Education

State senate education committee leader will not seek re-election

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Johnson, Nash, Wilson

On Monday, the opening of the filing period for the 2020 General Election brought news from a key Republican senator who announced he will not seek re-election.

In a Facebook posting, Rick Horner,  chairman of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee, cited the frequently changing shape of District 11, which covers Nash, Johnston and Wilson counties, for his decision.

“Unfortunately, District 11 has changed shape three times in three elections and the 2020 Census is certain to bring yet another change,” Horner said. “Much to my regret, it simply is not in the best interest of my family to seek re-election in 2020.”

Horner was elected to lead District 11 in November 2016.

In the past weeks, several members of the GOP have announced they will not seek re-election, including Senate majority leader Harry Brown, an Onslow County Republican who has served eight terms.

Brown said he plans to focus on his business and family.

Both Brown and Horner have been influential players in the GOP-led General Assembly. Brown as a key budget writer and Horner led the Senate’s pivotal education committee.

The GOP could also lose Rep. Craig Horn, co-chairman of the House Education Committee, if he decides to run for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Sen. Rick Gunn of Burlington and Rep. Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem have also announced that they will not seek another term.

And on the Democratic side of the aisle, Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. of Durham will resign to serve on the state Utilities Commission and Rep. MaryAnn Black, also of Durham, has announced she will not seek re-election.

The filing period ends at noon on Dec. 20.

Education

Want to have a say in state testing reform? Take the survey.

High-stakes test reduction in North Carolina is one area Superintendent Mark Johnson and his critics have found common ground.

Still, Johnson is being peppered with criticism about the value and professionalism of a survey he has asked parents, teachers, administrators and the general public to take. The survey is designed to give stakeholders an opportunity to share thoughts about changes they’d like to see made to the state’s testing program.

Suzanne Parker Miller, a community organizer for N.C. Families For School Testing Reform, said the survey is flawed.

“My biggest problem with it, besides that its not professional work, is that it [the survey] automatically assumes there will be more online, tablet and computer testing, which is problematic because that is not the best testing method out there,” Miller said.

She noted that at least one question appears to be missing a word, which makes it difficult to interpret and answer.

“There’s one question that doesn’t read right,” Miller said. “I had to leave it blank because I couldn’t understand what they were asking. It’s just not professional.”

Here is the question Miller referenced:

Despite her concerns about the survey, Miller said she encourages everyone to answer the one question that gives respondents an opportunity to comment.

“Absolutely take it, absolutely respond and give honest feedback,” Miller said.

The survey asks slightly different questions depending on whether the respondent identifies as a parent, teacher, administrator or member of the general public.

Miller said she took the survey for parents and was forced to leave many of the questions blank because she couldn’t answer them.

Meanwhile, Johnson had this to say about the survey in a mass email:

“We want your input for the creation of this new program. Too often in education, leaders don’t ask teachers what they think before designing new education initiatives. Not for this program.

We are designing this from the classroom up, not the state bureaucracy down.

Our accountability professionals created this survey so that we can get your guidance. Your answers will drive their work to take full advantage of our opportunity to completely transform our system of testing. Your responses are anonymous.”

North Carolina has made advances this year in reducing the number of standardized tests students must take.

Over the summer, North Carolina became one of four states the federal government gave permission to change the way it tests reading and math skills of elementary and middle-school students.

And Gov. Roy Cooper announced signed into law the “Testing Reduction Act of 2019,” which will reduce the number of state and local standardized tests students take and eliminate the N.C. Final Exams starting in the 2020-21 school year.

Such testing, the argument goes, has not improved student achievement, is an unreliable measure of students’ performance and is a waste of valuable instructional time.

Education

State Rep. Craig Horn likely to run for state superintendent

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican, says he’s 80 % to 90 % percent sure he’s running for state superintendent.

“At this point, I’m planning on filing,” Horn said.

