News

Durham DA to speak at Black August in the Park’s BOND*ference event

Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry.

Last week NC Policy Watch spoke with Durham District Attorney  Satana Deberry about the progressive changes she’s brought to her office and the results she’s already seen in the first six months.

This week, Deberry will be the guest for the At The Intersection podcast event as part of Durham’s fifth annual Black August in the Park.

Black August in the Park is an annual event hosted by the collective of the same name. The group calls the event  “reminiscent of a Black family reunion or a homecoming, with an additional emphasis on providing a platform for, and elevating the causes of social justice organizations.”

Deberry will speak live on Friday with hosts Marion Johnson and Brian Kennedy at part of BAP’s inaugural BOND*ference event.

Kennedy is a public policy analyst with the NC Budget and Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, parent organization of NC Policy Watch.

Johnson, formerly of the NC Justice Center, is a public policy consultant with Frontline Solutions.

Their podcast, At The Intersection, investigates the intersection of policy, culture and identity. The show was recently a finalist for Best Local Podcast in Indyweek’s annual Best of the Triangle competition.

This year’s inaugural BOND*ference event is Friday, Aug. 9 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m at the 21C Hotel at 111 North Corcoran Street in Durham.

Deberry will speak with At The Intersection from 4:15 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Tickets and info on registration can be found here.

Education

Bill would give state superintendent power to approve bond issuance for charters

The House Education Committee has given a favorable report to a Senate bill that would give the State Superintendent the power to approve charter school facility bonds.

Under Senate Bill 392, charters seeking approval to issue private activity bonds would be able to bypass local governments, which must sign off on the financing option now.

The superintendent could approve the issuance of the bonds after holding a public hearing.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Deanna Ballard, (R-Watauga) who said allowing the State Superintendent to approve such requests would give charters an alternative to local governments that may not want to approve them for political reasons.

“In some cases local governments have refused to grant their approval even though the public charter school financing has no impact on their budgets,” Ballard said. “All this is really simply doing is adding another option for the local entities whether it be the city or the county to have available should they not want to vote on this.”

Ballard said it makes sense to give the authority to the superintendent who oversees the state’s charter schools.

“This is purely an administrative matter and there are multiple states that do something very similar,” Ballard said.

Ballard and other bill supporters want to avoid the kind of situation that played out in Durham a year ago when the Durham City Council voted 5-2 to not approve a bond request for Excelsior Classical Academy, which sought financing to pay off a bridge load it used to buy the building it had been leasing.

Council members who voted against the bond request did so in a show of support for Durham Public Schools, which they contend has been harmed by an expansion of charters in the county.

“Rather than acting as labs for innovation and exploration, I believe that charters are now becoming a mechanism by which public education in our state and our community is being threatened and being harmed,” Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said at the time.

Private activity bonds are tax-exempt bonds issued by or on behalf of a local or state government for the purpose of providing special financing for projects of private users that have some public benefit.

Charters receive better rates with private activity bonds than they would using banks or taking corporate loans.

A move to lift enrollment cap for virtual charters

SB 392 was introduced as a stand-alone bill. But a PCS (proposed committee substitute) would bring sweeping changes to the state’s two virtual charters schools.

Under the bill, N.C. Virtual Academy and N.C, Connections Academy would be allowed to increase enrollments to up 3,000 students. The pilot program, which enabled the schools would also be extended from four to eight years.

The State Board of Education [SBE] would be allowed to waive the 3,000-student cap beginning in the eighth year of the schools’ operation.

The legislation authorizing the two K-12 schools capped student enrollment in any virtual charter school at 1,500 students in the school’s first year of operation. It allows virtual charters to increase enrollment by 20 percent up to a maximum student enrollment of 2,592 in the fourth year of the pilot program.

The SBE can waive the maximum student enrollment threshold beginning in the fourth year of the school’s operation, if it determines it is in the best interests of students.

Democratic lawmakers have been critical of efforts to increase enrollment at the two schools because students attending them have not performed well academically. Both schools have earned “Ds” under the state’s letter grading system and neither has met expected student academic growth since opening in 2015.

State Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange), proposed an amendment to prevent NC Virtual Academy and NC Connections Academy from increasing its enrollment but it failed on a 14-11 vote.

“It makes no sense to expand struggling schools that are part of a pilot program,” Meyer said in an interview.

He said the legislature should not be in the business of determining when charters open, close or expand.

“That is what our State Board of Education and Charter School Advisory Board is for,” Meyer said.

