News

Senate approves controversial bill clearing the way for two high school math tracks

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, supports the revisions to the math curriculum.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, supports the revisions to the math curriculum.

As expected, the N.C. Senate voted Thursday morning to approve controversial legislation that would direct North Carolina high schools to give students the option of two math tracks—one offering the traditional, separated math courses and the other combining statistics, algebra and geometry into one integrated course.

House Bill 657 originally dealt with tuition rates at UNC universities, but a Senate rewrite led by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, instead orders schools to offer both math tracks by 2017-2018.

An earlier version of Tillman’s bill would have forced schools to provide both courses by the 2016-2017 school year.

Supporters said the integrated courses—which had been praised by business leaders and educators for its comprehensive linking of math courses—were troublesome for some parents and students.

Critics said the directive would only complicate matters for already overburdened public school teachers, who worked to phase in the integrated courses just four years ago.

In recent days, Tillman rebuffed talk of directing additional funding to schools to help phase in the dual courses. However, the chamber on Thursday did go along with an amendment from Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat and a teacher representing eight counties in northeastern North Carolina who supported the measure.

Smith-Ingram’s amendment calls for a study on the appropriate teacher-student ratio needed in schools in order to offer both tracks, although it’s unclear when or how that survey would be conducted.

Smith-Ingram said it was necessary to ensure schools have “adequate resources” for the job.

“This will be problematic for some of the smaller schools who have only one math teacher or two math teachers,” she said.

Otherwise, the bill passed 33-13, mostly on partisan lines, with very little debate Thursday. The legislation did, however, spur some fiery debate on on the Senate floor Wednesday, according to EdNC’s Alex Granados. 

The Senate’s version of the bill will now head to the state House.

Commentary

New report on virtual charter schools a good reminder of weakness of North Carolina’s model

Virtual charter schoolsThis morning, three charter advocacy organizations – the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN), and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers – released a report calling for tighter oversight of virtual charter schools.  The report, responding to the overwhelmingly poor performance of students in virtual charter schools, makes a number of recommendations intended to improve virtual charter school performance.

Virtual charter schools are online schools for students in grades K-12 operated by for-profit companies.  Student performance in virtual charter schools has been shockingly bad.  The most careful, comprehensive study of virtual charter schools, from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that virtual charter students achieved the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading than students in traditional public schools. Read more

News

Teachers, NAACP blast legislature and Gov. McCrory over school funding

Protesters gathering outside the State Capitol in Raleigh Wednesday.

Protesters gathering outside the State Capitol in Raleigh Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Faculty Forward NC

“This group here and that man there need somewhere else to live.”

When he said it, Donald Dunn, former president of the N.C. Parent Teacher Association, pointed at the legislature and in the direction of the governor’s mansion, respectively, setting off cheers all around.

Dunn was one of just a handful of educators and civil rights leaders who gathered on the front steps of North Carolina’s legislative building Wednesday afternoon to protest the public education policies of the GOP-led legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory, urging voters to show up at the polls this November to cast both parties out.

The heat from the crowd of about 100 or so nearly matched the blazing heat of the afternoon, as a group of pro-public education protesters, calling itself Organize 2020, completed their 23-mile march from schools in Durham and Raleigh to the legislative building.

Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, joined the protest Wednesday, lashing out at McCrory and Republican leaders in the legislature as “extremists.” Barber said competing education budget plans being negotiated in the General Assembly are partially restoring old GOP-led school cuts and calling them increases.

“I may be a preacher, but I wasn’t always a preacher,” said Barber. “We call that Three-card Monte. You’re just playing games.”

Multiple protesters who spoke Wednesday as the legislature convened inside blasted policymakers, accusing them of approving limited funding and lackluster teacher pay for public schools while ramping up privatization efforts.

“North Carolina should be moving forward in public education and not backwards,” said Mark Jewell, president-elect of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), a teacher lobbying group in Raleigh.

The protest continued on to the State Capitol building where, as The News & Observer‘s Colin Campbell reported, 14 were arrested when they blocked the intersection of Morgan and Fayetteville streets.

According to the paper, McCrory declined to meet with the protesters, although his office later offered to have the group sit down with a pair of top aides at the State Capitol. When the group found the doors of the Capitol locked Wednesday afternoon, they began protesting in the streets.

From the N&O:

McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the group initially didn’t respond to an offer to meet with the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Jimmy Broughton, and senior education adviser Catherine Truitt. The group arrived after the Capitol building closed at 5 p.m., Ellis said, and Broughton and Truitt later went outside to meet the protesters.

“We found them with locked arms in the middle of a rush-hour intersection,” Ellis said. “We usually prefer not to hold meetings in the intersection of a main road.”

