News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

State Board of Education to vote on DPI budget cuts, layoffs Tuesday

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and Bill Cobey (right)

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said last week.

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last year, has been silent about the cuts thus far, although Cobey said the superintendent has shared multiple proposals for dishing out the cuts.

Cobey noted the daily changes to those proposals last week.

Board members are expected to vote on the cuts Tuesday. But a DPI official, citing the confidentiality of personnel information, said details on the cuts won’t be available to the public and the media until after Tuesday’s meeting.

Watch for Policy Watch coverage of the cuts this week.

News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

N&O editorial: GOP should stop “meddling” with N.C. public education

A Sunday editorial from The News & Observer offers up some advice for Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly: Stop meddling with public schools.

The editorial follows a report from Policy Watch last week on a budget directive from GOP lawmakers that eliminates top positions at the State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, specifically targeting several with ties to former Democratic state Superintendent June Atkinson.

The cuts also single out the top staffer for the state board, which is at odds with the legislature over the powers held by Superintendent Mark Johnson’s office. 

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the $23 billion Republican budget plan last week, but the GOP-controlled legislature overrode Cooper’s veto hours later.

From The N&O editorial:

When Republican Mark Johnson, a 33-year-old former Forsyth County school board member, upset incumbent state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, a Democrat, in the 2016 election, Republicans in the General Assembly were rubbing their hands together so hard they could have started a forest fire.

In Johnson, who advocates for charter schools and expansion of a wrong-headed voucher program that takes money from public schools and gives it to parents to enable them to send their kids to private school, legislative leaders like Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore had an inexperienced superintendent to whom they could give marching orders.

In the latest example of legislative meddling, a budget mandate reported by N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the N.C. Justice Center, would fire several education officials from the administration of Atkinson, and would eliminate a top staff member’s position with the State Board of Education, which by statute has charge of policy. Martez Hill is the board’s executive director. Johnson and the board, led by former U.S. Rep. Bill Cobey, a Republican and experienced public education advocate, have repeatedly clashed as Johnson, with the support of right-wing lawmakers, has tried to consolidate power. He’s doing so, of course, with direct input from Jones Street.

This is outrageous. Said Cobey: “I’ve been told offline that they eliminated Martez’s position not because of him, but because he was executive director of the state board, which I think is a sad state of affairs.”

No kidding. Johnson ought to be seeking and taking as much advice as he can from experienced hands like Cobey. The superintendent has a lot to learn. In fact, he has everything to learn, and he seems a lukewarm supporter of conventional or mainstream public schools, which isn’t good. And a weak superintendent gives full control of public education to the people who want it, the GOP leaders of the General Assembly.

This kind of action also erodes confidence in the Department of Public Instruction, internally and externally.

Republicans seem determined to dismantle the public education system that has served North Carolina well for over 100 years. In fact, it may be said that the state’s strong public schools transformed it, giving hope to millions of young people and opening their lives to the endless possibilities that education should inspire. Why GOP leaders want to meddle in and damage public schools remains a mystery, given that the majority of North Carolina families have their children in public schools.

The State Board is hardly a liberal outpost, far from it. But it has provided needed supervision of Johnson, who has kept a low profile since taking office, perhaps on the orders of Berger and Moore. Who knows?

What we do know is that these latest maneuvers are transparent, intended by lawmakers to weaken the state board and empower politicians with guidance of the schools. That’s not good.

In addition to the position cuts, state lawmakers also ordered DPI to slash its operating budget by 6 percent, about $3.2 million, in the first year, followed by a 13.9 percent cut, or about $7.29 million, in the second year. It’s another round of cuts for a department that has seen its funding dramatically reduced under Republican leadership.

News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

Despite increases, N.C. public education funding still lags, advocates say

Protesters blasted the N.C. General Assembly’s K-12 budget Monday.

Despite modest increases in teacher pay and classroom funding bundled in the General Assembly’s now-approved budget, North Carolina public education spending still lags far behind pre-recession levels, advocates at the state’s legislative building argued Monday.

“Even though our economy continues to recover, our public schools are facing a permanent recession caused by Republican lawmakers who would rather give tax cuts to millionaires and big corporations instead of investing in public education,” Logan Smith, communications director for liberal-leaning Progress NC Action, said.

The advocacy organization touted new teacher pay numbers that show, when adjusted for inflation, pay at nearly every experience level lags pay in 2008, before a Wall Street collapse brought on a massive economic slowdown.

Additionally, the group says, North Carolina spending, when adjusted for inflation, is $500 less per student today than it was in 2008. And state spending on textbooks, which received a non-recurring, $11.2 million bump in the final legislative budget, remains 40% less per student than 2008.

Protesters said they planned to seek a meeting with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore after their press conference to discuss the budget Monday. Later, Smith said Moore was not available when protesters visited, although they spoke briefly with some of the House speaker’s aides.

