Commentary, Education

Vetoed budget would have shortchanged higher education

It’s a good thing state legislators might get a second chance to craft a budget for public education in North Carolina over the next two years.

Because the $24 billion budget they put together for 2019-21 – and that Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Friday – falls far short of what’s needed to retain top-level talent at our public colleges and universities, make necessary capital improvements and make strategic investments to enhance our institutions and the state.

Legislators did commit significant dollars to capital projects, though bonds would be a more predictable source of funds and address more needs than the pay-as-you-go approach favored by the state Senate.

But they didn’t make anywhere near sufficient investments in human capital:

  • Public university faculty have received legislative raises of 1.5% or less since 2008-09, but legislators chose to provide average raises of just 0.5% for 2019-20 and 2020-21.Legislators did agree to put an additional $6 million into a Faculty Recruitment and Retention Fund to try to fend off offers from competing schools that try to lure away university faculty. With meager raises such as what they authorized, a large retention fund will likely be needed.
  • Community college faculty – who make less on average than public-school teachers – fared only slightly better. They would have received raises of 1% in each year of the budget, which would keep pace neither with our neighboring states nor with K-12 teachers.
  • For years, legislators have complained about graduation rates – which our public universities improved to an average of 70% last year, significantly higher than the national average of 62% at public universities.1Yet when the UNC System developed a plan to raise graduation rates further through expanded summer-school offerings that help students graduate on time, legislators didn’t support it (though the House included $35 million for summer school in its version of the budget).

Budget negotiators did eliminate several worrisome provisions in the state Senate’s version of the budget:

  • A punitive $35 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursements for Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, the teaching hospital for the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine, based on Vidant’s move to bar the UNC Board of Governors from making appointments to its board.The conference report would have provided $28 million over two years as the first steps toward building a $215 million replacement for Brody – if Vidant allows the Board of Governors to appoint at least 45% of its board.
  • Reductions of $14 million at UNC Chapel Hill and $4 million at NC State University to offset finance and administration or “overhead receipts” the research universities receive as part of federal grants.

AMONG CAPITAL EXPENDITURES, legislators showed a willingness to commit significant dollars, including $1.5 billion for K-12 public schools, $400 million for community colleges2 and about $200 million for university projects, including initial funds for a $160 million STEM Building at NC State University.3

They also agreed to provide universities with $80 million for needed repairs and renovations.4

But the UNC System faces a maintenance backlog of at least $3 billion.5 Read more

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, News

Why Kamala Harris’ thrashing of Joe Biden matters to North Carolina’s racially segregated schools

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California)

When presidential hopeful Kamala Harris tore into Joe Biden last week, the California senator exposed the fundamental schisms, even among liberals, on school desegregation.

“[It] was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country,” Harris told Biden during last week’s rowdy primary debate.

“And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

For his part, the former vice president bristled at Harris’ characterization of his position on “busing,” although the tale of the tape is not so kind to Biden here either.

But, in the fallout from Harris’ timely take-down, pundits have missed the point, focusing instead on what the senator’s comments mean for her candidacy.

Perhaps, our time would be best spent analyzing the willingness of politicians and policymakers — from any political party — to truly consider the sickly decline of diversity in U.S. schools. Indeed, resegregation is a malady felt keenly in North Carolina, creating two different school systems and two offensively contrasting outcomes.

I’m not talking about the idea of school diversity. The most moderate to conservative politician — outside, perhaps, of a seemingly xenophobic Dan Forest — can espouse some appreciation for a multi-cultural student body while doing virtually nothing to make such a thing possible.

I’m talking about real steps, real reforms, the sort that made diversity initiatives a model in places like Berkeley, Wake County and — under a judge’s order — Charlotte in the 1970s.

I’m talking about understanding why those initiatives worked, and why leaders have allowed that progress to stall or founder.

History professor Matthew Delmont contributed his own sepia-toned analysis of the debate at The Atlantic Monday morning, explaining how our own eroding understanding of segregationist history — and the widely despised but efficacious “busing” programs — leaves us with a skewed perspective even among policymakers on the left.

