Education, News

North Carolina teacher pay ranking to climb two spots in 2018, but still lags national average

North Carolina teacher pay is projected to climb two spots in the national rankings this year, although it should remain in the bottom third of the country, according to a national benchmark released Monday.

The nonpartisan National Education Association estimated the state’s educator pay would inch from 39th to 37th nationally, although it’s worth noting that the report’s estimates can be adjusted. Indeed, North Carolina was projected to be ranked 35th last year, although the new report says the state actually placed at 39th.

North Carolina’s average teacher salary, an estimated $50,861, would still lag the national average, which is projected to surpass $60,000 in 2018.

However, when adjusted for inflation, Monday’s report estimated North Carolina teacher pay fell more than 9 percent from 2009 through 2018. During that same time period, the national average slipped by about 4 percent.

Meanwhile, on another key measure, per-pupil spending in North Carolina is projected to rank 39th in the country in 2018. That’s the same ranking the state held in 2017 spending, according to Monday’s report, although that’s an increase from the 43rd position that last year’s NEA report estimated the state would hold in 2017.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Still, North Carolina’s per-pupil expenditure, an estimated $9,528 this year, will also trail the national average, which is just less than $12,000.

“I am glad to see that we are moving up in the rankings, but know that we still have a long way to go and are committed to further teacher pay raises,” Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-chairs the House education appropriations committee, told Policy Watch Monday.

The N.C Association of Educators, which lobbies for teachers at the state legislature, issued a statement Monday morning slamming lawmakers for the news.

NCAE President Mark Jewell

“Our students deserve public schools that have the resources they need to be successful and educators who are respected like the professionals they are,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “Instead of prioritizing corporate boardrooms, our elected leaders should be making critical investments in our classrooms.”

Jewell is likely referring to a series of corporate and personal income tax cuts handed down by the state legislature since 2013. At a time when K-12 advocates say leaders should be beefing up public education spending following massive recession-era cuts, the tax cuts cost the state more than $3 billion in state revenues annually.

With teachers protesting this year in states like Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma, education spending has been on the front-burner in 2018.

One key measure in the report noted the national average on spending for schools’ operational expenses is down about a half-percentage point since 2009 when adjusted for inflation, although adjusted spending on school construction and maintenance has plunged by about 15 percent during that time.

State officials estimated North Carolina faces more than $8 billion in infrastructure needs of its own. And while the state’s local governments have historically been charged with funding capital needs, North Carolina lawmakers are under pressure to take up a $1.9 billion statewide school bond referendum this year.

North Carolina teachers aren’t likely to launch the kind of prolonged protests reported in other states this year, but educators are planning a May 16 rally in Raleigh to urge state lawmakers to spend more on schools. The NCAE is timing the rally with legislators’ planned return to session.

A spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, fired a shot at the Republican-controlled General Assembly after the report’s release Monday.

“If the legislature would adopt Governor Cooper’s teacher pay proposals, then North Carolina could get to at least the national average a lot faster,” said Cooper spokesman Ford Porter. “We cannot accept this ranking because teachers must have professional pay, and students must have well qualified teachers.”

Education, News

Students, legislators to talk gun reforms in “reverse town hall” Sunday

North Carolina students and lawmakers will tackle gun violence and possible reforms this weekend in Chapel Hill.

The event, a “reverse town hall,” will allow four state legislators—two Republicans and two Democrats—to ask questions Sunday of a panel of high school and college students, according to organizers at the UNC Institute of Politics, a nonpartisan, student-led program.

The panel is set to include high schoolers from Raleigh and Johnston County, as well as college students statewide representing groups like the UNC Young Democrats, College Republicans, Tar Heel Pistol and Rifle Club and the UNC Black Student Movement.

They’ll be questioned by Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford; Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston; Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake.

Torbett and Faircloth are co-chair and vice chair, respectively, of a select committee assembled by House Speaker Tim Moore this year to address school safety after a shooting at a Florida high school left 17 dead in February.

The shooting prompted an avalanche of activism from students nationwide, including students in North Carolina.

Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake

“I am honored to be involved with IOP’s Reverse Town Hall on Gun Violence and to have the opportunity to ask questions of students from across North Carolina, listening to their insights and concerns about the issue of gun violence,” Ball said in a statement. “It is time to work together on bipartisan solutions to ensure student safety and address the issue of gun violence more broadly.”

Meanwhile, Faircloth said the issue is “very important” to him.

“We are committed to examining data and hearing input from all viewpoints, and that includes North Carolina’s students as that is the constituency we serve and protect,” Faircloth said in a statement.