The filing period for most 2020 contests opens at noon on Dec. 2 and closes Dec. 20 at noon.

Before officially tossing his hat into the ring, Horn said he needs to be certain that he can make a difference, that his family supports the decision and that he can raise the $500,000 he thinks it will take to be successful.

“The question is, how much money can a down-ticket candidate raise given the demands at the top of the ticket,” Horn said.

He said presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial candidates at the top of the Republican and Democratic tickets will ultimately drive up the cost of advertisement, mailers and other campaign expenses for candidate’s down ballot.

Even as Horn prepares to launch a campaign for superintendent, he makes no secret of the fact that he thinks the state’s top educator should be appointed by the governor.

“It does not make good sense to elect a superintendent of instruction,” Horn said. “What does make good sense is to go out and hire the best possible person in the country for that job, not the most popular person, not the person who fills a political need.”

According to the National Association of Educators, 37 states appoint state superintendents. North Carolina is one of 13 state that elect superintendents

To date, Horn is one of two Republicans to publicly express interest in replacing GOP colleague Mark Johnson as superintendent. The other is Western Governors University chancellor Catherine Truitt.

Johnson, the first Republican elected to the post in a century, has announced plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2020. He wants to replace Dan Forest who is running for governor.

Six Democrats announced plans to run for superintendent but educational consultant and former teacher Amy Jablonski of Raleigh will not seek the post.

The remaining Democrats include:

  • Charlotte educator and activist Constance Lav Johnson,
  • Wake County school board member Keith Sutton,
  • Michael Maher, assistant dean for professional education and accreditation at the College of Education at NC State University,
  • James Barrett, a Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member, and
  • Jen Mangrum, a clinical associate professor in the School of Education at UNC-Greensboro who ran for a seat in the legislature last year against Senate leader Phil Berger.

 

 

Higher Ed

Podcast: A closer look at the conflicts, accusations and general chaos on the UNC Board of Governors

December is shaping-up to be a busy month for North Carolina’s higher education community.

Tuesday, December 10th marks the first meeting of the newly named East Carolina University Chancellor Search Committee. The 20-member search committee announced last week consists of ECU leaders, administrators, faculty, staff, as well as alumni and students tasked with finding a successor to former Chancellor Cecil Staton.

On Friday, December 13th the full UNC Board of Governors holds its final scheduled meeting of the year where they will take up the thorny issue of increases in student tuition and fees.

As Chapelboro.com reporter Brighton McConnell explained this week, UNC-Chapel Hill trustees are looking to the BOG to approve a three percent increase for the 2020-2021 school year.

Under the proposed plan, tuition for undergraduate students would increase by 3 percent, which would be a $211 increase for in-state students and a $1,026 increase for non-North Carolina residents. Both in-state and non-resident graduate students would see a $317 increase.

The UNC Board of Governors will also be trying to get back on track after a year that will be remembered for its conflicts, accusations and general chaos.

NC Policy Watch sat down with investigative reporter Joe Killian last week to discuss the many challenges facing the 25-member board charged with improving the quality of higher education across 17-campuses. Click below to listen to the full interview with Killian:

Commentary, Education, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

N.C. GOP official disputes account of suffering teacher, gets dunked on by Rep. Deb Butler

Rep. Deb Butler

(Note: This post originally published Wednesday morning on the “Notes from the Chalkboard” blog, which is maintained by Charlotte teacher and K-12 activist Justin Parmenter.)

After the N.C. Republican Party Communications Director questioned the veracity of her account of a public school teacher not having enough money for food and gas, Representative Deb “I Will Not Yield” Butler responded to his public records request by publishing the teacher’s entire heartbreaking email on Twitter.

Tuesday evening, Brunswick/New Hanover County Representative Deb Butler posted the following tweet:

Shortly after her tweet, Butler’s legislative assistant Tayler Williams received an email from North Carolina Republican Party Communications Director Jeff Hauser.  Hauser was making a formal records request that Butler turn over the email she claimed to have received from the teacher.

