The Department of Public Instruction’s budget chief told members of the State Board of Education Thursday that the number one issue local superintendents are wrestling with as they figure out how to fund their schools for the upcoming year is how to handle their teacher assistants.

“It is a very big problem for school districts to make a decision on how to start the school year,” said DPI’s Chief of Financial Operations Philip Price, who explained that any reductions to teacher assistants that result from final budget negotiations completed by the House and Senate in the coming weeks will be retroactive to July 1 and will leave school districts in a very tricky situation.

Budget writers in the Senate have signaled their intention to cut funding for teacher assistants significantly, eliminating more than 8,500 TA jobs over the next two year biennial budget period. The House, on the other hand, wishes to keep funding in place for TAs, setting up a for a fight that may end up being very similar to the one that took place last year.

Teacher assistants have been a target for budget writers for several years now. More than 7,000 teacher assistant jobs have been cut by lawmakers since 2009.

The General Assembly appears to be on track to head into the fall with its budget negotiations, leaving local school districts without a clear plan for how to fund classrooms and hire — or fire — teacher assistants and other classroom personnel.

The dollar difference between the House and Senate’s plans for funding TAs amounts to $195.6 million, Price told State Board of Ed members Thursday.

“Local school districts like Wake County have already started school in their year round tracks and so they’ve had to make some decisions related to how to address the teacher assistants,” said Price.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools have already laid off 30 TAs and warn that more might be coming.

“We still have our fingers crossed that the compromise (budget) will not cut deeper than 110 positions,” Crutchfield said of the 500 TAs that Winston Salem/Forsyth schools employes. Crutchfield, the district’s budget director, said the district would have to lay people off after they were already planning to report to work in August, according to the Winston Salem Journal.

The overall difference in the House and Senate’s budget plan for public schools, said Price, amounts to $342.6 million.

“That’s a major difference in money,” said Price. “[The General Assembly] has a pretty challenging job to do.”

In addition to TAs, Price noted the House and Senate’s other disagreements, which include how to handle driver’s education (the House restores funding, the Senate does not and eliminates the requirement for it in order to get a driver’s license), teacher salaries (House gives 4 percent raises across the board while the Senate focuses pay bumps on early career teachers) and whether or not to reduce classroom sizes by including more money to hire additional teachers (a Senate proposal).

“It’s going to be a rather lengthy, I’m afraid, in my humble opinion, discussion between the chambers and it will kick off pretty rapidly, I would imagine, next week,” said Price.

Lawmakers return to Raleigh on Monday after deciding to take a week long vacation, despite having missed their June 30 budget deadline.


In case you missed it, I have a story on our main site today that takes a look at how the now-defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges sold many students up a creek, including some North Carolina veterans who are saddled with big debts and worthless degrees and coursework.

In response to the story, one reader questioned on our Facebook page: Who accredited this scam?

That’s a great question.

So—when it comes to accrediting for-profit career colleges like Corinthian, here’s what I have learned.

Accrediting agencies that approve for-profit colleges also receive money from the very schools they are supposed to be holding accountable.

You read that correctly. The two national accrediting agencies that approved Corinthian schools—the Accrediting Commission for Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)—each receive their funding in the form of fees from the schools they accredit.

At a congressional hearing in 2013, Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation compared this arrangement to some of the practices that have taken place on Wall Street.

“This is like bond ratings firms giving AAA ratings to mortgage-backed securities sold by the same firms that pay their fees,” Kevin Carey, the director of education policy at the New America Foundation, said at the hearing. “It does not work out well in the long run.”

Read More


WUNC’s Reema Khrais reports that North Carolina’s support for classroom textbooks has dwindled to rock bottom—and while you might figure that students would instead have access to comparable educational materials in the digital world, making that transition is not happening very quickly and comes at a steep cost.

Schools don’t have the money to buy books, Fairchild [DPI’s chief of textbook services] explains. He pulls out a calculator, and begins punching in numbers to see just how much less the state has invested in textbooks since 2008.

“Eighty percent.  Yeah, 80 percent [reduction],” he says.

Fairchild says that means the books aren’t keeping up with changing curriculums.

“I mean here we are saying that we’re preparing kids for a 21st century environment, and we’ve got books from 2004,” he exclaims.

In Orange County, schools rely on a local sales tax to fund personal computers for most students, calling them their “digital textbooks.” But that local school district is wealthier than most others in North Carolina that lack the resources to get students fully transitioned into a digital educational environment.

