Commentary, News

Today’s must read story comes from NC Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner, who profiles several of the teaching assistants who stand to lose their jobs if lawmakers adopt the Senate’s budget proposal when they return from a scheduled summer recess.

Here’s an excerpt from Wagner’s story:

As a part of their “Pink Slips Truth” tour that’s made stops in Charlotte, Fayetteville and Greenville, scores of teacher assistants (TAs) joined Hefner at the state capitol Tuesday to draw attention to the Senate’s budget, which proposes eliminating more than 8,500 TAs from state classrooms over the next two years.

“The message the politicians are sending is, ‘Y’all have a happy fourth of July! We’re going to the beach! Maybe we’ll fire you when we get back,’” said Melinda Zarate, state secretary of the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants at a press conference.

It’s around this point during the summer break that local school districts must make staffing decisions for the upcoming year based on how the state has decided to fund the classroom.

But as the end of the fiscal year approached, lawmakers still hadn’t reached a budget deal, forcing them to pass a continuing resolution Tuesday that keeps state government running while a final budget is hammered out.

The General Assembly left the fate of teacher assistants’ jobs, however, up in the air. Budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary) said Monday evening that it’s up to local school districts to decided if they would like to draw down a pot of funds intended to accommodate student enrollment growth in order to save TAs’ jobs.

After years of cuts to public education, local school districts may technically have flexibility in how they use state funds, but many school officials have said there are too few dollars to have much real choice in how they divvy up money to keep classrooms up and running now that the state has fallen to 46th nationally in funding schools on a per pupil basis.

To read Wagner’s full story on the teaching assistants, click here. To hear to Melinda Zarate with the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants talk about what’s at stake in her own words, click below:

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If you weren’t able to attend NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with the nationally recognized Center for Death Penalty Litigation, that full program is now available online.

Last week’s event featured CDPL Executive Director retchen Engel, Senior Staff Attorney Ken Rose and Associate Director of Public Information Kristin Collins.

Please watch and then share this special presentation as they discuss their new research: On Trial for their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital Prosecutions.
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Look for lawmakers to pass a continuing resolution this week to keep state government operating until the House and Senate can agree on the state’s 2015-2017 budget.

One issue that educators are watching closely is how lawmakers will fund teaching assistants in the final spending bill.

As the Sanford Herald reported over the weekend, local school districts are pondering what it would mean to lose thousands of TAs:

Senator Ronald J. Rabin

Senator Ronald J. Rabin

Sen. Ronald Rabin (R-Lee, Harnett, Johnston) said the legislature was busy working toward a finalized budget, but that he was uncertain how it would affect teacher’s assistants.

“Teacher’s assistants perform a valuable function,” Rabin, who voted for the Senate’s proposed budget, told the Herald on Saturday. “Everyone’s aware of that. The fact is we can’t afford everything everybody wants. We have a balanced budget mandate by law, and we have a finite number of revenues to spread across that.”

Rep. Brad Salmon (D-Lee, Harnett) and Rep. Robert Reives II (D- Lee, Chatham) didn’t respond to calls for comment, but both voted for the House’s proposed budget.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Andy Bryan maintained that teacher’s assistants provided a valuable function in kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade classrooms.

“Our board has taken the stance that they want to protect the classroom,” Bryan said. “We see teacher’s assistants as a very important part of making sure our classrooms are served well and are successful for our students.”

Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, agreed, adding that the Senate’s proposal to reduce class sizes to ease the burden on elementary teachers would not be enough to serve students.

Public ed cuts

Educators and parents will rally for teaching assistants Tuesday.

“I know there’s been a conversation about putting money back in the budget to reduce classroom size,” Smith said. “But the fact is that not having someone in there for grades K-3 really makes it difficult for teachers to meet all the diverse needs of the kids that they’re serving.”

Smith also pointed out that many teacher’s assistants, like Womble, served as bus drivers as well.

“If we lose teacher’s assistants, I guess you’d have to go out and hire part-time employees to drive the buses,” Smith said. “Goodness, I don’t know how we’d deal if we lose our bus drivers.”

On Tuesday, the NC Association of Teacher Assistants, Aim Higher Now, along with dozens of parents and educators will speak out against the North Carolina Senate’s plan to slash 8,500 teacher assistant jobs.

The group is hoping to have an impact on the budget discussions before lawmakers adjourn for a week-long summer recess.

Commentary, News

wordle-g6161. NC Senate unveils education budget that guts teacher assistants, rewards less experienced teachers
Senate proposes cutting more than 8,500* teacher assistant positions

Senate leaders unveiled portions of a 2015-17 budget proposal Monday that gives teachers an average four percent pay raise and lowers class sizes in the early grades— but much like last year’s initial Senate proposal, the budget would also substantially gut funding for teacher assistants by eliminating more than 8,500* TA jobs over the biennium.

