Education

NC Public School Forum to tackle the challenges facing rural schools

In October, the Public School Forum of North Carolina announced the launch of Study Group XVII to examine the unique education challenges facing students across rural North Carolina. The effort will bring together subject matter experts from across the state to identify the unique barriers to success faced by rural students and to develop policy solutions to help rural schools overcome those barriers.

Addressing the unique needs of North Carolina’s rural schools is vital to ensuring that every child in North Carolina has access to the “sound basic education” promised by our state’s constitution. North Carolina has the second-largest rural student population in the country. Compared to their urban counterparts, North Carolina’s rural schools tend to serve more students from families with low incomes. Additionally, rural schools often find it more difficult to attract teachers and provide students with the academic and extracurricular options on offer in urban districts. Finally, many rural districts face declining enrollments, forcing many districts to consider school closures and consolidations that can rend communities.

North Carolina’s rural communities are hamstrung by an economic recovery that has been largely confined to urban areas. 42 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have lost jobs since December of 2007, many concentrated in rural, eastern North Carolina. An economic agenda focused on tax cuts for corporations and wealthy North Carolinians has exacerbated the opportunity gaps faced by rural children.

The Forum’s effort is also timely. A recent report from the Rural School and Community Trust measured the depth and breadth of each state’s rural education challenges and ranked North Carolina as the second-highest priority state behind only Mississippi. The report notes that North Carolina’s rural students are at or below the national median on college readiness indicators. Additionally, the report finds that one in five school-aged children in rural schools lives in poverty and per-pupil instructional spending is more than $1,000 below the national average. They ultimately conclude that North Carolina’s rural schools face “a dire situation that needs urgent attention at the state and community levels.”

The Study Group’s work continues on November 25th with two regional meetings at Edgecombe Community College and Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. Both meetings are open to the public. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to RSVP here.

Commentary, Education

Editorial: The path to creating better readers in our schools is not about quick fixes

Be sure to check out the lead editorial this morning on WRAL.com. As “Only determined focus, from statehouse to schoolhouse, will fix lagging reading scores” points out, it’s long past time for state political leaders and policymakers to get past their affinity for addressing the state’s educational needs with quick fixes and doing things on the cheap.

This is from the conclusion:

The inability to significantly increase the portion of students who, by the time they are in the fourth grade, have the basic skills to be good learners, represents a lack of determination and focus at the local level of education on up….

This is a crisis. Our education leaders – from the principals’ office and the local school board to the state Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction – must act. It is their constitutional duty to give every child an equal opportunity for a quality education.

Our courts ruled – more than 22 years ago in the landmark Leandro case – that the state failed in that obligation. Even with a court order, our leaders have fallen so short of their duty that the courts again are preparing to issue fresh directives. At the same time Gov. Roy Cooper’s has a commission working in parallel so the state is poised to move when the court acts.

Our leaders need to engage more directly with those who REALLY know about the challenges students face. They cannot tolerate failure on the current scale.

Good managers, when faced with failures to perform in their organizations, first turn to those on the front lines. Why aren’t they able to accomplish their tasks? Do they lack the materials or time? Do they lack the training? Are their efforts spread too thin (in school, too many students per class, lack of teacher assistants)?

Passing the blame and embracing ethereal fads isn’t teaching any more kids to read.

It is time for officials from the schoolhouse to the statehouse to focus on classrooms – get good teachers in them and give them the environment and tools to do the job.

Amen to that.

immigration

Editorial: As Supreme Court takes up DACA, a chance for Congress to regain some respect

Today the United States Supreme Court will hear a highly anticipated case that could determine the fate for thousands of DACA recipients. The Trump admistration is challenging a lower court ruling that blocked the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Chilhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was created by the Obama adminstration in 2012.

As more than 700,000 young immigrants nervously watch this case, the editorial board for The Washington Post explains that it is well past time for Congress to solve this issue once and for all for the Dreamers and their families:

As the Supreme Court hears legal arguments Tuesday on the Obama-era policy that provided a reprieve from removal and gave job permits to hundreds of thousands of young unauthorized immigrants, and on the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to rescind that policy, it’s worth remembering some history. Specifically, that members of Congress of both parties have been trying, and failing, to codify those very protections for so-called dreamers since nearly the turn of the century.

It was August 2001 when then-Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, introduced the Dream Act, outlining a pathway to legal permanent residency for migrants who entered the United States as minors, usually with their parents. Since then, repeated iterations of that measure have become enmeshed in the broader partisan impasse over immigration, even as lawmakers, including many Republicans, voiced ritual sympathy for dreamers.

An attempt to break the logjam last year, with a compromise pairing a long-term fix for the dreamers with funding for border security, including President Trump’s wall, fizzled in the Senate when he threatened a veto. Now that the president is building portions of the wall anyway, by diverting funds appropriated by Congress for the military, what possible justification can lawmakers find to avoid doing the moral and humane thing by guaranteeing a normal life for dreamers?

Perversely, it is imaginable that Congress, and perhaps even Mr. Trump, could be jarred into acting on the dreamers’ behalf by a Supreme Court ruling that removed their protections and job security. Mass layoffs and waves of deportations, along with the financial distress those would trigger, could create the sort of crisis that focuses minds in Washington when all else fails. And the fiscal and economic impact of layoffs affecting hundreds of thousands of employees, and others still in college, would be consequential. A 2017 CATO Institute study found that deporting 750,000 young people protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would sap the U.S. economy by $280 billion over a decade, and the federal tax coffers by an additional $60 billion.

