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Today is the first day of the 2015-16 school year in lots of places throughout North Carolina and editorial pages across the state this past weekend welcomed back the return of teachers and students with some harsh words for the political powers that be.

The Winston-Salem Journal minced no words in an editorial entitled “Teacher shortage: Legislature must end the brain drain”:

“North Carolina once concentrated on providing the best public education it could. But in the first years of the 21st century, Democratic leaders lagged in funding for education. The Republicans have been harder on it.

Some Republicans seem to have made a point of bad-mouthing teachers and the teaching profession. That doesn’t create an atmosphere in which they feel appreciated.

And the legislature has taken more concrete steps to diminish the teaching profession by eliminating the teaching fellows program and stipends for advanced degrees. Right now, as the legislature fumbles around with its budget, teacher assistants hang in limbo, not knowing if they’ll have jobs once the dust settles. Teachers had to take the state to court earlier this year just to retain tenure status.

And despite some movement toward raising salaries, our teachers continue to be underpaid for the important work they do.

Texas and other states have come to North Carolina to recruit new teachers, knowing they can offer better deals. And many teachers have accepted.

Who pays for this backward motion? The students, initially, and then our communities, which wind up with less-educated members and a less-educated workforce that fails to attract the jobs of the future.

Education is the best predictor of future success. If the legislature really wants to bring in new companies and jobs, it would recognize that instead of shortchanging our teachers, our students and our future.”

Here’s the Fayetteville Observer reminding us that the ideological driven move to rewrite the Common Core standards will be very expensive:

“The Academic Standards Review Commission has released some of its preliminary reports on how to revise teaching standards for math and English.

In addition to its curriculum recommendations, the commission added this: Once the revisions are made, the schools will need money for new teaching materials, including textbooks, and a sufficient number of teachers and teacher assistants to carry out the job.

The budget that lawmakers are negotiating doesn’t have that money in it. The Senate, in fact, wants to get rid of at least 8,500 teacher assistants and hire about 3,300 new teachers for lower grades.

We might indeed end up with better schools if the review commission’s advice is heeded. But we need to remember that the Common Core pushback was purely political, rooted in the canard that it’s a federal takeover of education. It’s not. The standards were developed by educators. And they are widely supported by business and the military. Can we really afford this exercise in the politics of education?”

And finally, the Wilmington Star News put it this way in a piece entitled “Let’s support our teachers”:

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Commentary

Editorial pages across the state are calling on state lawmakers (and, in particular, the state Senate) to end the absurd delay in the FY 2016 budget that is already more than a month overdue.

Sunday’s Greensboro News & Record says it’s clear that lawmakers should adopt the House version of the budget:

“It’s been a decade since the legislature went so late into the summer before agreeing on a budget, and there’s no end in sight. Every day adds to the cost of keeping the General Assembly operating. Unlike in some states, North Carolina’s legislature doesn’t put any limits on how long it can stay in session. It should. But it also should simplify the budget process by excluding everything that isn’t actually necessary.

At 500 pages, the Senate’s proposed budget is 200 pages longer than the House plan. Yet the House managed to fund every state agency in its modest 300 pages. The House budget was approved by a strong bipartisan vote. Senate budget writers added too many measures that should have been handled in separate legislation. Only Republicans voted for the Senate budget. A concurrence vote in the House failed unanimously. Clearly, the House blueprint is more broadly appealing, and Senate negotiators could move things along if they would simply adopt the House version.”

This comes on top of similar calls last week from Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer to end the posturing get on with things. Here’s the N&O:

The delay isn’t just a problem of political dysfunction. It has serious consequences for funding public education, and there’s nervousness among school administrators about how long the impasse will continue.

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News
Paul Stam 2

Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake)

Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) told WPTF on Thursday that despite stalled budget talks that have kept the state waiting a month past the deadline for a deal that spells out how the government should run its schools and other agencies, North Carolinians should take heart — everything is running smoothly.

“Every other time I’ve been down here where there was a [budget] delay, they would fund the government you know at 80 or 90 percent of [the] last year,” Stam told WPTF radio host Patrick Johnson yesterday morning.

“This time it’s being funded at 100 percent plus of last year’s budget, so nothing is being shortchanged,” said Stam. “You know, pay raises will be — whatever they end up being — will be retroactive to July 1, but it’s not like the operation of government is being affected.”