From The Atlantic:

By invoking her own story, Harris highlighted a generational gap between people who lived through school desegregation as students and those, like Biden, for whom the feelings and opinions of white parents and constituents are paramount. As scholars such as Amy Stuart Wells and Rucker Johnson have shown, the generation of students who experienced school desegregation firsthand in the 1970s and 1980s benefited greatly. In public-policy debates and popular memory, though, the perspectives of students have been overshadowed by those of antibusing parents and politicians. As a result, the successes of school desegregation have been drowned out by a chorus of voices insisting busing was an inconvenient, unfair, and failed experiment.

When Harris boarded a school bus in the fall of 1969 to attend Thousand Oaks Elementary School in an affluent part of North Berkeley, busing was already a hot-button political issue. The controversy was driven by white opposition to school desegregation, not by the use of school buses. Students in the United States had long ridden buses to school. Buses made the modern public-school system possible, enabling multigrade elementary schools and comprehensive high schools to replace one-room schools. Buses had long been used in the South—as well as in New York, Boston, and many other northern cities—to maintain segregation. This form of transportation was not controversial for white parents. Put more starkly, school buses were fine for the majority of white families; busing was not.

White parents in New York City organized in the late1950s to oppose plans to bus black and Puerto Rican students from overcrowded schools to white schools with open seats. The parents used euphemisms such as busing and neighborhood schools to maintain segregated schools without explicitly saying they did not want their children to go to school with black or Latinx students. Similar antibusing protests occurred in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and other cities in the 1960s.

Northern congressmen responded to the anger expressed by many of their white constituents by writing antibusing provisions into the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These amendments were designed to keep federal civil-rights enforcement of school desegregation focused on the South and away from the North. While the Civil Rights Act finally pushed to the South to comply with Brown v. Board of Education by enabling the withholding of federal funds, cities in the North, Midwest, and West routinely flouted federal authority.

Antibusing rhetoric spiked in 1972, the year Joe Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate. White protesters such as Irene McCabe of Pontiac, Michigan, received massive amounts of media attention for their defiance of court-ordered school desegregation. President Richard Nixon called for Congress to pass a busing moratorium and used televised presidential addresses to signal that he would limit federal oversight to unconstitutional de jure segregation, most commonly associated with the South, to set the terms of the busing debate. Nixon also warned his appointees and the lawyers and officials who worked in the Justice Department and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that they could either support the administration’s evolving school-desegregation policies or lose their jobs. When Biden came to the Senate and began introducing his own antibusing amendments, he was building on more than 15 years of white parents and politicians using busing as a code word to oppose school desegregation.

Read more

Commentary, Education

Vetoed budget would have done nothing for education

After releasing House and Senate budget proposals that would have done next-to-nothing for public schools, the General Assembly approved a conference proposal (vetoed by Gov. Cooper on Friday) that would have done even less. In an unprecedented move, education budget writers presented a compromise budget that somehow spends even less than either of the inadequate House or Senate plans.

The biggest problem with the conference budget isn’t so much with what it would have done…it’s what it didn’t do. Namely, it would have continued to deny schools the resources they need to ensure all students can succeed.

Overall, the conference budget would have left total school funding 2.9 percent below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for enrollment growth and inflation. This figure underestimates the actual budget pressures faced by North Carolina’s public schools, as schools’ largest cost drivers – salary and benefit costs – have increased faster than traditional measures of inflation.

It’s more informative, therefore, to look at how schools’ resource levels have changed. Of the 24 biggest allotments in FY 08-09, 20 of them remain below their pre-Recession levels (see tables here and here). Compared to FY 08-09, the state is providing schools with:

  • Nearly 800 fewer teachers
  • Nearly 500 fewer instructional support personnel (psychologists, nurses, counselors, social workers, librarians, etc.)
  • The dollar equivalent of 7,730 fewer teacher assistants
  • Cuts of more than 40 percent to textbooks, classroom supplies, and school technology

Some argue that pre-Recession levels are an arbitrarily high bar, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Read more

Education

North Carolina to move forward with IStation but will delay using data for six months

The State Board of Education (SBE) on Friday agreed to move ahead with the implementation a new controversial reading diagnostic tool but will delay using any of the data gathered for six months.

The SBE came to that decision about the new IStation program that will be used to measure student’s growth and progress in reading during a “special meeting” held via conference call.

School leaders across the state had called on State Superintendent Mark Johnson to request a delay in the implementation of IStation to properly train teachers.

The N.C. School Superintendents’ Association and members of the North Carolina Large District Consortium are among the educators who wanted to delay implementing IStation, and had asked that it be postponed for one year.

