News

N.C. House to roll out its education budget Thursday morning

Key budget writers in the N.C. House of Representatives are expected to roll out their proposals for public education funding early Thursday morning.

The news comes after a top House budget writer told Policy Watch last week that the chamber was likely to announce a spending plan that was considerably kinder to public schools than the budget proposed by Senate lawmakers this month.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, is expected to preside over Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. meeting. Last week, Horn said the House budget is more likely to include across-the-board raises for teachers, less severe funding cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the restoration of several early-morning cuts to education projects in Democratic-held districts. 

The Senate’s teacher pay plan included an average 3.7 percent raise, but critics said it slighted beginning and veteran teachers, focusing on mid-career educators instead.

“I think the House has a broader view with regard to teachers,” Horn told Policy Watch. “We recognize that our most experienced teachers have gotten the least reward.”

Criticism for the Senate’s $22.9 billion budget plan mounted shortly after its release two weeks ago. Some pointed to new national rankings from the nonpartisan National Education Association that placed North Carolina at 43rd in the U.S. in per-pupil spending in 2017-2018, a slight drop from the previous year, although the state’s teacher pay ranking had risen from 41st to 35th.

Of course, those rankings were not finalized with the Senate’s budget provisions included.

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Last week, Horn also questioned a controversial Senate plan to slash DPI funding by 25 percent in the coming year. That’s about a $13.1 million cut for the state’s top K-12 agency in 2017-2018, coming on top of more than $19 million in cuts to DPI since 2009.

Democrats and public school advocates say the cuts will be most apparent in poor and low-performing school districts that need the support and intervention provided by DPI. Meanwhile, a recently-retired DPI finance head told Policy Watch the deep cuts would “totally destroy” the agency’s operations. 

Horn said he doesn’t expect House leadership to go along with such a plan.

“We ask DPI to do a lot,” said Horn. “… We want new curriculum. This year, we asked them to teach about suicide prevention. We want you to include all these things in the curriculum. Somebody has to develop that curriculum.”

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News, Trump Administration

Report: Trump education budget slams the working class that helped elect him president

Donald Trump speaking

President Trump’s newly-released K-12 budget would hurt the working class voters who helped elect him president in November, according to a new report from The Atlantic.

The report comes with Trump announcing plans to slash spending on the federal education department by more than $9 billion as the Republican president seeks to bolster the school choice programs touted by Trump and his controversial education chief, Betsy DeVos.

That’s not surprising. Trump has long been outspoken in his desire to increase the federal investment in charters and private schools, although his budget’s call to slash $166 million in U.S. grants for career and technical education programs and halve the size of a federal work-study program are being viewed as something of a surprise, particularly given widespread support for such programs among both Republicans and Democrats.

From The Atlantic:

Trump’s education budget, which was published Tuesday as part of full spending plan’s release, would eliminate more than two dozen programs. The budget “reflects a series of tough choices we have had to make when assessing the best use of taxpayer money,” DeVos said in a statement. “It ensures funding for programs with proven results for students while taking a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven’t yielded the desired outcomes.”

The final version reiterates many of the funding priorities outlined in the  “skinny”—i.e., preliminary—budget released in March, which had already made it clear that Trump wanted to get rid of the relatively small education programs that, in the eyes of the administration, lack the evidence and reach needed to prove they’re worthy of investment. The congressional deal struck at the beginning of this month to keep the government running into September, on the other hand, maintains level funding for many of the education programs Trump wants to do away with or trim down.

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News, Trump Administration

Trump budget, as expected, to roll out massive school choice expansion

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

In the midst of last week’s near-constant stream of Russia-Trump news, you could be forgiven if you’ve forgotten President Trump has plans to announce the details of his federal budget plan Tuesday.

Already dubbed a “caricature of conservative cruelty” by The Daily Beast, Trump’s plan is expected to include major cuts to programs for the poor as well as a promised expansion of federal school choice support.

Of course, a president’s budget is truly subject to the machinations of Congress, so it remains to be seen whether Trump’s plans will come to fruition, particularly at a time when the Russia scandal seems to have engulfed his legislative agenda.

For the moment, though, those expecting a truly enormous ballooning of federal school choice support for charters and private school vouchers will not be surprised. The most comprehensive coverage, thus far, comes from The Washington Post.

From the Post:

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have repeatedly said they want to shrink the federal role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children’s schools.

The documents — described by an Education Department employee as a near-final version of the budget expected to be released next week — offer the clearest picture yet of how the administration intends to accomplish that goal.

Though Trump and DeVos are proponents of local control, their proposal to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies is reminiscent of the way the Obama administration offered federal money to states that agreed to adopt its preferred education policies through a program called Race to the Top.

The proposed cuts in long-standing programs — and the simultaneous new investment in alternatives to traditional public schools — are a sign of the Trump administration’s belief that federal efforts to improve education have failed. DeVos, who has previously derided government, is now leading an agency she views as an impediment to progress.

“It’s time for us to break out of the confines of the federal government’s arcane approach to education,” DeVos said this month in Salt Lake City. “Washington has been in the driver’s seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts.”

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News

State House budget, which is likely to be kinder to public schools, expected early next week

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

North Carolina House legislators expect to announce their much-anticipated budget plan either Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, a top Republican budget writer tells Policy Watch.

That plan is expected to phase in across-the-board teacher pay raises, limit the Senate’s extensive cuts to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and restore some of the highly controversial K-12 funding cuts approved just after 3 a.m. last Friday, according to Rep. Craig Horn, the influential Union County Republican who sits as vice chair of the chamber’s budget committee.