Stam’s assessment of how the state is coping with operating under a stopgap measure while lawmakers do battle over a 2015-17 budget agreement doesn’t quite line up with what I’m hearing is happening on the ground.

Public schools are trying to figure out how to staff their schools in the face of potentially having to lay off more than 8,500 teacher assistants over the next two years—and they are still unsure of how much their staff will even earn this fall.

“We are getting ready to open our classroom doors. … And we don’t have a clue yet if we’re going to have to (lay off) 500 teacher assistants or try to hire almost 140 new teachers,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s school board member Tim Morgan, a Republican, said at a recent meeting.

While a continuing resolution to keep government operations funded is in place through August 14, Rep. Larry Hall questioned chief budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary) this week about whether or not teacher assistants are funded at the same level as last year until a budget deal is reached.

Dollar said to his knowledge, TAs were funded at the same level as last year. But when Hall asked legislative staff to weigh in, they said not quite—more than $20 million that funded TAs last year were non-recurring dollars, which means local districts didn’t get those funds to use while a continuing resolution is in place, putting more stress on their local budgets.

Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill offered a sharp rebuke to lawmakers at a public hearing on the budget convened Wednesday of this week by the House.

“Our students cannot wait for the various levels of government to conclude a budget negotiation,” said Merrill. “You’re currently debating whether to provide money that’s already been spent on tens of thousands of students. We simply can’t un-spend that money once negotiations end and the final budget is decided.”

Also at issue? Driver’s education. House lawmakers appeared this week to be unlikely to waver on their position of keeping driver’s ed fully funded, whereas the Senate is proposing to abandon funding driver’s ed altogether and eliminate the requirement for driver training in order to get a license.

The uncertainty around driver’s education has prompted some local school districts to cancel their summer driving schools—especially problematic in places where the bulk of driver training happens during the summer.

All indications point to lawmakers having to pass a second continuing resolution to keep government operations running past August 14.

“We’d all like to get out of here sooner rather than later, but I’m afraid it is gonna take a while,” Rep. Stam told WPTF, “just because there are so many disagreements.”

Commentary
Driver's ed

Photo: WRAL.com

The practical, everyday examples of the the General Assembly’s and Governor McCrory’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to education funding keep emerging. As Chris Fitzsimon explained last week, one of those areas is driver education — an area in which the very lives of North Carolinians have been placed at greater risk because the tax-cuts-over-common-sense-spending approach.

This morning’s Fayetteville Observer editorial weighs in on the subject just a couple of days after Raleigh’s News & Observer did likewise. Here’s the Observer:

Educators would like the General Assembly to restore the $26 million in driver-ed dollars to prevent a crisis next year. Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till says the district will come up with the additional $700,000 it needs if the state doesn’t act. Not offering driver ed isn’t an option under state law. But Till warns that money will have to come from somewhere else.

Lawmakers could decide to go a different direction and eliminate the requirement that schools offer driver education. That would alleviate the funding shortage. Given some of the moves from the legislature in recent years, it wouldn’t even be surprising. But it would be incredibly shortsighted. Driver education makes for better drivers and safer streets. The best way forward is to restore state money.

And here’s this weekend’s N&O:

A bad car accident Monday on Capital Boulevard in which one teenager was killed and four were hurt was not the only accident involving teens in recent weeks. The accidents have prompted the N.C. School Boards Association to call for more funding for driver education.

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Commentary

The next time someone tells you how “lavishly” North Carolina is spending on its public schools, tell them to read or listen to this story on WUNC radio entitled: “In NC Schools, There’s One Counselor for Every 400 Students.” As the story reports:

[Kim] Hall has been a school counselor for 29 years. She says she tries to make more time for students as her clerical duties have grown over the years.

When she first started, she was one of four counselors. Today, she is one of two counselors in a school with more than 800 students. That means more work and more school programs to manage.

“Not only have they taken away the number of counselors… but then they have added on more programs and then they think, ‘Oh, who’s going to take care of that? Oh we’ll have the counselor do it!’” she says.

And it’s not just more programs. Across from her desk, there’s a large stack of folders filled with student test scores. They’ve landed in her office after Randolph County cut its testing coordinators last year.

As the story goes on to note, not only are there far too few counselors, those remaining on the job are increasingly swamped with more and more non-counseling related duties as schools, understandably, rely increasingly on an all-hands-on-deck approach just to survive the demands of each day.

Read/listen to the entire story by clicking here.