“Clearly, he did not talk to any actual educators before writing this budget,” added Smith.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he would veto the state legislature’s $23 billion spending package Monday, although the Republican-dominated legislature likely has enough votes to override Cooper’s veto.

Meanwhile, veteran teachers blasted lawmakers’ approved pay raises in recent years, which as of the most recent national rankings, lifted the state’s average educator pay ranking from 41st nationally to 35th.

Those numbers, however, did not include the pay raises approved by lawmakers this month, although teachers and other K-12 advocates say the legislature’s pay hikes won’t go far enough.

They say experienced educators were left behind when lawmakers developed their salary scale. Amy Daaleman, a 25-year music teacher in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said this year’s average 3.3% raise for teachers comes out to about another $30 per month for her.

That’s not nearly enough to cover expected increases in health care premiums for teachers like Daaleman.

“I feel disrespected that my value to the state to stay and teach another year as an educator is only worth $30 a month,” said Daaleman. “What is the logic in staying in a profession that has more and more work only to lose money?”

Becky Campbell, a 22-year language arts teacher in Chapel Hill, agreed, pointing out last year’s much-touted GOP raises amounted to a $11.70 monthly increase in take-home pay for her.

“I want the public to understand what a sham this support for public education is,” said Campbell.

Teacher pay and textbook funding wasn’t the only gripe leveled at GOP state lawmakers Monday. Teachers and advocates also shredded lawmakers over the state’s looming class-size funding issue, teacher assistant funding and a state budget provision that eliminates retirement health benefits for new teachers beginning in 2021.

“Taking away retirement benefits would be horrible for teacher recruitment,” said Smith. “And it makes it even harder than it already is to retain the educators your children deserve.”

News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

N.C.’s compromise budget: Teacher pay raises, voucher boom, DPI cuts, school grading and more

North Carolina state lawmakers unveiled a compromise budget package Monday that bundles a new round of teacher pay raises amid steep cuts for the state’s top K-12 agency and support for school choice favorites like vouchers and education savings accounts.

The $23 billion spending plan is expected to move swiftly through the legislature. State senators are expected to hold the first of two votes on the budget deal Tuesday afternoon, while the House is expected to schedule votes later this week.

Some of the deal’s most controversial provisions are likely to emerge in its public education provisions, which include unpopular reforms to the school performance grading system and rapid expansion of the private school voucher program without the accountability requirements included in the House budget passed last month.

Here’s a round-up of the top public school components of the legislature’s budget deal:

