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!

Common Core picGov. Pat McCrory told reporters yesterday that he favors high academic standards, but doesn’t care about the Common Core brand.

“What we’ve got to talk about is high standards, especially in math and reading,” said McCrory following an event that awarded federal bonus dollars to teachers who develop new classroom materials for a statewide database.”If you ask most North Carolinians if they want high math and reading standards, they’re gonna be for it. I don’t care what you call it…I could care less about the brand name.”

The Common Core “brand,” as McCrory calls it, was adopted by North Carolina in 2010. Approximately 45 states and the District of Columbia have also adopted the academic standards, which are billed as a set of guidelines for what students should be able to know and do in math and English language arts. The state has spent upwards of $100 million of both federal and state dollars as well as countless teacher training hours on the implementation of the Common Core.

Lawmakers have used the short legislative session this spring to move toward repealing the Common Core, which some have assailed for being inappropriately difficult in some grade levels and poorly implemented. Nearly identical bills aimed at putting a stop to the implementation of the standards and creating a review commission to recommend alternatives have passed both the House and Senate, and their differences are currently being worked out in a conference committee.

When speaking to a group of Common Core supporters last month, however, McCrory said that the move to opt out of Common Core, which a number of other states is also considering, was not a smart move. He has also said he is working with lawmakers to come up with a compromise that would preserve high academic standards for the state.

“I hope that we’re going to come to some common ground on the Common Core,” said McCrory yesterday. “I think that the brand of Common Core has been damaged by anything that goes wrong with education.”

If legislation passes that would reneg on the state’s promise to implement the Common Core, McCrory declined to say whether he’d veto the bill.

 

The Wilmington StarNews reports that Baker Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy, the for-profit education management organization that oversees four charter schools Mitchell founded in eastern North Carolina, as well as another company that leases school equipment and supplies both take in considerable sums of money from leasing land, buildings, equipment and supplies to Mitchell’s schools.

For the 2013-14 school year, Charter Day School in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville paid Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy about $1.5 million to lease their buildings. As part of their contract, the schools also agreed to pay property taxes and insurance, which totaled another $90,000; and building upkeep, for another $200,000. Douglass Academy, housed in the Peabody Building on North Sixth Street in downtown Wilmington, is leased from the nonprofit Friends of New Hanover County Community Action for $1 per year.

The company plans to open a fourth school, South Brunswick Charter School in Southport, this fall.

Mitchell incorporated both the Roger Bacon Academy for-profit education management company and the for-profit Coastal Habitat Conservancy school equipment and supply rental company in early 1999. He founded the first nonprofit charter school four months later, according to records from the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

Mitchell currently serves as the secretary for Charter Day School Inc.’s board of trustees, is the president of the management company and is the registered agent for the rental company.

That means Mitchell leads the company that manages the schools and the company that rents equipment to the schools and is an officer on the schools’ decision-making board.

Mitchell, who also sits on the state board that reviews and recommends new charter school bids in the state, has come under intense scrutiny lately as he has fought hard to keep the salaries of his public charter school employees secret, even though state law requires that information to be made available to the public.

Mitchell, who he himself has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing charter schools in southeastern North Carolina according to IRS filings, is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, but details of that case have not been made public.

One of Mitchell’s newer charter schools, Douglass Academy in Wilmington, is currently under a warning for low enrollment numbers. The school must boost those numbers to the statutory minimum of 65 early this fall in order to avoid closure.

Read the full StarNews story here.