Senate PCS 392 would also give the SBE the authority to renew a charter for less than 10 years or not at all if the percentage of charter students scoring at or above grade level on state tests is at least 5 percentage points lower than the scores of students attending traditional public schools in the district in which the charter is located.

Under current law, the SBE could renew for less than 10 years or not renew if:

  • The charter school has not provided financially sound audits for the immediately preceding three years.
  • The charter school’s student academic outcomes for the immediately preceding three years have not been comparable to the academic outcomes of students in the local school administrative unit in which the charter school is located.
  • The charter school is not, at the time of the request for renewal of the charter, substantially in compliance with State law, federal law, the school’s own bylaws, or the provisions set forth in its charter granted by the State Board of Education.
Education

Gov. Cooper wants a $3.9 billion education bond, 9 percent pay raises for teachers

Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday proposed a robust $3.9 billion education bond for school construction and renovation projects.

He also called for an average nine percent pay raise for teachers over the next two years to put North Carolina on a path to become the best state in the Southeast for teacher pay in four years.

No teacher would receive less than a three percent raise in either of the next two years, under Cooper’s plan.

“North Carolina ranks 37th in teacher pay, and that’s not good enough,” Cooper said in a statement. “We need to put our schools first and that starts with paying teachers and principals better and treating them like the professionals they are.”

Cooper shared news about the pay proposal while attending a conference for middle school educators in Greensboro.

His spending plan would restore extra pay to teachers who hold master’s degrees in the subjects they teach. Lawmakers cut the pay in 2013.

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay last May.

The plan would also eliminate the requirement that teachers pay for substitutes when they take a personal day, give principals experience-based raises and restore salary supplements for principals who hold advanced degrees.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), applauded Cooper’s plan to increase teacher pay and restore extra pay for advanced degrees.

“Ensuring that our educators are professionally compensated is one of the NCAE’s top legislative priorities,” Jewell said. “Competitive salaries will help recruit and retain the best and most diverse educators to our schools.”

A bill making its way through the Senate would also restore master’s pay for teachers who hold the degree in the subjects that they teach.

Education bond

Meanwhile, Cooper’s bond proposal is $2 billion more than the $1.9 billion proposed by House Speaker Tim Moore.

News of Cooper’s plan began to trickle out while Moore shared the detail of his plan with the House Education-K-12 Committee, which unanimously approved the measure and advanced it to the Finance Committee.

Cooper’s plan includes $2.1 billion for K-12 projects, $500 million each for facility improvements at community colleges and UNC System universities and $100 million for the N.C. History Museum and the N.C. Zoo.

Under Moore’s plan, House Bill 241, $1.5 billion in bond money would be earmarked for K-12 construction and renovation projects. The UNC system and state community colleges would get $200 million each.

Moore couldn’t be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

The state Senate has also proposed a pay-as-you-go plan for school construction and renovation the Senate leadership contends would generate $6 billion over 10 years for K-12, community colleges and UNC System construction needs.

“A bond is the smartest way to invest in school construction and renovation and other critical needs without causing harmful cuts elsewhere,” Cooper said. “With a school bond, we’ll get hammers swinging all across the state and still be able to afford good teachers and principals.”

More than $8 billion in construction and renovation needs have been identified for K-12 schools across the state.

Voters would also be asked to approve an $800 million bond proposal to invest in clean water through local water and sewer projects.

Cooper’s spending plan would also:

  • Provide $5 million to recruit, retain, and support quality teachers and $5.3 million for more professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders.
  • Invest $4 million to expand the Teaching Fellows program to include more universities and more types of teachers.
  • Provide $40 million to hire more school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers and school resource officers.
  • Spend $15 million for safety improvements and training at K-12 schools.
  • Provide $29 million in new funding for schools to purchase more textbooks, digital resources, instructional supplies, and enhanced digital learning opportunities for students.

“Better pay for educators, safe, modern school buildings, and opportunities for students to learn and stay healthy are critical to our state’s future and we must invest in them,” Cooper said.

Education

Gov. Cooper calls for school bond, better teacher pay in State of the State address

Gov. Roy Cooper

As expected, Gov. Cooper on Monday endorsed a school construction bond he contends is the best strategy to begin to address more than $8 billion worth of K-12 school construction and renovation needs across North Carolina.

“Right now, four in 10 public schools in our state are at least 50 years old,” Cooper said. “That means they’re still using the schools you and I went to. That’s great for nostalgia, but not so good for students in the classrooms with unreliable heat, leaking roofs or crumbling walls.”

Cooper made his remarks about school construction during his State of the State address. He also called for increasing teacher pay, expansion of the Teacher Fellows program and a bigger investment in early childhood education.