  1. Teacher pay: Includes an average 3.3% raise in first year. In its inclusion of raises for most steps on the salary scale (with the biggest raises bound for teachers on steps 17-24), the plan is closer to the House salary schedule than the Senate’s proposal, which focused its raises on mid-career teachers. GOP budget writers say their goal is to reach average pay of $55,000 by 2020.
  2. Department of Public Instruction (DPI): The compromise plan softens the staggering, 25-percent budget cuts for the state’s K-12 bureaucracy included in the Senate budget, although it retains major reductions for an agency that focuses its intervention and training efforts on low-income and low-performing school districts. The new plan includes 6 percent reductions in the first year (about $3.2 million), followed by a 13.9 percent cut in the second year (about $7.29 million), all while adding 24 new reporting requirements for the agency. This does not include the budget’s plan to chop 11 positions in the agency, including three filled jobs, a loss of another $900,000 or so in funding.
  3. DPI audit: After years of allegations of wasteful spending in DPI, the budget includes $1 million for GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to commission an audit of the agency. Interestingly, the second year of the spending plan includes a $1 million DPI cut based on “anticipated savings” from that audit. The spending plan also includes $29 million in non-recurring funds over two years for a “modernization” of DPI financial accounting, a plan GOP lawmakers say will allow for increased transparency in the agency.
  4. School districts’ central offices: In keeping with the legislature’s clear skepticism of K-12 administrators, the budget includes a 7 percent cut to the state’s central office allotment for school districts in the first year, and an 11 percent cut in the second year, both a modest reduction from the Senate’s earlier proposal.
  5. Vouchers: As expected, the legislature retains a $10 million annual expansion of the so-called Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides public funds for low-income children to attend private schools. The program, which is slotted for $44.8 million in funding in 2017-2018, is a lightning rod for public school defenders, who point out private schools lack the same accountability and non-discrimination requirements of public schools. And, with a report this year suggesting the state’s voucher students are not being helped by enrollment in private schools, the final budget deal eschews House calls for an independent study of voucher student performance and the requirement that voucher students take one nationally standardized test for comparison purposes.  However, it allows for a task force to mull ways to evaluate voucher student performance, with a report expected next March.
  6. Personal education savings accounts: Labeled “vouchers on steroids” by critics, this program allows for the state to divert public funds to the private accounts of parents who seek to enroll their children in private schools. While it limits participation to parents of children with disabilities this year, it’s likely a first step in opening the door for greater access in the coming years, despite widespread questions about private school accountability and allegations of misspent cash in other states.
  7. School performance grades: The compromise deal nixes House proposals to reform a long-criticized method for assessing school performance. Advocates say student growth—rather than the school’s overall performance—should play a greater role in determining the score. Currently, the score is determined by 80 percent performance, 20 percent growth. A House proposal to establish separate grades did not survive conference committee negotiations. In addition, the deal announced this week also moves to a more stringent 10-point grading system in 2019-2020, rather than the 15-point scale preferred by advocates for school districts.
  8. Textbooks and classroom supplies: Amid myriad plans for boosting the state’s oft-criticized funding for classroom supplies, the conference committee emerged with a fairly conservative proposal, allocating about $11.2 million in a non-recurring boost to the allotment in the coming year. Critics say the state continues to fall far short of the necessary funding levels for this allocation, forcing teachers and school districts to spend to provide for updated classroom materials.
  9. Children with disabilities: One of the few bright spots of earlier budget proposals, according to some education advocates, the compromise increases the funding cap for children with disabilities, slotting another $6.3 million in recurring funds.
  10. Teaching Fellows: The plan, as expected, uses $6 million in cash from the state’s Education Endowment Fund to fund a new version of the teacher scholarship plan controversially scrapped by GOP lawmakers in 2011. The new version will focus on science, engineering, math, technology and special education, offering university scholarships for prospective teachers in exchange for a commitment to work in North Carolina. Lawmakers say they are hoping to address a well-documented drop in UNC students seeking teaching degrees in recent years.
  11. Superintendent’s office: With the state’s newly-elected GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson mired in a battle with the State Board of Education over the hiring powers of his office, state lawmakers are getting involved. The budget includes a House proposal to allocate $700,000 for Johnson to create up to 10 new positions that report solely to him. The proposal had earlier earned the rebuke of the GOP chairman of the state board, who says the positions and funding are needed for other roles in DPI.
  12. Governor’s School: The compromise deal bypasses a Senate proposal to ax state funding in 2018-2019 for the five-week, summer program, which focuses on academics and arts.
  13. Advanced teaching roles: The budget will spend an additional $7.1 million in non-recurring funds next year, bringing the total to $8.2 million, on a three-year pilot program aimed at offering incentives for so-called “teaching leaders” in school districts.
  14. Eastern N.C. STEM: The deal restores funding for a summer science, math and technology program that’s primarily served low-income, black youth in eastern parts of the state. GOP budget writers in the Senate stripped funding from the program in an early-morning cut that seemed a retaliatory strike against Democratic critics of the Republican budget. 

Keep checking back with Policy Watch for updates and feedback from top education advocates.

News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

With budget compromise pending, Governor’s School waits for news

In case you missed, The News & Observer provided a look this weekend into Governor’s School as it reopened for summer session in the midst of great uncertainty over its future. 

House and Senate lawmakers are expected to announce their state budget compromise Monday, and it remains to be seen whether a Senate proposal to chop $800,000 in state funding for the program will be included in the final spending package.

The House budget retains funding for Governor’s School, while Gov. Roy Cooper has asked the legislature to boost the allocation to $1.2 million.

The program, begun in 1963, offers five-week summer programs in Raleigh and Winston-Salem for top high school students, with a focus on critical thinking, academics and the arts.

As the paper notes, Governor’s School has become a target of GOP lawmakers in recent years.

From The N&O:

Karen and David Shore of Holly Springs dropped off their son, Carter, at Meredith on Sunday. Carter plays the French horn and said he wanted to attend the school after learning about a friend’s experiences last summer. He said he was excited to play with the “best from around North Carolina.”

Carter and his parents said he would learn more than just music while on campus. One class he’s taking deals with personal finance. His mother said she hopes the legislature takes a closer look at the program before making a final decision.

“I hope they realize how great it is for North Carolina students and what an investment it is,” Karen Shore said. “You have to spend now but it pays off later.”

Yet over the past eight years, the budget for the Governor’s School has either decreased or remained unchanged. In 2009, the school’s budget was cut from $1.3 million to $850,000. In 2011, the program nearly lost all funding before the General Assembly agreed to provide $800,000.

Laura Sam, Governor’s School East site director at Meredith, said because funding has remained static for years while North Carolina’s population has grown, the program cannot match demand. The Governor’s School enrolled 670 students for the summer, but Sam said it received 1,796 applicants this year and more than 1,700 the year before.

The program charges $500 in tuition to help make up for lower state funding. While it offers scholarships to those who might not be able to afford tuition, Sam said she knows some students might ignore the school once they see the cost.

“We have not failed, we have succeeded … but we are not fully funded,” she said.

The Senate plan to end state funding for the program would direct money to revive a different summer program, the Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service, and to a four-week science, math and engineering residential program run by the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.

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