Training the Education Legislators

January 18, 2011

PINEHURST, N.C. — Legislatures in the vast majority of states will convene this month, and after an election cycle in which voters frequently favored newcomers over incumbents, public college officials and others will find an unprecedented number of unfamiliar faces among their local lawmakers. That turnover will almost certainly exacerbate the sense shared by many — including a national group of state legislators themselves, in a 2006 report — that legislative understanding of, and leadership on, higher education issues is lacking.

North Carolina’s General Assembly convenes next week, and new legislators will fill the House and Senate chambers here as elsewhere. But thanks to a unique program aimed at enhancing the education expertise of lawmakers in the Tar Heel State, North Carolina’s House and Senate members will start their session fresh off a crash course on the challenges facing the state’s prestigious public college system.

Several dozen legislators spent two days last week at the 8th annual legislators’ retreat sponsored by the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, where they heard presentations from national experts on a wide range of higher education issues and talked pointedly, in what several of them referred to as a “safe haven” out of the public spotlight, about the challenges ahead for North Carolina’s higher education system.

“Legislators spend most of their time in session reacting,” said State Representative Rick Glazier, a five-term Democrat and lawyer who teaches law at Campbell University. “This allows us to form some relationships and have the kind of discussions around the major issues that you don’t always have the time to have when you’re in session.”

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