News

In post-Teaching Fellows N.C., Wake County training its own future teachers

education-early-childhoodToday’s News & Observer offered an interesting report from T. Keung Hui on a fledgling Wake County initiative that provides training and contracts to college students planning on entering the teaching profession.

In a post-Teaching Fellows North Carolina, some education advocates say this type of locally-geared effort is what’s left for addressing crippling teacher shortages.

Policy Watch has reported extensively since 2011 on the state legislature’s dismantling of the former Teaching Fellows Program, which offered four-year college scholarships to prospective educators who agreed to teach in a North Carolina classroom for at least four years.

The program’s final class graduated last year, and despite calls to restore Teaching Fellows in the midst of a massive plunge in UNC system students seeking teaching degrees, the program goes unfunded again in the state House budget approved this week.

In the meantime, as the N&O reports, counties like Wake are attempting to take matters into their own hands. The new, week-long training program launched with 21 college students who agreed to become teachers in Wake County, the state’s largest public school system, when they graduate in 2019.

From the N&O:

Wake agrees to pay the students to attend a week of summer training each of the four years they’re in college. The students will get $3,000 in stipends over the four years. Upon graduation, the students are offered three-year teaching contracts.

Twenty-four high school seniors graduating this year – who will become the second group in the program – were expected to sign their contracts Thursday.

Sherri Morris, a senior administrator in Wake’s human resources department, said it’s important that these students already have local ties and are invested in the community.

“They’ve got brothers or sisters or cousins or friends,” Morris said. “This is a way for them to give back and shape the future of those students.”

Meanwhile, another pivotal factor in the state’s discussion of the teacher shortage—teacher pay—continues to be a political football as lawmakers wrangle over their final budget details.

A pay plan approved by the House (beginning on page 31 of the budget bill here) includes modest increases for mid- and late-career teachers, as well as bonuses for beginning teachers. The average teacher raise in the House plan comes in at about 4 percent.

However, the state Senate has been consistently more hard-line when it comes to K-12 funding, so education activists are expecting major changes in the spending plan when it emerges from the Senate in the coming weeks.

Commentary

Coal ash: The chorus exposing and opposing Duke Energy grows

Coal AshBe sure to check out a couple of excellent new opinion pieces on Duke Energy’s coal ash mess in two of the state’s major dailies this morning.

The first, which isn’t yet online for some reason, is letter from Amy Brown — a woman who lives near a Duke Coal Ash site in Belmont — that ran in the print edition of this morning’s News & Observer. In it, Brown is as articulate and convincing as she is passionate in skewering a recent op-ed from the President of Duke Energy North Carolina. Here’s an excerpt:

“Duke continues to claim that our well water is just as safe or better than city water, and that is a false claim. Duke has had meetings with the state to discuss our water, without us, and that is a breach of trust. Nothing is impossible, but Duke must be willing to listen and try to understand its neighbors’ concerns to move forward.

Capping the coal ash in place will always leave people questioning why Duke didn’t just remove it when it had a chance. Cap-in-place is like an old house that has siding added on. The outside looks great, but the inside is still that same old house that has many problems….

If [Duke President] Fountain believes that the cleanup request is coming only from ‘special interest groups’ then he’s wrong because we aren’t followers of things that we don’t understand. We are leaders because we understand the danger of Duke’s toxic waste being left in the ground. Duke’s neighbors didn’t ask for this, and we want our peace of mind back. When referring to ‘special interest groups,’ maybe Fountain should look within his own company or look to those that Duke has been meeting with. Remember, we aren’t the enemy. We are simply Duke’s neighbors.”

Meanwhile, the lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal (“Residents deserve clean, safe water”) puts it this way:

“We’re glad a tentative directive announced Wednesday by state environmental regulators says Duke Energy must excavate its coal-ash basins statewide within eight years. But there’s still a long way to go before that happens. Read more

2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Remarks by Rep. Paul Luebke on the House budget

The full transcript of the remarks by Rep. Paul Luebke today during the House debate on the budget. (Watch his remarks beginning at the 16:30 mark.)

My concern looking at this bill is that it’s not placed in the proper context. And the context is the needs of the state and decisions that have been made in the last few years – particularly since 2013 – about taxes.