The Senate plan also spends considerably less than the House proposal on teacher pay raises with the bulk of the new funding targeted toward early career teachers. The highest percentage salary increase would go to a teacher with four years of experience, while veteran teachers with 25 years’ experience and on would see no raises at all as their base salaries would be capped at $50,000. [Continue Reading…]

ff-616-2015b2.The Senate’s 504-page budget manifesto
Senate leaders didn’t just unveil a budget proposal this week, they released a 504-page ideological wish list that makes dramatic changes to the state Medicaid system, repeals important health care regulations, rewrites economic development policy, changes who oversees the licensing of teachers and prohibits Wake County from voting on a half-cent sales tax increase for transit improvements.

It creates new state departments, changes the way local sales tax revenues are distributed, ends a longstanding tax break for nonprofits, and closes a school for mentally ill children.

It ends state funding for the NC Biotechnology Center, the Human Relations Commission, the Office of Minority Health and the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership.

And it eliminates more than 8,500 teacher assistant jobs in public schools while increasing funding for the state’s sketchy and likely unconstitutional school voucher scheme.[Continue Reading…]

Senator Tom Apodaca 3. The vindictiveness of the Senate’s bully budget
One of the most telling moments in the consideration of the Senate budget this week came toward the end of Wednesday’s floor debate when powerful Senate Rules Chair and Republican enforcer Tom Apodaca amended the bill to take $3 million away from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law and give it to a health education center in his area.

Apodaca didn’t fully explain why he was taking money away from the law school or why he didn’t make the change in the weeks of secret meetings Senate leaders held to put the budget together. [Continue Reading…]

Supreme-court4. First Monday in October, last Monday in June:  What’s left at the U.S. Supreme Court?
Just as the first Monday in October marks the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new term, the last days of June signal the announcement of opinions in the court’s most high-profile cases.

That’s true again this year. With just 12 days to go till term end, the high court still has 17 cases awaiting decision – most of those raising questions of significant public interest.

Why the late June rush?

In part it’s due to timing. Historically, thirty percent more cases argued during the term are decided in June than in any other preceding month, and most of those were argued in March or April.

There’s more to it though, say authors of a recent article in the Duke Law Journal.

The justices have legacy and reputational concerns. The more controversial the case, the more likely several of them will write dissenting and concurring opinions that are carefully crafted, given historical import and impact. [Continue Reading…]

so-college_story5. NC Senate and House differ on approach to funding higher education
The state’s higher education system saw its enrollment growth funded in the Senate budget proposal released this week, a cost of nearly $130 million over the next two years, but also saw another year of significant discretionary cuts handed to campuses.

After the 504-page budget spent a whirlwind day in committee meetings Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate is expected to vote on full budget Wednesday and Thursday.

If it passes, as is expected, it’ll move to the House, and then top House and Senate leaders will begin meeting behind closed doors to hash out the final budget.

The Senate budget took aim at a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-based education policy center, the Hunt Institute, named for former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. The center hosts an annual bipartisan retreat on education policy and challenges to public education for state lawmakers, as well as similar gatherings for the nation’s governors. [Continue Reading…]


Voter ID“Huge” and “unexpected” – that is how Democracy NC is describing the move by the NC legislature to modify the state’s voter ID law on Thursday. The election modification now allows  voters without photo ID to cast provisional ballots.

The voter would need to complete a reasonable impediment declaration, detailing why they could not present a valid photo ID. Impediments could include a lack of transportation, family responsibilities, or even one’s work schedule.

Bob Hall, executive director for the watchdog group Democracy NC, issued the following statement on the passage of House Bill 836:

On the heels of hundreds of citizen complaints at voter ID hearings across the state, and after years of mounting public and legal pressure, we are pleased that the NC General Assembly has decided to modify the needless voter ID hurdle that North Carolina voters will face starting in 2016.

Even if just one percent of registered voters do not have an acceptable government photo ID, that would mean over 60,000 North Carolinians would be cheated out of having their voices heard in an election.

The new provisions in HB-836, passed by wide margins in both the NC Senate and House yesterday, add a measure of protection for legitimate voters, a back-up way to provide documentation or confidential data that verify the person at the poll is the voter.  The new “reasonable impediment” provision still requires the extra time and uncertainty of filling out a provisional ballot, but now there’s a better chance that the vote will actually be counted.

In the context of a needless and likely unconstitutional law, this is clearly a victory for citizens and citizen participation. During his comments yesterday about HB-836, Rep. David Lewis acknowledged the importance of citizen voices at the recent voter ID rule-making hearings across the state. Democracy North Carolina played a leading role in encouraging hundreds of citizens to attend and speak out at these hearings, and we will continue to work hard to make sure no one is blocked from voting.

Two other points about today’s changes are vitally important. First, most states with ID provisions include versions of the back-up protections adopted in HB-836; not including them threatened to sink the entire ID requirement in a fair court of law.

Second, other provisions remain in the anti-voter Monster Law that are already denying honest citizens their right to vote. Earlier this week, Democracy NC released a report that identified 2,344 voters whose ballots were rejected in 2014 because of changes made by that law; their ballots would have counted in 2012. They are the visible tip of the iceberg of tens of thousands of voters harmed by the many parts of the Monster Law.

We hope that these other measures, along with the convoluted ID requirement, will soon be struck down in court – particularly the elimination of same-day registration, pre-registration for teens, and out-of-precinct provisional ballots.

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