In Vance County, only some high and middle school students get their own laptops, and Ross [a Vance County instructional technology facilitator] says they need more money just to keep them up-to-date. Because the state isn’t giving enough, school officials rely on grants and local dollars, which means other areas in education have suffered. The district, for example, doesn’t have as many substitute teachers anymore.

“And that’s a sting. It seems minor, I’m sure to someone on the outside looking in, but you can tell,” she says. “We can tell.”

There’s another big hurdle when transitioning to digital. Amy Walker, director of technology at Ashe County schools, says about 75 percent of kids have internet access at home. So what about the other 25 percent?

“Exactly. And if you require for it to be digital, what are we going to do for those kids?”

North Carolina has until 2017 to get fully transitioned from textbooks to a digital environment. The House and Senate 2015-17 budget proposals both would boost funds for digital resources—but still not enough to fully make the transition for all, says Khrais.

Check out the full report online over at WUNC.


In response to a recent order stemming from a 20+ year old court case that requires all North Carolinian children to have access to a sound basic education, the State Board of Education submitted a plan with the court last week to address how it will ensure all students succeed academically — and that proposal includes the establishment of an interagency advisory committee tasked with seeking solutions to educating at-risk students.

From the News & Observer:

In its court filing, the State Board of Education proposed establishing an Interagency Advisory Committee on Public Education to discuss the challenges at-risk students face. A hearing on the Board’s plan, part of the lawsuit called Leandro, is scheduled for July 21-23 before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning.

For years, Manning has criticized persistently low-performing schools and districts. Much of the Board’s response is a catalog of existing teacher preparation and evaluation efforts and classroom practices.

According to the State Board’s filing with the court, the committee would comprise “representatives from key child-focused entities, such as: state agencies (DPI, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Safety – Juvenile Justice, etc.); local boards of education; local mental health organizations; private non-profits, including representatives from the charter school community; community colleges, universities and others.”

Those stakeholders would come together to review the challenges at-risk youth face that relate to poverty, health and safety and develop recommendations for the State Board of Education as well as other agencies in an effort to improve educational access.

In their 54-page plan, the State Board highlights the successes they’ve had in supporting low performing schools since the original 1997 Leandro ruling, emphasizing existing teacher preparation and evaluation programs as well as other classroom supports as a way forward in meeting their constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education to all students.

But, according to the News & Observer, many of those school improvement efforts have largely been funded with federal Race to the Top funds, which are scheduled to dry up this year. While the House has included some funds to fill in the gap in its 2015-17 budget proposal, the Senate puts the onus on local school districts in its budget to fund those programs going forward.

With the establishment of an interagency advisory committee, the State Board emphasizes that the academic success of all students cannot be accomplished by public schools alone, and that the obligation rests with every state agency as well as the public at large.

Judge Manning will review the State Board’s plan at a hearing scheduled for July 21-23.

Read the State Board’s plan here: The Mandate To Provide An Opportunity For A Sound Basic Education, An Update and Recommendation.


Ohio’s charter schools—many of which are run by for-profit education management corporations—are notorious for misspending tax dollars and producing poor academic results. Lawmakers there had a chance to do something about it this summer by passing legislation that would strengthen charter school oversight—but that legislation ultimately failed.

From The Washington Post:

What happened? The bill — which, again, had the votes to pass — was tabled because, apparently, some lawmakers still want to make changes. The bill is supposed to come up again in September, but who really knows, given tepid efforts in the past to improve schools. Even if a bill passes later, implementation will be significantly delayed.

You’d think that the lousy state of Ohio’s charter system would have set a fire under everyone with even half a fingerprint on it. How bad is it? A June story in the Akron Beacon Journal started this way:

No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.

The newspaper had reviewed 4,263 audits released last year by the state and concluded that charter schools in the state appear to have misspent public money “nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.” It says that “since 2001, state auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.”

So what does the state of Ohio’s charter schools have to do with North Carolina?

It’s worth taking a closer look because, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, “only Michigan and Texas have a greater portion of charter schools [than Ohio] operated by private, for-profit companies, which are not compelled to disclose how they spend public money.

In North Carolina, lawmakers lifted the cap back in 2011 on the 100-charter school limit—and since then, more and more private, for-profit education management companies have been making their way into the state, some of which have sought to hide how they spend tax dollars. Read More