Education and Workforce Innovation Commission, made up of leaders from businesses, colleges, and public school leaders. That panel would provide grants to schools, districts, or groups of districts for innovative projects. A number of states and districts, including Minnesota, have established innovation zones designed to encourage creative thinking among school officials and ties with local industry. Those innovation programs have been created with different goals in mind, from raising academic achievement to streamlining operations and saving costs.

“The whole idea is to connect the dots,” North Carolina state Representative D. Craig Horn said in an interview. “What we attempted to do in this bill is give a vision for the state about sharing resources, business participation, and ensuring that our kids are career- and college-ready.”

Horn, a Republican, is one of four primary sponsors of the legislation, along with state Reps. James H. Langdon and Linda P. Johnson, both Republicans, and Joe P. Tolson, a Democrat.

According to the bill, recipients of the grants would have to meet a number of criteria, including establishing a partnership with a public or private university or community college, a partnership with a regional business, and a sustainable plan for innovation once the grant funding ends.

The legislation states that its purpose is “to create innovative education programs that reshape classrooms, allow high school students to earn valued industry credentials or up to two years of college credit, provide comprehensive teacher professional development, and create scalable methods of success in education.”

Grant recipients are also required to match the amount of money provided by the state. Local funds must make up 25 percent of the total program costs, and an additional 25 percent must be raised by private funds statewide.

According to Horn, businesses and business organizations in the state have already expressed support for the bill, which has bipartisan support in the state House of Representatives.

“Fortunately, we have a number of businesses lining up to participate,” he said. “They’re willing to put their money up, so we need to put some of ours up as well.”

Having made it out of the education committee, the bill now goes to a full vote of the House of Representatives. Horn is confident that the bill will not only gain support in the House, but also in the Senate.

“It goes right to the heart of what we’ve all been talking about,” Horn said, “bringing our commercial and education sectors together with a focus on making the best future for everybody and using technology to get there.”

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