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Confusion over teacher pay and the loss of teaching assistants are not the only troubling stories making headlines as the new school year is set to begin.

The Asheville Citizen Times reports today that a reduction in state funding for textbooks will force many Buncombe County students this fall to share their books, or rely on textbooks more than a decade old.

Here’s an excerpt from reporter Julie Ball’s story:

“I have students who come to me every year, and they’ll say I don’t understand why I don’t have a textbook for this class,” Owen High Principal Meg Turner said.

State funding for textbooks has dropped since 2009-10 from more than $111 million or about $76 per student to $23.3 million this year or $15.37 per student, according to Eric Moore, with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

For Buncombe County Schools, funding dropped from around $1.7 million in 2008-09 to around $368,000 in the most recent school year. That’s about $14.26 per student.

State officials say the average cost of a textbook is around $60. High school textbooks can cost around $100, Turner said.

Rather than buying a book for each student, Owen High has been purchasing classroom sets of books that are used by multiple students and remain in the classroom.

“So you might have a set of 30 books to keep in the classroom and the teachers would use those and kids couldn’t take them home,” Turner said.

Turner said some textbooks are available online, but there’s also a cost to those as well.

“My understanding is it has become common practice. Teachers get one classroom set of textbooks now. They do not get one set for each class,” said Anna Stearns, who has a son at Owen High.

Stearns said during her son’s freshman year she spoke with his math teacher to try to find out why her son didn’t have any math homework. Stearns said the teacher told her the school didn’t have textbooks or graphing calculators for students to take home.

Stearns worries about the lack of math practice at home and whether her son will be prepared for out-of-class work that will be required once he gets to college.

Buncombe County Rep. Susan Fisher is also worried about textbook funding. Fisher sat down for an interview with Chris Fitzsimon last weekend to discuss the state budget. In addition to adequate classroom resources, Fisher remains concerned about teacher compensation and changes to longevity pay.

For an excerpt from that radio interview, click below. To read the full story in Wednesday’s Citizen-Times, click here.
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This week marks the 79th anniversary of Social Security, and the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans is marking the occasion with a new report on the economic impact of those benefits in our state.

Here are ten quick facts from that report, Social Security Works for North Carolina.

• Social Security provided benefits to 1,907,394 North Carolinians in 2013, 1 in 5 (19.4 percent) residents.

• North Carolinians received Social Security benefits totaling $26.6 billion in 2013, an amount equivalent to 7 percent of the state’s total personal income.

• The average Social Security benefit in North Carolina was $13,950 in 2013.SS-79

• Social Security lifted 810,000 North Carolinians out of poverty in 2012.

• Social Security provided benefits to 1,255,185 North Carolina retired workers in 2013, two-thirds (65.8 percent) of beneficiaries.

• The typical benefit received by a retired worker in North Carolina was $15,179 in 2013.

• Social Security lifted 559,000 North Carolinians aged 65 or older out of poverty in 2012.

• Without Social Security, the elderly poverty rate in North Carolina would have increased from 1 in 9 (10.4 percent) to half (52.6 percent) [Figure 2].

• Social Security provided disability benefits to 332,799 North Carolina workers in 2013, 1 in 6 (17.4 percent) North Carolina beneficiaries [Figure 1].

• Social Security is more important to North Carolinians living in rural or non-metropolitan counties than to North Carolinians living in metropolitan counties. One-quarter (24.2 percent) of rural North Carolinians received Social Security in 2012, compared with 1 in 6 (18.2 percent) metropolitan North Carolinians.

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State Budget Director Art Pope will step down next month, and be succeeded by Lee Roberts.

State Budget Director Art Pope will step down next month, and be succeeded by Lee Roberts.

Governor Pat McCrory announced Wednesday that Art Pope will step down as state budget director in September to return to the private sector. Succeeding Pope will be Lee Roberts, a Raleigh banking executive who the governor appointed to the North Carolina Banking Commission last year.

While Pope has been a controversial figure for the administration, McCrory offered nothing but praise for Pope’s service:

“Art Pope has been an invaluable public servant for the people of North Carolina,”

Governor McCrory said. “His knowledge and leadership helped produce historic tax reform while producing two balanced budgets that put North Carolina back on the road to prosperity. He has dedicated much of his life to the betterment of North Carolina and it has been a privilege to have him at my side.”

As for the man tapped to fill those shoes, McCrory said Roberts would help state government ‘thrive':

“Lee has a terrific sense of fiscal sensibility and responsibility, and I’m excited to have him join our team,” said Governor McCrory. “North Carolina state government will thrive under his oversight. His experience in the global marketplace will provide a useful and original perspective, and his leadership skills will further our administration’s goal of thoughtful, deliberate stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

According to the McCrory administration, Roberts also founded a real estate investment and advisory firm, Coley Capital, LLC. He has worked for Morgan Stanley & Co., Cherokee Investment Partners and as an associate with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP.

Roberts received his undergraduate degree in political science from Duke University. He graduated cum laude from Georgetown University, where he received his J.D.

Roberts is also the son of political commentator Cokie Roberts.

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Almost a week after House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger announced a budget deal, there is still a tremendous amount of confusion over how much of a raise teachers can expect this fall.

Governor Pat McCrory blamed that uncertainty Tuesday on the NC Association of Educators:

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The editorial board of Raleigh’s News & Observer explained the pay plan this way in Wednesday’s paper:

Senior teachers will get the smallest raises, with those teachers having five or six years experience getting the largest.

What’s known is that one-time money, meaning money that is not guaranteed as annual revenue, is covering the pay hike. That, along with cuts to health and welfare programs and other spending have been used to balance the books. GOP lawmakers also budgeted more lottery revenue for education.

Unreliable funding

The problems with one-time money include a reliance on unpredictable turns in the future, when a crisis or natural disaster could knock a hole in the budget. The General Assembly’s own fiscal staff says that Republican tax cuts could mean a revenue shortfall this year of $700 million and $880 million more than projected over five years.

There’s another wrinkle for local governments like Wake that fund a supplement for teachers based on a percentage of their state salaries: The extra local pay will reflect the state’s uneven raise lines.

Teachers might be forgiven for being a bit skeptical about a pay hike plan that seems built on a shaky foundation. And some of those teachers wonder whether the pay increase will really pull North Carolina up that far, from the near-bottom, in national teacher pay rankings.

Yes, perhaps alarmed by the state’s abysmal ranking and with House Speaker Thom Tillis in a U.S. Senate campaign that will require him to capture more moderate voters, Republicans did provide a raise for teachers, something that polls showed was tremendously popular.

Misplaced optimism

But because of tax cuts – and there will be additional cuts coming – GOP leaders have tied the state’s future to misplaced optimism that the revenue shortfall won’t be as bad as feared or that they’ll be able to cut their way out of a crisis, should one come.

Once again, the inexperience of Republican leaders is showing. Their teacher pay plan does address the need to pay less-experienced teachers more, and that’s good. But more experienced teachers aren’t getting much, which is going to encourage more of them to retire, and that’s not good.

Read the N&O’s full editorial here. For more on how the new state budget impacts teacher pay and other classroom resources, read education reporter Lindsay Wagner’s story here on N.C. Policy Watch’s main website.