Sunday’s town hall is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Stone Center on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

School safety has remained very much in the headlines since this year’s Florida high school shooting, owing in large part to organized, youth advocacy organizations.

Indeed, Gov. Roy Cooper announced plans Thursday to set aside $130 million in his pending budget proposal this year to finance school safety upgrades and more support personnel like counselors, psychologists, nurses and school resource officers.

Of course, the Democratic governor’s proposal would have to be vetted and approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly before the spending increases could take effect.

Education, News

Report: Will General Assembly fix principal pay plan?

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke

Today’s North Carolina education must-read comes from the Public School Forum of N.C., a policy and research group in Raleigh.

And its subject—principal pay and the apparent shortcomings in a recent state-led overhaul—should be of interest as legislators prepare to return to session in Raleigh next month.

According to the report’s author, Lindsay Wagner, hundreds of principals could face pay cuts in July without action from the legislature [Disclosure: Wagner is a former Policy Watch reporter].

From the Public School Forum:

It’s been a year and a half since a legislative committee heard testimony from education and business stakeholders about innovative ways to bring North Carolina principal pay up from its abysmal rank of 50th in the nation.

Since then, the General Assembly has enacted a new compensation model for public school principals that its proponents say is a huge improvement, offering substantial increases in pay that began last fall.

However, several experienced principals, superintendents and lawmakers say the new plan results in steep losses in pay for many veteran principals – a concern that’s been addressed with a hold harmless provision that prevented drops in pay this year, but is set to expire before the start of the next academic year.

And some say that the plan’s heavy reliance on schools’ academic growth scores is a disincentive for talented leaders to take on the daunting task of turning around chronically low-performing schools—a consequence that runs counter to the recommendations from advocates that pitched ideas to lawmakers back in 2016.

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“You don’t take a principal who has been successful with students in one school, ask him or her to go to a lower performing, troubled school with the idea of turning it around, and then say ‘and by the way, if you agree to take this on, you could end up taking a pay cut if you don’t make it work in a time frame that we would like to have it work in,’” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), a former member of the Burke County school board and a member of the House education committee in an interview with the Public School Forum.

Rep. Blackwell, who voted for the new plan that was inserted into the state’s budget bill last year, says he’d like to see some key changes made to how principals are now paid during the upcoming legislative session. Those changes include extending the hold harmless provision and making tweaks to other aspects of the plan that go to the heart of its philosophy on how to pay principals—but he’s not optimistic those changes will come.

“I think we should do something, but my efforts to persuade others have thus far fallen on deaf ears,” said Blackwell. Alluding to past impasses between the House and Senate when it comes to education budgets, Blackwell said, “the House and the Senate have to both agree on some things.”

When lawmakers meet in May, the number one thing that will be up for consideration when it comes to principal pay will be extending the hold harmless provision. If not, there are very strong indications that veteran principals will retire en masse come the start of the new school year.

Rep. Blackwell says that he’s seen estimates that as many as 356 principals could see pay cuts beginning July 1—roughly 15 percent of the workforce. He says extending the hold harmless provision is critical along with eliminating disincentives for turning around struggling schools and adding more funds to the base salaries for principals, because what’s there is only a start.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey is urging lawmakers to extend the hold harmless provision. In a letter to the General Assembly last October, Cobey said:

“In a time when the talent pipeline for teachers and school administrators cannot keep up with the demand, and when some of our highly talented principals stand to lose an average of over $8,000 in pay, we respectfully request that you extend the “hold harmless” provision for all principals through fiscal year 2018-19,” wrote Cobey.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, someone who has frequently been at odds with members of the State Board of Education, agrees with Cobey on the matter of extending the hold harmless provision.

“After conversations with lawmakers and principals, I am supportive of an extension of the hold-harmless provision to give school systems and principals more time to adjust to this new pay scale.

But Rep. Blackwell is not optimistic at this point that the House and Senate will find common ground on this matter. And neither is Buddy Collins.

“I’m discouraged by what I perceive is the unwillingness to look at the problems with this plan and work harder to get a solution,” said Collins.

Education, News

Report: Matthews leaders say municipal charter bill gives them leverage

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, filed a controversial bill last year to clear municipal charters.

Leaders in the Charlotte suburb of Matthews say a pending municipal charter bill in the N.C. General Assembly gives them leverage in their ongoing bickering with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), according to a Charlotte Observer report Wednesday.

Policy Watch reported last month on the brewing battle over schools near North Carolina’s largest city, with leaders in Matthews at times pushing for assurances that the district won’t force busing to ameliorate segregation concerns.