“We worked together to expand Pre-K to thousands more students, but we shouldn’t stop until every child has it,” Cooper said.

While Democrats and Republicans agree about the need to spend more on school construction and renovations, the state’s Senate leadership prefers a pay-as-you-go strategy over a bond. Senate leaders contend the pay-as-you-go proposal will generate $6 billion for K-12, community college and UNC System building needs over a 10-year stretch while saving more than $1 billion interest payments.

But Cooper said a school bond is the wiser course because it locks in “financing against the whims of future legislatures and lets the people decide at the same time.”

“It gets hammers swinging all across the state, and still leaves money for good teachers and principals,” Cooper said. “This session, let’s have the people vote on a strong school construction bond.”

Cooper spoke about Wake County teacher NaShonda Cooke to illustrate the struggles of North Carolina’s teachers.

Cooke, a third-generation teacher who previously worked for Durham Public Schools, has taught for 20 years.

“Over the years, she’s seen fewer teacher assistants, fewer classroom supplies and she’s had trouble making ends meet on a teacher’s salary,” Cooper said. “But when her youngest child said she’d like to become a teacher, NaShonda [Cooke] didn’t hesitate to encourage her.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger

Republican response

In the Republican response to the governor’s State of the State, Phil Berger painted a much rosier picture of North Carolina’s educational system, contending Republican lawmakers have made “record-breaking” investments since the GOP took control of the General Assembly in 2010.

“Teachers have received pay raises for five consecutive years, and those raises were at or near the top in the country for three or those years,” Berger said.

He also noted that the Republican-led General Assembly has “championed” school choice by removing the cap on charter schools and creating the Opportunity Scholarship, which provides scholarships to low-income children to attend private schools.

“Every child is different and parents deserve to have the power to choose the learning environment that’s best for their kids,” Berger said.

Under Republican leadership from 2011-2017, Berger said the number of North Carolina adults who earned bachelor’s degrees increased 27 percent.

He said historically disadvantage groups such as African Americans have also made substantial gains under Republican control of the General Assembly.

He said 17 percent more blacks earned high school diplomas during that span and the number who earned bachelor’s degrees increased by 39 percent, with that number jumping to 42 percent for black women.

“A similar trend holds for the high school graduation rate, which is up 8 percentage points since 2011,” Berger said. “The gap in graduation rates between African American students and all students has been cut in half, from 6.4 percent to 3.1 percent.”

Bond plan

Cooper’s support of a school bond runs counter to the alternate pay-as-you-go plan proposed by the Senate leadership, but it’s in line with a $2 billion bond proposal endorsed by Republican House Speaker Tim Moore.

Under Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), the senate’s plan, the state would use money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF) to pay for school construction and renovations.

State Sen. Harry Brown, (R-Onslow), said SB 5 would raise about $6 billion for K-12, community colleges and the university system, with each receiving $2 billion for construction and renovation projects over a 10-year stretch.

SCIF currently receives 4 percent of state revenue to pay down debt and for capital projects for state government and the UNC System.

Education

Gov. Cooper expected to continue push for school construction bond in tonight’s State of the State address

Gov. Roy Cooper

Expect Gov. Roy Cooper to restate his preference for a statewide school bond referendum during his State of the State speech tonight at 7 p.m.

Cooper believes a $2 billion school bond is a better option than a pay-as-you-go plan proposed by Senate leaders, and approved by the Senate Rules Committee last week.

“A successful school bond is a smarter way to do business because it locks down financing now and still leaves funding to get good teachers and principals in the classroom,” Cooper said in a statement.

In an odd twist, Cooper’s support for a school bond puts him on the same side of the issue as Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, who has proposed a $1.9 billion bond referendum.

Under Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), the plan proposed by the Senate leadership, the state would use money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF) to pay for school construction and renovations.

State Sen. Harry Brown, (R-Onslow), said SB 5 would raise about $6 billion for K-12, community colleges and the university system, with each receiving $2 billion for construction and renovation projects over a 10-year stretch.

SCIF currently receives 4 percent of state revenue to pay down debt and for capital projects for state government and the UNC System.

Under SB 5, the amount of state revenue would be bumped up to 4.5 percent to generate additional revenue for school construction projects and renovations.

Cooper contends that strategy would take away money from other needs.

“Skimming money that should go to teacher pay raises and other school funding is like using your gas money to buy a new car,” Cooper said.

More than $8 billion in school construction and renovation needs have been identified throughout the state.

Cooper’s State of the State address can be seen live at http://www.facebook.com/NCgovernor/. Also check local TV listings for broadcasts of Cooper’s speech and the Republican response.