We all know you cannot have appropriations – you cannot have a budget – without taxes. And a lot of the times we have a tax that looks, for example, like the standard deduction this year in the tax bill. It is the “cost” – that is to say the reduction to availability – is $25 million. But the ballooning effect is there, and two years from now it reduces availability by $133 million. We are taking off the table a lot of revenue to meet the needs of the state. You might ask, “What are these needs? Haven’t we done everything in this budget that we could possibly do?” And the answer is, “No.”

While the budget does right by overall teachers, it doesn’t do anything for those teachers who are beginning. No one can really claim that $35,000 is an adequate income for a teacher. In fact, I have data that shows that if a teacher has a family at $35,000 that she or he is eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. That is to say that because of the low-income and family size there is, under that program – a program we all know, I think, was started by President Reagan and expanded by President Clinton – a teacher at $35,000 is eligible for the tax credit because the income isn’t sufficient.

Read more

Commentary

USDOL’s new overtime rule restores overtime protections to middle class workers

Yesterday the US Department of Labor published a long overdue update to the salary threshold for overtime exemption.  The simplified explanation of the new rule is this: if you are paid on a salary basis and make less than $47,476 per year or $913 per week your employer has to pay you overtime in addition to your salary for every hour worked over 40 in one work week.  Under the old rule, the salary threshold was $23,660 per year or $455 per week. The new rule takes effect on December 1, 2016.

The more co8 HOURS graphicmplicated explanation of the new rule involves understanding the reason for requiring overtime pay in the first place and why some people are exempt from that requirement.  The purpose of the overtime requirement- or rather, maximum hours requirement- was to bring employees a better work-life balance by discouraging employers from requiring their employees to work long hours.  The Fair Labor Standards Act sets the maximum hours for a workweek at 40, but allows employers to require additional hours as long as they pay more for that time. Some higher status employees were exempted from that requirement because, presumably, their decent salaries already compensated them for the extra time.  In 1975 the salary threshold was updated by the Ford administration to be 1.6 times the median wage, ensuring that those employees who were not entitled to overtime were still being fairly compensated.

USDOL used to periodically update the salary threshold, but since 1975 it has only been updated once, in 2004.  The value of the threshold has eroded over time due to inflation and efforts by business groups to keep it low so that it no longer serves its purpose of ensuring that exempt employees are getting fairly compensated for extra work. Instead of providing an incentive to limit hours to 40, employers had an incentive to pay everyone on a salary and increase their responsibilities so they could have them work well over 40 hours and not have to pay overtime.  At $455 per week, you could be earning barely above a poverty wage for a family of four and not be entitled to overtime. That simply is not how the law was intended to work.

That is why the Obama administration called for USDOL to increase the salary threshold – because it was violating the spirit of the overtime requirement.   Under the new rule, the salary threshold is pegged to the 40th percentile of the poorest census region (the south) and will be automatically updated every 3 years.  This is particularly good news for the middle class- a group that has seen long term wage stagnation even as the economy has grown.  Now, being a salaried manager at a restaurant or retail store will mean you are actually getting paid a middle class wage.  In North Carolina, an estimated 156,000 salaried workers will now be entitled to overtime or get a raise- putting money into hard working North Carolinians’ pockets.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Affordable higher education should be a priority for North Carolina

As state support for higher education has eroded, North Carolina students and families have shouldered more and more of the cost of a post-secondary education. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights how years of reduced investment by North Carolina in higher education has helped drive up tuition at public colleges, jeopardizing the ability of many students and families to afford an education that is key to their long-term financial success and essential to a growing economy.

State support for higher education remains well below the 2007-08 school year — 20.1 percent when adjusted for inflation, the report notes. Amid an improving national and state economy, state lawmakers have chosen tax cuts over restoring and boosting investment in higher education. These tax cuts have significantly reduced revenue that otherwise would be available to make a college education more affordable. Revenue loss will top more than $2 billion each year once all tax changes passed since 2013 are fully in place.

State and local dollars make up a significant portion of public colleges and universities budget. As such, large cuts in state funding for public universities in recent years have resulted in a steady increase in tuition. North Carolina is among the top of states for the percent increase in tuition at public four year colleges since 2008. Average tuition at four-year public colleges in North Carolina is up by $2,051, or nearly 42 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, among the highest increases in the nation. Meanwhile, federal and state financial aid for the average student has not kept up with the rising costs of earning a college degree, the report found. Read more