Here’s what the superintendent’s group wrote in a letter to Johnson:

“The Executive Board of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association would like to ask that the General Assembly to delay the implementation of the new reading diagnostic tool for one year due to the short turnaround time in the teacher training schedule,” the group wrote.” A change in an assessment tool that has so much impact in the classroom would be a challenge, due to the late decision and announcement on June 7, 2019.”

The IStation program has been a source of controversy since Johnson announced that he’d signed a three-year contract with IStation to place it in all of North Carolina’s elementary schools.

The state has used the mClass reading screen provided by Amplify Education Inc., which, after losing the contract, asked the state to “suspend or terminate” the deal with Imagination Station, Inc. (IStation).

Amplify Education contends IStation hasn’t demonstrated accuracy in assessment outcomes, or identifying students with dyslexia and doesn’t use “developmentally appropriate practices” required by state law.

The issue has generated a lot of interest online, particular after Amy Jablonski, a former NCDPI employee and candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, criticized Johnson for “going against the advice of our educators and experts” when he chose IStation over mClass.

Meanwhile, IStation released a statement calling the Amplify’s protest “frivolous.”

“Their purpose is solely to cause unnecessary delay in the contract awarded to IStation,” the statement said. “The false and misleading statements that Amplify is publicly distributing are intended to harass and cause harm to our company after we were awarded the contract – fair and square – based on our product offerings and proven track record working with millions of students across the country.“

Education

SBE will only allow one virtual charter school to increase its enrollment

One of the state’s two virtual charter schools can increase its enrollment by 20 percent next school year, but the other cannot.

In a “special meeting” Friday, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved NC Virtual Academy’s (NCVA) request to increase enrollment up to 20 percent for the 2019-20 school year.

It did not approve the request by N.C. Cyber Academy (NCCA) — formerly N.C. Connections Academy — citing a major transition the school will undergo as it begins to operate without its Education Management Organization (EMO).

NCCA parted ways with its EMO, Pearson OBL, in a nasty disagreement over Pearson’s management style.

The SBE’s votes followed the recommendations of the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB), which recommended approval of NCVA’s request but not NCCA’s.

“I would like it stated in the minutes that once this school has its first year under its belt without its operator that they send another request to us at the appropriate time,” said SBE member Amy White, who chairs the board’s Education, Innovation and Charter Schools Committee.

The board was unanimous in its decision to not allow NCCA to increase its enrollment. It narrowly approved NCVA’s request on a 4-3 vote. Several voting members did not call into the meeting, which was held via conference call.

SBE member Alan Duncan signaled before the vote that he would not support approval of NCVA’s request because it has not performed well.

“I’d hope they’d focus on getting to a place first of meeting expectation with the students they have without the added burden of having to take on a number of additional students while still having that burden before them,” Duncan said.

Legislation authorizing the two schools allowed each to enroll a maximum of 1,500 students the first year of operation. It allowed them to increase enrollment by 20 percent each year up to a maximum of 2,592 students in the fourth year of the pilot program.

The SBE is allowed to waive this maximum student enrollment threshold beginning in the fourth year if it deems that doing so is best for students in the state.

Lawmakers and the SBE have faced criticism for continuing to support the schools despite their poor performance records.

Both schools have earned state performance grades of “D” each year of operation beginning in 2015. And neither school has met student academic growth goals during that span. Both are on the state’s list of continually low-performing schools.

Still, state lawmakers approved legislation last year to allow the schools to continue operating through the 2022-23 school year.

NCVA, one of the state’s two virtual charter schools, enrolled 2,425 students this past school year.

NCCA enrolled 2,512 students last school year. As of June 6, nearly 2,200 students have enrolled for the 2019-20 school year. It has a waiting list of 398 students.

Public school advocates and many K-12 academic researchers have been openly critical of the virtual charter model. They point to dismal academic results and soaring dropout rates in states across the country.

A 2015 Stanford University study, for example, reported serious deficiencies in student performance nationwide in such programs.

But supporters say virtual schools serve an important student population and vow test scores will improve.

“When they get to five [years] and above … schools that have been around a little longer, their data is much stronger,” Dave Machado told board members earlier this month. “They understand what they’re doing. They do a better job at it. They make any adjustments they need to make.”