Is Senator Jerry Tillman truly the man of compromise that he says he is when it comes to the Common Core standards?

State lawmakers are coming close to passing legislation that would aim to repeal the Common Core standards, although the language in the bill currently would allow for a review commission to recommend keeping parts of the Common Core standards in place, if they so choose.

Sen. Tillman was behind the softer language (the House version doesn’t allow for Common Core to remain), saying last week that the Common Core has “some good and rigorous standards, and I’m sure that we will adopt some of them,” Tillman said. Tillman has also said publicly that he has rallied pro-Common Core stakeholders around his version of the bill, including the NC Chamber and State Superintendent June Atkinson.

But at a May news conference about Common Core at Phoenix Academy, where Tillman was flanked by Lt. Governor Dan Forest and State Board of Education member Buddy Collins, Tillman’s vehement opposition to the Common Core was made very clear in a lengthy speech he gave. (Head over the jump for video highlights)

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School vouchersSchool voucher money could be in the hands of families and schools one month earlier than planned for the upcoming school year—and prior to a court date that could rule the program unconstitutional.

According to an updated schedule published on June 20 on the N.C.  State Education Assistance Authority’s website, funds for the school vouchers, formally known as taxpayer-funded Opportunity Scholarships that are worth up to $4,200 per student annually to attend a private school, are now scheduled to be delivered to schools on August 15.

The money for school vouchers was previously scheduled for disbursement September 15, according an affidavit by Elizabeth McDuffie of the NC SEAA. But a court date that had been scheduled for August 22 could halt the program before school starts if Judge Robert H. Hobgood rules the voucher program unconstitutional.

Attorneys filed a motion late last week to block the early disbursement of funds, concerned about the harm that could result from providing families with potentially worthless vouchers just as they send their kids to private schools this fall. A hearing to consider delaying the disbursement of funds until after the court decides if the program should go forward will take place this Friday at 3:30p.m.

“If funds are distributed to parents and schools to support a program that is going to be declared unconstitutional in late August, then the state is put in the position of having to retrieve that money from hundreds of schools, and parents who are relying on these vouchers are going to find that the voucher is worthless,” said Burton Craige, attorney for plaintiffs who are challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program.

“So this disrupts parents, children, schools, and the state in its use of taxpayer funds.”

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Lawmakers tasked with coming up with a 2015 state budget met in public this afternoon, where Senate leaders pitched once again an 11 percent pay increase for teachers – but this time, without requiring them to give up their tenure protections.

Sen. Harry Brown introduced the proposal, explaining that their budget plan would bring North Carolina up to 27th in the national rankings for teacher pay. The House’s plan would only boost North Carolina to 37th.[ See documents related to the Senate's latest offering here.]

While Rep. Brian Holloway said he was pleased to see that the Senate has offered to give up hinging pay raises on whether or not teachers give up tenure, he was quick to point out how the Senate continues to propose paying for that plan by eliminating teacher assistants.

Sen. Bob Rucho defended the Senate’s plan to eliminate TAs, noting that the teacher assistant model was put into place by former Gov. Jim Hunt and that since then, reading proficiency among North Carolina’s children has decreased.

Brown echoed Rucho’s sentiments, saying that “study after study” indicates that TAs have no positive effect on student achievement. [Authors of one study that Senate leader Phil Berger pointed to as evidence that TAs were not a necessary classroom investment have publicly said Berger misinterpreted their study results.]

Senate leaders also asked House members to defend their proposal to increase the lottery advertising budget as a way to pay for their proposed 5 percent teacher raises.

Rep. Nelson Dollar defended the House’s plan, unwilling to budge on increasing the lottery advertising budget from 1 percent to 2 percent while also enacting truth in advertising language that some say would make it harder to raise hoped for revenues.

Budget conferees will meet again in public tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

** See update at the end of this story**

Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill on Monday that authorizes the UNC system to spend $376 million on capital improvements, while the state’s public universities await a 2015 budget proposal that could heap on more budget cuts to other critical areas of service for students.

The funds, which the Governor says will come from various fees, receipts, grants and other fundraising income, will allow NC State University to spend $35 million to renovate Reynolds Coliseum. Eastern Carolina University will be able to spend $156 million to update its student union, and other capital updates are earmarked for UNC Charlotte, Western Carolina University, UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Asheville.

Gov. McCrory has proposed a 2015 budget that would slash state funding for the UNC system by $49 million. Suggestions in McCrory’s budget for where to cut include faculty workload adjustments, reducing senior and middle management, eliminating low-enrollment programs, and restructuring research activities. 

Those cuts would come on top of years of funding reductions. In 2011, the state’s universities had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated, 3,000 jobs were cut and another 1,500 vacant jobs were eliminated.

In the four years prior to 2011, the state slashed funding to the university system by $1.2 billion.

McCrory’s 2015 budget proposal also makes a $13 million cut to all UNC centers and institutes that are not directly involved in degree production, a $10 million cut to scholarship programs for nonresident students, and a $24 million cut to account for fewer numbers of students enrolling at the state’s public universities. 

Lawmakers continue to hash out the final 2015 budget in closed door conference committee meetings this week.

**UPDATE: this post was modified to clarify that the UNC system will receive no new state appropriations as a result of this enacted legislation.

From Joni Worthington, VP for Communications, UNC System:

The University will receive NO “cash infusion” as a result of the bill signed by the Governor.   The UNC capital projects included in the bill are all non-appropriated or self-liquidating projects.  The source(s) of non-state funds used to repay the debt on these facilities will vary with the purpose of the project (e.g., student housing and food service receipts, student fees, athletic receipts, parking receipts, federal grants, private gifts, etc.), but all the funding will originate on the campus(es) constructing the buildings and not elsewhere in state government.  Even though no state funding is involved here, the University must seek legislative authorization each year to move forward with any capital projects above a certain dollar threshold.  This week the Governor signed the bill authorizing the campuses to begin those self-liquidating projects requested this session.

lw-410Reporters at the Detroit Free Press have dug deep for the past year to uncover the facts surrounding how Michigan has spent $1 billion on charter schools, yet failed to hold them accountable for their results.

Among the investigation’s findings:

  •  Michigan’s charter schools spend $1 billion per year in state taxpayer money, often with little transparency.
  •  Some charter schools are innovative and have excellent academic outcomes — but those that don’t are allowed to stay open year after year.
  •  A majority of the worst-ranked charter schools in Michigan have been open 10 years or more.
  •  Charter schools as a whole fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty.
  •  Michigan has substantially more for-profit companies running schools than any other state.
  •  Some charter school board members were forced out after demanding financial details from management companies.
  •  State law does not prevent insider dealing and self-enrichment by those who operate schools.

The investigative report contains loads of videos and source documents, as well as a close look at National Heritage Academies, a national charter operator that operates many of Michigan’s charter schools and has schools in North Carolina as well — and is looking to expand here in the Tar Heel state.

It’s an important and compelling read for anyone interested in public education, especially as North Carolina bears witness to a burgeoning charter school movement of its own.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!