One of those protesters, Jessica Benton, a special education teacher in Wake County, slammed McCrory for not sitting down to meet with the Organize 2020 group during Wednesday’s gathering. “He’s a coward!” someone shouted from the crowd.

“I don’t know about you, but I am done being ignored,” Benton added.

Read more

Commentary

Don’t miss next Tuesday’s luncheon on the true state of North Carolina’s economy

Seats are going fast — don’t miss next Tuesday’s very special N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Carolina comeback or comedown? A look at how we should measure success in the North Carolina economy

Featuring Professor Dirk Philipsen of Duke University

Register here

Is the North Carolina economy improving or stagnant? Are we in the midst of a “Carolina Comeback” as Governor McCrory and others allege or a prolonged and problematic malaise?

The answers to these questions depend in large part upon the measurements we use and how we use them. For many years, economists have simply referred to a nation or state’s gross domestic product or “GDP” as the chief indicator in such matters. Recently, however, experts have identified better ways to measure societal well-being. Join us as we hear from a pioneer in this field, Professor Dirk Philipsen.

About the speakers:

Professor Dirk PhilipsenDirk Philipsen is Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and a Duke Arts and Sciences Senior Research Scholar. His work and teaching are focused on sustainability and the history of capitalism, and his most recent research has focused on GDP as the dominant measure of success in U.S. and international economic affairs. His work also includes historical explorations of alternative measures for well-being.

Raised in Germany and educated in both Germany and the United States, Philipsen received a BA in economics (College for Economics, Berlin, 1982), an MA in American Studies (John F. Kennedy Institute, Free University Berlin, 1987) and a PhD in American Social and Economic History (Duke University, 1992). He has taught at Duke University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University. For 10 years, he served as Director of the Institute for the Study of Race Relations, which he founded in 1997, at Virginia State University. From 2001-2002, he served as one of the lead authors in generating a new shared governance constitution for Virginia State University.

Philipsen’s first book, We Were the People, chronicles the collapse of communism in East Germany and was published by Duke University Press. His latest work is published by Princeton University Press under the title The Little Big Number — How GDP Came to Rule the World, And What to Do About It.

Patrick McHughProfessor Philipsen will be joined by N.C. Budget & Tax Center Policy Analyst, Dr. Patrick McHugh. McHugh joined the Budget & Tax Center in December 2014 as its dedicated economic analyst and has quickly established himself as one of North Carolina’s most insightful commentators on state economic policy.

Don’t miss this very special event!

Register here

When: Tuesday, June 21, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Register here

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Editorial: Senate’s latest income tax scheme is a “horrible idea”

The lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer puts it simply, plainly and accurately this morning: the state Senate’s new scheme to cap state income taxes — a plan the folks at Progress NC rightfully have labeled the “Millionaire Protection Act” — is a horrible idea. Here’s the N&O:

“State Senate Republicans are rather like kids perched on a garage rooftop, sheets tied around their necks, ready to jump off and fly. Mom warns them. Dad warns then. The astronaut down the street warns them.

On the way to the hospital, they blame Mom, Dad and the astronaut for not stopping them.

Sen. Bob Rucho, Senate Finance Committee chairman, is up on the rooftop and willing to tell his fellow senators, apparently, that the wind’s up and he’s ready. This week, in the wake of a fanciful and potentially disastrous proposal on income taxes, Rucho refused to allow a representative from the State Treasurer’s Office even to speak to his committee.

The idea, another instance of amateur hour at the General Assembly, comes from Republicans and would put to voters a constitutional amendment limiting the state income tax to 5.5 percent. On the surface, and that’s unfortunately the way too many voters would look at it, it sounds appealing, and Republicans cynically know that.

But State Treasurer Janet Cowell in a memo sought to get legislators to face some truths: Limiting the ability of lawmakers in the future to raise taxes above the limit would hamstring the state’s ability to cope with a crisis. What if there were a severe recession? A natural disaster? A need for investment in public education? A crisis with the state’s transportation system? Cowell’s office notes also that the state’s prized AAA credit rating, which allows it to borrow money at lower interest rates, could well be put at risk.

This is a horrible idea, and it’s been proven so. GOP lawmakers simply blow off the problems the state of Colorado has had since engaging in this foolishness. The state got in crisis, and voters had to suspend the tax cap for five years.

The cap would most help the wealthiest North Carolinians, no surprise since GOP lawmakers have been catering to the wealthy and to big business since they got into office. But it could be catastrophic for average North Carolinians.

Say there’s a limit. Then, say there’s a crisis that demands the state raise many millions in revenue. A couple of things would happen under a Republican legislature. One, public education and social programs would be cut; two, sales taxes, which hit the middle class and lower income people hardest, would be raised dramatically.

It’s a leap North Carolina shouldn’t take.”