“The House committee chairs have been working all this week to develop a budget to put before their committees,” said Horn.

The state lawmaker said that, “with any luck,” he expects a House floor vote on the budget plan a week after its release. Horn adds that he believes the House will allow the budget plan to make its way through committees.

“Let the committees ask questions and participate in the development of the budget,” said Horn. “I’m just one of those people who doesn’t like to go to a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda or a plan.”

If true, that would mark something of a departure from a much-criticized Senate process, in which the chamber’s GOP leadership announced their spending plan around midnight on May 10 and tasked committees with voting on the 358-page bill hours later.

Some lawmakers openly complained the narrow time frame prevented them from knowing the finer points of the budget they were asked to vote on the next day.

House and Senate leadership is said to disagree on the size of the Senate’s preferred $1 billion tax cut plan, although Horn could not provide any details on that potential logjam Thursday.

Yet Horn said he expects one of the largest disagreements between the chambers will be over how to spend the state’s reported $580 million surplus this year. The House Republican said he believes lawmakers in his chamber will be reluctant to use the one-time cash injection to fund any major government expansions requiring recurring costs.

“If this recovery is in fact sustained, then we can start probably next year talking about real growth,” said Horn. “But Republicans by and large, we tend to believe that government is too big. It doesn’t need to get bigger.”

Public education, of course, figures to be another key point of dispute as Senate and House legislators negotiate their budget plans.

Horn, who chairs the House’s education appropriations committee, said his chamber’s biennial budget is likely to roll out across-the-board raises for teachers. The Senate plan, which included an average 3.7 percent raise, was criticized for seeming to slight beginning and veteran teachers.

“I think the House has a broader view with regard to teachers,” said Horn. “We recognize that our most experienced teachers have gotten the least reward.”

And while Horn said he understands why the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is a frequent target of Republican lawmakers, particularly those in leadership positions in the Senate, Horn said the state’s top public school agency has a big job, suggesting the House isn’t likely to go along with a massive, 25 percent funding cut for the department.

“We ask DPI to do a lot,” said Horn. “… We want new curriculum. This year, we asked them to teach about suicide prevention. We want you to include all these things in the curriculum. Somebody has to develop that curriculum.”

He also expressed confusion about the scope of the Senate funding cuts, which a recently-retired DPI  budget head argued would “totally destroy” work at the agency.

“If we’re going to cut them, what is it we do not want them to do?” said Horn. “We haven’t been able to find an answer. I’m curious as to what the Senate wants DPI to stop doing.”

House legislators are also not likely to use their budget to wade further into the brewing dispute over authority between new Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education, suggesting Senate provisions creating new positions for Johnson as well as a new pot of legal funds for the superintendent may not be included.

“The Senate appears to have thrown themselves into the midst of the state superintendent’s battle with the board,” said Horn. “I don’t think the House is inclined to do that.”

The legislature and the State Board of Education are set for a late June court date to decide the fate of a new state law that jettisons board powers to Johnson.

Horn added that he expects the House will restore much of the K-12 funding slashed in a dramatic, 3 a.m. amendment by Republican budget leaders in the Senate on Friday, a vote that singled out education funding in Democratic districts and Democratic-led projects in order to bankroll a pilot project combating the state’s opioid epidemic.

Some said that vote—which diverted funds intended for two early college high schools, a summer science, math and technology program benefiting low-income students and a program providing fresh produce in so-called “food deserts”—was little more than partisan payback against Democrats who criticized the Senate budget.

“Partisanship is alive and well,” Horn said Thursday. “It’s been alive and well for more than a decade. It’s not unique to the Republican majority, nor was it unique to the Democratic majority. I think it’s much  more exacerbated today. We have much more of a tendency to raise our voice and wag our finger these days. I think that’s a shame.”

The Union County Republican said he doesn’t believe Senate budget chiefs understood what the funds were used for before they filed that early morning amendment, which prompted national headlines and even a suggestion from a veteran Democrat this week that race played a part in the cuts, which primarily struck at black Democratic senators in eastern parts of the state.

“I don’t happen to agree that you go fishing for money that you can’t find,” said Horn. “I think you need a more circumspect approach. I don’t think they went looking for education cuts. I think they just got caught.”

News

New report: One million days in classroom lost to school suspensions in North Carolina

North Carolina school suspensions and expulsions cost the state’s students about a million days of classroom instruction in the 2015-2016 school year, a new report from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Youth Justice Project finds.

The new report is part of a growing body of evidence questioning long-running disciplinary practices in the state’s public schools, particularly in their well-documented disproportionate impact on North Carolina’s black students.

“Over 100,000 public school students in North Carolina received one or more suspension or expulsion for the 2015-16 academic year,” Ricky Watson Jr., co-director of the Youth Justice Project, said in a statement Wednesday. “We know that suspensions harm students and schools alike. Reducing our reliance on suspensions means a safer and more effective learning environment for all.”

Among the interesting points in the new report: Long-term suspensions and expulsions are on the decline in the state’s schools, although in-school and short-term suspensions are rising in number.

Meanwhile, the average length of suspension has been on the rise in each of the last three years, and African American students continue to receive far more than their share of schools’ stiffest punishments.

Policy Watch has been reporting on the discrepancies in schools’ disciplinary practices in recent years, while state lawmakers and K-12 leaders publicly urged a reduction in school punishments. Some have suggested cultural differences may be playing a pivotal role in the disproportionate punishments for black students, prompting calls for greater teacher training.

The authors of this week’s report contend that the state’s public schools simply lack the resources to address the problem.

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