Meanwhile, calls for Matthews to splinter off from CMS to form their own district have been met with stiff warnings that they would be creating a racially isolated school district. The suburban town is predominantly white.

Charlotte leaders seem highly unlikely to approve any large-scale busing in the coming years, but there remains obvious tension between Matthews officials and CMS officials, even after a state study committee approved a report this month with no clear directive for dividing school districts.

Much of that tension centers today around House Bill 514, a measure that would allow Matthews and nearby Mint Hill to form their own publicly-funded charters apart from CMS.

It’s a proposal with potentially enormous, precedent-setting implications for North Carolina school districts.

From The Charlotte Observer:

The prospect of towns launching their own charter schools has altered the balance of power in Mecklenburg County’s public education scene, as a Tuesday night meeting between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the town of Matthews illustrates.

The joint meeting — the second such session inspired by a controversial municipal charter school bill — ended with an unusual two-day deadline.

The school board wants town officials to decide by Thursday evening whether they’ll pull the plug on House Bill 514, which would authorize Matthews to create its own independent public schools. In return, CMS would enter a three-month joint study with town leaders about ways to address their concerns, which include school crowding and the fear of massive busing.

Most members of the Matthews Board of Commissioners said they want to work with CMS. But some say that without what one commissioner called “a safety valve,” the south suburban town has little leverage with the countywide district.

“If not House Bill 514, what would have brought us to this table?” asked Matthews Commissioner Christopher Melton.

School board members say the bill, introduced by state Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews, could upend public education across North Carolina, similar to the way the lifting of the state’s charter school cap

CMS leaders say Brawley’s local bill, which has passed the House and could go to the Senate when the General Assembly convenes in May, creates the opportunity for suburbs to carve off their own public schools, weakening the countywide systems that serve larger numbers of black, Hispanic and low-income students. The bill affects only Matthews and nearby Mint Hill, but they say it would set a precedent.

But some town commissioners said asking Brawley to kill the charter bill would not only reduce the town’s leverage with CMS but with county commissioners. “I think that the House bill is our strongest negotiating tool,” said Jeff Miller.

During a break in the joint meeting, the six CMS board members who attended huddled with Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and other district staff. They came back and proposed a joint task force with a three-month deadline for bringing back solutions to the town’s concerns — contingent on the town withdrawing support for HB 514.

“I think it is the slippery slope that begins to separate our school system into a have and have-not system,” Ellis-Stewart said.

Education, News

N.C. legislator says children’s blood “will be on our hands” if state doesn’t allow for armed teachers

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus

A North Carolina lawmaker with a lengthy history of gun rights advocacy says the blood of murdered schoolchildren “will be on our hands” if the state doesn’t allow for armed teachers.

Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican who sits on the state House education committee, urged his fellow legislators to clear the way for armed school teachers and personnel in a late night email Monday, calling it “the most practical, common sense, and constitutionally sound proposal of all.”

Policy Watch obtained a copy of the email Tuesday morning, which was issued with the subject line “saving innocent lives.” It was sent to all House and Senate members but directed specifically at members of a House select committee on school safety, which was slated to meet Tuesday morning.

From Pittman’s email:

“We need to allow teachers, other school personnel and other citizens, who are willing, to be screened and  to receive tactical training and bring their weapons to school, in cooperation with local law enforcement who would need to be informed as to who is doing this.  We should give them a fighting chance.  Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands.  I cannot accept that.  I hope you will think this through and find that you cannot accept it, either.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Pittman has urged lawmakers to arm teachers, a controversial proposal floated by President Donald Trump and other gun rights activists after a Florida school shooting left 17 dead in February.

Pittman also has a history of inflammatory comments. In February, the Cabarrus County lawmaker apologized after he suggested in a Facebook comment that the Florida shooter was part of a conspiracy to spur more gun control laws. He’s also come under fire for comparing former President Abraham Lincoln to German leader Adolf Hitler.

In his Monday night email, Pittman said so-called “gun free zones” like schools encourage school shooters. He said recent polls indicate between 20 to 30 percent of teachers are willing to “take on this responsibility” of being trained and armed.

He also indicated that he’d spoken with a substitute teacher in Henderson County about a “sizable group of teachers in that county who, along with her, are eager to take on the challenge and responsibility of defending innocent lives in our schools.”

Many school advocates have spoken openly in opposition to any proposal to arm teachers, including the N.C. Association of Educators, which represents K-12 teachers before the General Assembly in Raleigh.

The entirety of Pittman’s email is below:

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