Commentary

Governor Cooper is underselling his teacher pay plan

Amidst the clamor over the General Assembly’s unfunded class-size mandate, Governor Cooper’s teacher pay plan has fallen from the North Carolina education headlines. However, teacher pay will certainly return to the forefront over the coming months as the North Carolina Senate and House release their budget proposals. As a result, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the Governor’s proposal.

The Governor described his proposal as a two-year effort to increase teacher salaries by 10 percent. For year one, FY 2017-18, the Governor proposes investing $271 million in teacher raises to provide what he described as “a more than 5% average increase for teachers in 2017-18.” Additionally, the proposal would eliminate the misguided “tier system” established in 2014-15 that only provided guaranteed raises to teachers every five years.

Teacher salary proposals are among the biggest state budget items each year, and deserve outside, independent analysis. Last year, Governor McCrory and General Assembly leadership were incredibly dishonest in their description of their teacher pay plan. General Assembly leadership absurdly claimed that their plan would bring average teacher salaries above $50,150, a claim repeated by the Lieutenant Governor and on countless campaign commercials. Governor McCrory centered his campaign on the equally-false claim that he met his promise to bring average teacher salaries above $50,000. Of course, these claims were provably false at the time, and average teacher pay remains below $50,000.

Thankfully, Governor Cooper has taken a more honest approach. If anything, he’s under-selling his plan. Read more

Commentary

Senate’s new and poorly-designed voucher program would expand avenues for educational fraud

Last week, Senators Barefoot, Clark, and Lee introduced SB 603, a bill creating a new voucher program that would provide approximately $9,000 per year to students with disabilities going to nonpublic schools. Known as “education savings accounts” or ESAs, these new types of vouchers differ from traditional vouchers in that parents may spend the money on tuition as well as other educational expenses.[1] Additionally, unused funds may be saved to make purchases in the subsequent year.

SB 603 is troubling for a variety of reasons, as the bill:

  • Expands opportunities for fraud beyond typical voucher programs
  • Costs more to administer than traditional voucher programs
  • Diverts funding from traditional public schools, with particularly negative impacts for public school programs for disabled students
  • Creates an annual drain on the state budget
  • Lacks accountability measures allowing parents to make informed educational choices for their children

What does SB 603 actually do?

If passed, SB 603 would dedicate $20 million to create the North Carolina Personal Education Savings Account Program. The program would be administered by the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer. Eligibility would be limited to students with disabilities who do not attend free public schools. Parents of eligible students would receive a debit card loaded with approximately $9,000 per year (the per-student state funding provided to LEAs on the behalf of the average student with disabilities).  The debit card could be spent on:

  • Tuition, fees, and required textbooks from a nonpublic school
  • Accredited tutoring services
  • Curricula
  • Fees for standardized tests, advanced placement exams, and college entrance exams
  • Account fees
  • Educational therapies
  • Educational technology

Strangely, SB 603 would prohibit students from using voucher funds on post-secondary education. Arguably, the primary benefit of ESA programs over traditional voucher programs is that they allow parents to save unused funds at the end of the year to apply towards college tuition. All other state ESA programs allow the use of ESA funds on college tuition.

It is also important to note that SB 603 would allow parents to double- or triple-dip into North Carolina’s other two existing voucher programs. In addition to receiving the $9,000 Personal Education Savings Account, parents could simultaneously receive $4,200 from the Opportunity Scholarship program (for students meeting certain income requirements) and an additional $8,000 via the Disabilities Grant Program. SB 603 would have a negative impact on the state budget, as the voucher awards will greatly exceed per-student spending for students double- and triple-dipping by getting awards via other state voucher programs.

Why is SB 603 bad?

Read more

Commentary

Senate bill would exacerbate growing charter school funding advantage

General Assembly leaders have resuscitated an unnecessary and divisive battle between public schools. SB 658 revives what has become an annual tradition on Jones Street: pitting charter schools against traditional schools in a clash for funding.

The battle in question concerns how local funding is shared between traditional public schools and charter schools. SB 658 would require traditional school districts to send more of their local funds to charter schools.

This bill is misguided because charter schools already receive more local funding than traditional public schools, and the gap is growing.  A NC Justice Center report published in September showed that, controlling for student residence, the local spending in charter schools in fiscal year 14-15 exceeded the local per pupil spending in traditional schools by $142 per student. That gap has increased in fiscal year 15-16, with charter schools now exceeding local spending of traditional schools by $212 per student.  SB 658 would only exacerbate these funding discrepancies.

This is not to say that charter schools are over-funded. Like traditional public schools, North Carolina’s charter schools are woefully underfunded.  Public school budgets remain below pre-Recession levels.  Since the 2010 change in General Assembly leadership, public schools have fewer teachers, teacher assistants, books, and supplies. These budget constraints harm charter schools just as they do traditional public schools.

The General Assembly should reject SB 658. Charter schools will be better served if funding is increased for all of North Carolina’s public schools.  North Carolina’s ranks 44th in the country for per pupil expenditures and 40th in terms of public school funding effort. Not only should the state increase school funding, the state can afford to increase school funding.

Commentary

Do General Assembly policymakers know everything they need to know about education policy?

If meeting agendas are any indication, General Assembly leaders apparently think they know everything they need to know about education policy.  The General Assembly has effectively dismantled the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee (Ed Oversight) in recent years, and this year they’ve made unprecedented changes to the joint meetings of the House and Senate Education Appropriation subcommittees (Ed Appropriations).

Ed Oversight was originally established in the 1990 budget.  It’s a bicameral committee responsible for examining “on a continuing basis, the several educational institutions in North Carolina, in order to make ongoing recommendations to the General Assembly on ways to improve public education from kindergarten through higher education.”  Ed Oversight has historically met during each legislative interim…until now.

From at least 2003 through 2015, Ed Oversight has conducted meetings of topical importance, reviewed reports submitted by agencies, and issued annual reports to the General Assembly.  For example, during the 2014-15 interim, Ed Oversight held meetings on UNC tuition, the federal Race to the Top grant, virtual charter schools, and the Read to Achieve program.  That same year, the committee received 69 reports from agencies and other educational organizations.  Finally, as in past years, the committee issued an annual report summarizing each meeting and recommending certain policies and legislation.

Ed Oversight met just once during the 2015-16 interim, and neglected to issue an annual report or any policy recommendations.  The General Assembly expended even less energy on examining and improving North Carolina’s education policy during the 2016-17 interim, holding zero Ed Oversight meetings.

The lack of effort displayed by Ed Oversight has carried over into Ed Appropriations subcommittee. Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump budget would eliminate professional development funding for NC educators

President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint offers bad news for public schools. His proposal – which, thankfully, has a way to go before becoming law – proposes eliminating all professional development funding for teachers and principals. The elimination of the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (also known as Title II) would reduce North Carolina school districts’ budgets by approximately $45 million and leave North Carolina school districts without any dedicated funding for professional development.

The elimination of federal professional development funding follows a path already pursued by the North Carolina General Assembly. Prior to the Recession, the state provided school districts with approximately $12.5 million per year for staff development. That funding was eliminated, on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, until state revenues recovered. In 2011, the General Assembly permanently eliminated dedicated state funding for professional development.

The elimination of professional development funding flies in the face of research. High-quality professional development (training that is job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated) has a direct impact on student achievement. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the impact of professional development found that “teachers who receive substantial professional development…can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.” Another more recent report concludes that “investments in high-quality principal training yield substantial benefits in student achievement, as well as teacher quality and retention.” Read more