But Congress could regain some respect by doing the right, the obviously right, thing before the court rules.

Read the full editorial in Tuesday’s Washington Post.

Commentary, News

National publication: NC’s Josh Stein leading a new wave of state AG’s

Attorney General Josh Stein

The Pew Charitable Trusts publication Stateline featured a rather flattering profile of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein today. In When a State Attorney General Takes On a National Fight, What’s He Gunning For?” reporter Elaine Povich highlights Stein as the most visible in a list of top state lawyers who are staking out high profile positions on raft of issues and combating some of the worst acts of the Trump administration.

After listing several matters — including taking on social media giants, robocalling phone companies, e-cigarette makers, housing discrimination and Trump rollbacks of environmental regulations — in which Stein has taken the lead, the article puts it this way:

Stein, 53, has inserted himself into nearly every high-profile action that state attorneys general have taken since he started the job in North Carolina in 2017.

He is emblematic of a new kind of state attorney general — more aggressive, often bipartisan — rising to prominence nationwide. What used to be a relatively high-profile position within a state’s boundaries has become a springboard for publicity across the country.

As politics on the national level becomes more polarized, and with Congress stymied by attention on a presidential impeachment investigation, attention has increasingly turned to the states, where legislatures are primed to act, governors have some real power and attorneys general are stepping up, particularly on consumer issues where the federal government has largely stepped away.

The article notes that Republican AG’s often opposed Obama administration actions, but that today, Stein is widely recognized as leading a similar charge. It also makes plain that Stein seems a likely candidate at some point for higher office:

No one seems more poised to take advantage than Stein, whose activism stands out, even among his peers. Particularly visible is the way he interacts with Republican AGs as well as members of the GOP in his home state. He is one of only a handful of Democratic AGs who must contend with a Republican-dominated legislature.

Stein has used consumer issues to ingratiate himself with North Carolina voters and the GOP-led legislature. Meanwhile, showing that he can fight Trump-led Republican initiatives has boosted his national Democratic profile.

“It is designed to have positive effects and boost their credentials if they have ambitions for higher office, which it is fairly clear that Stein does,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “He’ll demur, as they usually do, but you might be able to detect it from his eyes.”

Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, a Democrat who now teaches at Harvard Law School, said fraud “doesn’t have a partisan hat” when attorneys general are going after bad actors. But, he said, Stein and other AGs are “not going to get elected or re-elected based on what they do on robocalls.” They may work across party lines on corporate fraud or consumer protections, but when it comes to election time they usually revert to party positions, he said.

Stein has already announced he will seek re-election in 2020. Click here to read the entire profile and here to listen to a recent extended interview Stein did with Policy Watch for our News and Views radio show that ran yesterday.

Commentary

The conservative war on NC public school teachers neatly summarized

In case you missed it over the weekend, the good people at the Public School Forum of North Carolina produced an excellent response to the cheapskate teacher pay plan that the General Assembly produced and Gov. Cooper rightfully vetoed.

This is from the statement:

Today, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a ‘mini-budget’ bill passed by the General Assembly in October that would have offered teachers across the state pay raises that are grossly inadequate and do not reflect the tireless commitment North Carolina’s educators make to our children every day. Governor Cooper vetoed the raises at a time when teachers face nearly a decade of actions taken by state lawmakers to dramatically reduce the resources and tools they need to be successful in the classroom.

“The ‘mini-budget’ that was crafted by lawmakers does not value the incredible contributions our teachers make every day in schools across our great state,” said Dr. Michael Priddy, Interim Executive Director, Public School Forum of NC. “We can and must do more to value our teachers who sacrifice so much of their time and resources to educate our youth.”

The General Assembly approved average teacher raises of 3.9% over two years, and 2% raises for non-instructional staff. But additional language in the bill would have given educators a larger raise and a bonus — a clear indicator that we as a state have the resources to invest in our educators — but only if Democrats elected to override Governor Cooper’s veto of the state budget that was passed over the summer.

“Playing politics with teachers’ livelihoods is wrong,” said Priddy. “Given that our state has the resources necessary to invest in our teaching workforce and, by extension, our children, we trust that the Governor’s veto will lead to further negotiations and a proper resolution on teacher raises.”

The Public School Forum believes that it is critical that we as a state have an honest and accurate conversation about teacher pay and what increases in state spending for teacher salaries are necessary to begin to address the massive teacher shortages and inequities in salaries across North Carolina.

Over the past decade, North Carolina has witnessed a steady deprofessionalization of the teaching profession. While teachers have seen some pay increases since the Great Recession, these salary bumps obscure the fact that in many cases they have come at the expense of numerous classroom needs and teacher supports that are essential to student success, leaving our teachers to consider second jobs and/or different careers, and deterring our best and brightest from considering the profession altogether. The list below includes some of what teachers—and, by extension, students—have lost.

  • Loss of 8,000 teacher assistants in elementary classrooms;
  • Insufficient instructional resources and textbooks;
  • Insufficient mental health support personnel;
  • The elimination of longevity pay and master’s pay;
  • The elimination of career status (tenure), which offered teachers due process;
  • The elimination of state funds for professional development; and
  • The elimination of retiree health insurance benefits for teachers hired in 2021 and beyond;

As we stated in our teacher pay report released earlier this year, teaching is one of the most difficult, and undoubtedly the most important professions there is—and for the future of our state and all public schools, North Carolina teachers deserve better.