That’s right.  The N.C. GOP didn’t believe a North Carolina teacher could be struggling to this degree.

In response to the request, Butler asked the teacher for permission to publish the email in its entirety and posted it on Twitter just an hour after Hauser asked for it.

You can read the gut-wrenching account of this Brunswick County teacher’s financial struggles in its entirety below:

…a local teacher here in Brunswick County, North Carolina.  I wanted to express my concern and frustration over the requirements and qualifications required for any form of public assistance.  I realize that there are large amounts of families that are in tight financial situations but I am having difficulty with the fact that as a state employee who works extremely hard every day and I am not able to receive help.  I am a single mom with zero support from my child’s father. He has been unable to be located and works under the table so I cannot track his employment. I have been denied any form of help, from Medicaid for my daughter to food stamps and childcare vouchers.  I understand that I am employed and I am thankful for this every day but when I submit my information to try to get any assistance, I am denied because my Gross amount of pay is utilized, rather than my take home pay. According to my paycheck, I make $4,840 a month.  This is not accurate. I have to take into consideration that I only get paid 10 times a year and therefore I have set up at Summer Cash account through SECU to help save money for the months I am not paid in the Summer. I take out $600 from each paycheck for that amount which leaves me with $4,240.  I also have supplemental insurances to help cover emergencies since I am the only income for my family. This costs $440.32 a month. I am now at $3,799 a month. Then I have to take into account that I have state, federal, retirement, social security, and medicare taken from my paycheck for the amount of $1,070.89.  I am now bringing home $2,728.79. With my take home pay, I have monthly bills that I have to pay. I pay $975 a month in rent, $130 in utilities, my phone bill is $143, car insurance is $100, insurance for my daughters health and dental is $84. I have student loan payments at $336 a month. I have personal loan payments each month from trying to cover months that I was extremely in debt.  These total $393. I have to pay day care each week at $90 a week so on average that is $405. I am at $162.79 left. I also have credit card payments each month that cost $156.00. I have $6.79 left in my bank account to now cover gas, groceries, and miscellaneous items that always arise. I am currently in debt from not being able to pay all of my bills each month. I am $504 in debt to one student loan company and $672 to another.  My bank account currently sits at $0.64. I have another week before payday.

If you would so willing to help explain to me what I can do about this I would greatly appreciate it.  I am trying extremely hard each month to make it day to day. I often go without food in order to make sure that my daughter is provided for.  I depend on the charity of friends to help cook me dinner with leftovers since they know how hard I am struggling. I have sold off everything I can in my household to try to supplement my income and I try to pick up babysitting jobs or tutoring to make ends meet.  I am asking for your help as my local representative with this. I know I am not the only teacher in this situation. I realize that some strides are being taken to help with teacher pay but I need help now. If I would be able to get any kind of assistance I would be more than grateful.

It’s hard to imagine being less in tune to the realities of life for a North Carolina public school teacher than the Republican Party is right now.  Earlier this month our General Assembly passed a bill which was inaccurately titled the “Strengthening Educators’ Pay Act.” The legislation would have given teachers in years 0-15 no raise at all for the next two years and approximately $50 a month more to the majority of experienced teachers at 16 years and up.

That bill was so insulting to North Carolina’s educators, especially when paired with the massive corporate tax cut passed around the same time, that Governor Cooper vetoed it and asked the legislature to do better.  Cooper even offered to negotiate salary increases for educators independent of the Medicaid expansion issue, which has been at the heart of our four month budget impasse. The General Assembly responded by adjourning until mid-January.

When North Carolina teachers have to go hungry in order to provide for their children, you know the problem has gotten really bad. When a high-ranking representative of the majority party refuses to accept that reality, it’s clear that relying on our state legislature to step up and do the right thing is probably not realistic.  It’s an incredibly sad state of affairs.

At this point all we can really do is hope that better days lie ahead.