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This is the first post of a blog series that will take a detailed look at the 2013 US Census poverty data released today.

Poverty remained high in North Carolina last year, according to new Census Bureau data released today. The new data highlights that many people have not benefitted from the state’s weak economic recovery and that North Carolina must do more to help struggling people afford basics like decent housing, nutritious food, and reliable child care, and transportation.

One in five North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2013, equating less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. The median annual income in North Carolina adjusted for inflation did not rise between 2012 and 2013 and is lower now compared to 2009 when the official economic recovery began. Yet other sources show that incomes at the top have grown and the gaps between the top and bottom and top and middle have widened.

North Carolina lawmakers have yet to rebuild what was lost during the recession. Throughout the economic recovery, they have either made deep cuts to or provided inadequate investments for early childhood development, public schools, the UNC System, and nonprofits promoting job and business development in the state’s economically distressed areas. These are key services that invest in people’s future and build a strong economy that offers all families the opportunity to thrive. Lawmakers have also dismantled services that help people get back on their feet when they are struggling, including unemployment benefits, job training programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit that makes work pay and helps parents avoid raising their children in poverty.

The new Census data shows that progress towards eliminating poverty in the state is stuck: Read More

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

trackingCuts-web-600Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education approved a budget last week that eliminates 22 teacher assistant positions, thanks to a $911,000 budget shortfall handed down by state lawmakers.

According to chapelboro.com:

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said that while the state budget would allow Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools to shift some money back into hiring TAs if so desired, the legislature slipped in some additional rules that would have resulted in eight more teacher losses than the school system could handle.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro also had to cut 4.5 gifted specialist positions and eliminate some custodial positions.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the city’s school system was able to move those TAs into other vacant positions, but classrooms in grades 4 and 5 will have to cope with less instructional support.

State budget cuts also forced Randolph County Schools to make reductions in force: that district cut 30 media assistant positions for the upcoming year.

RCS’ Public Information Officer Tim Moody said the district does have other vacancies available and it’s possible some of those media assistants were able to step into those jobs, but he wasn’t sure how many.

Each school in the district lost a media assistant position.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill earlier this month that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though he has repeatedly said he would only sign a budget that preserves all TA positions. 

School districts around the state are reporting that they have been forced to eliminate teacher assistants’ jobs and other positions thanks to budget shortfalls passed down to them by state lawmakers.

Do you know of budget cuts school districts are coping with as they begin the academic year? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com 

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Following a presentation today to educators and advocates at an NC Chamber of Commerce event, Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters that if local school districts do not hire people to fill vacant teacher assistant positions, then that action can’t be characterized as a result of a budget cut to TAs handed down by state lawmakers.

“If at the end of this legislative session, if they [LEAs] had teacher assistants in place—in positions—they should all be rehired, based upon the budget,” said McCrory. “If they were vacant or they were using that money for other reasons, you cannot then call that a cut, because they weren’t using the money for teacher assistants.”

Prior to signing the appropriations bill last week, Gov. Pat McCrory said that the fact that this budget preserves all teacher assistants jobs contributed to his decision to sign off on it.  

But according to the CFO of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Philip Price, the 2014 budget that the Governor signed actually spends $105 million less on TAs than what was planned for the upcoming year, which means local school districts will take a 22 percent hit to their teacher assistants – on top of huge cuts to TAs over the past several years. 

Lawmakers have said that this budget simply a reshuffles money that school districts were already spending on other things, like teachers, and that districts could choose to shuffle the money back to TAs if they want.

But years of under funding teacher assistants and public education as a whole has left school districts with little choice but to slash TA positions or leave them unfilled. Some districts have been forced to make the difficult decision of using teacher assistant money for badly needed teacher positions, thanks to state disinvestment. 

McCrory said folks should take a closer look at the language in the budget, which he says should allow local school districts to preserve teacher assistant jobs.

“If you were a teacher assistant last year, you should be rehired this year,” said McCrory.

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A couple of days ago, I reported that Gov. McCrory was reaching out to state school superintendents to figure out a couple of fixes to the education budget that he proudly signed last week. As it turns out, he’s casting a wider net — on Monday, his education staff also met with staff at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to brainstorm solutions, according to Dr. June Atkinson.

“I appreciate the Governor’s office reaching out to us…to find a solution,” Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch yesterday afternoon.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s at issue: educators and advocates around the state are up in arms over two provisions (among many) in the new state budget that they say hurt education: a) the move to stop funding local school districts on the basis of student enrollment growth, and b) a complicated allocation of money that puts funds that would normally go to teacher assistants in a pot for teachers — but school districts have the “flexibility” to move that money around (although some say that’s a false choice).

As a result, local school districts will have great difficulty budgeting and hiring necessary personnel to accommodate more students in their classrooms—and at the same time, they are faced with either instituting a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistants or saving those positions by taking money out of their funding streams designated for teacher positions.

Atkinson said no solution was ultimately crafted between DPI and the Governor’s office on Monday with regard to the enrollment funding issue.

“We are still thinking about how to get to a place where we can help schools do the planning they need to do, like hiring more teachers when enrollment goes up,” said Atkinson. “There’s no solution yet, short of the General Assembly reinstating annual student growth as a part of the base budget.”

McCrory agreed to sign the budget, in part, because it preserved teacher assistants. But local media reports already indicate TA jobs are disappearing as local districts prepare for the upcoming school year, thanks to state budget cuts.

And the provision in the budget that stops funding school districts based on enrollment growth received very little attention from lawmakers as they debated the budget — perhaps because they only had hours to digest it before voting.

Gov. McCrory’s office hasn’t returned inquiries seeking comment on this issue.

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The Rowan-Salisbury School System is trying to figure out how to handle a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistant funding stream.trackingCuts-web-600

The budget cut to TAs slices more than one way — in Rowan-Salisbury schools, many elementary school TAs double as school bus drivers (see my recent story about how TAs across the state also serve as bus drivers). 

Meetings will take place this week to determine how to handle the reduction in funds, and the school board will meet next Monday to make a final decision.

While the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Philip Price told N.C. Policy Watch that state lawmakers enacted a 2014 budget that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for this year, Gov. Pat McCrory and his former budget director, Art Pope, have been working hard to tell a different story.

Charlotte Observer education reporter Andrew Dunn reports that Pope called him after he wrote a story about how Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools will lose 90 TAs to explain how that simply should not be the case.

After my story ran, state budget director Art Pope called to walk through the numbers at a state level and say that because CMS was already using some teacher assistant money to hire teachers, they shouldn’t have lose anything.

“I can’t say why they’re coming up with any losses,” he said.

Then later, my colleague Ely Portillo spoke with McCrory, who offered up this:

“We are not reducing the number of teacher’s assistants,” he said. “Any teacher assistant who was working in a classroom last year will be working again this year if the local superintendents and principals set it up that way based on money that we gave them.”

I previously reported that lawmakers offered “flexibility” to school districts to handle their move to underfund TAs, which means they can move money out of classroom teacher positions that were intended to reduce class size in order to pay for the TAs they actually need.

But as one superintendent put it — that’s a false choice. You either save TA jobs and make classes larger, or the reverse — neither of which is great for kids or educators.

“If it’s going to cost people their jobs, I don’t see how we can use it (for class size),” Winston-Salem/Forsyth Superintendent Beverly Emory told the Winston-Salem Journal, explaining that she felt more pressure to save jobs than use that money to make classes smaller.

Know of more cuts to the classroom at the local level? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com