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Inhabitants of the “nonpartisan” conservative think tanks are clearly growing desperate that North Carolinians have not fallen for the education funding shell game they helped legislative leaders and the Governor engineer during this past session of the General Assembly. With public opinion titling increasingly against them (both on the issue of education itself and the U.S. Senate race that’s turning, in some respects, into a referendum on the issue), these groups have been cranking out missive after missive in an attempt to prove that down is up.

Fortunately, the truth keeps shining through. Take for example, Ned Barnett’s excellent essay in Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer.  As Barnett patiently explains in the piece, the claims in recent political ads that spending state education spending has increased by “a billion dollars” doesn’t hold water:

The $1 billion increase Wilburn refers to is deeply misleading. Most of that spending includes state contributions to pension and health funds and salary adjustments. It’s not in any real world sense spending for the education of North Carolina’s public school students.

In the real world, spending for education is down. Wilburn could have learned that by going to the financial officer for her own school district. There has been a slight increase in special education funding, but the overall funding for the 5,400-student Yadkin County school district is down.

Denise Bullin, the executive director of finance for Yadkin County schools, has been in the job for two years. In regard to state funding, she says, “We have experienced a reduction in both years.” As for Wilburn’s televised statements, Bullin said, “I don’t agree with that.”

The state’s funding for Yadkin County schools fell from $30.8 million in 2012-13 to $28.3 million in 2013-14. In the same period, its per pupil funding dropped from $5,371 to $5,040.

The piece goes on to explain the statewide picture:

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Commentary

It’s been reported previously in recent weeks, but this essay in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by veteran  education policy experts Helen Ladd and Ted Fiske provides what is perhaps the most thorough review thus far of the potentially disastrous decision by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory to alter an 80-year-old mechanism for funding schools and student growth.

In a last-minute change that was taken with no hearings and no prior publicity, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has undermined the fundamental building block of school finance in North Carolina.

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Gov. Pat McCrory’s office is working with local school superintendents to come up with a fix for two hotly contested budget provisions lawmakers just enacted that would stop funding public schools on the basis of enrollment growth and cut funds to teacher assistants, according to a Lee County Schools superintendent and a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA).

“We have verbal confirmation from the Governor’s staff that they are concerned with the issue of no longer funding local school districts on the basis of enrollment growth as well as problems with trading teacher positions to fund TAs, and they are asking for budget technical corrections to present to the General Assembly that would fix these issues,” said Katherine Joyce, a lobbyist for NCASA.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill last week that contains a provision that would stop automatically paying for enrollment growth at public schools. The budget also spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though McCrory has repeatedly said he was proud to sign a budget that preserves all TA positions.

The two budget provisions force local school districts to plan their budgets in the spring without knowing whether or not the state will pay for increased numbers of students in their schools, making it difficult for principals and superintendents to figure out if they will have the means necessary to hire the teachers and other school personnel they actually need. In addition, the budget cuts teacher assistant funds for local school districts by 22 percent.

Joyce explained to N.C. Policy Watch that NCASA, along with their local superintendents, are engaged in conversations with the Governor’s office to come up with language for a budget technical corrections bill they hope to see taken up by the General Assembly in August that would ensure schools go back to the old system of receiving their budget allotments from the state on the basis of student enrollment growth.

The bill would also allow local districts to use average teacher salaries, instead of beginning teacher salaries, to fund teacher assistant positions—freeing up more funds to save TAs. That fix, said Joyce, would effectively hold districts harmless when it comes to losing TAs and bridge the $105 million funding gap.

“Now we just need the General Assembly to actually come back into a real session and take up a budget technical corrections bill that will make these changes happen,” said Joyce.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan told the Sanford Herald this weekend that he learned Gov. McCrory plans to ask the legislature to implement corrections to the education budget on August 14.

“The Governor is recommending a technical correction that would allow school districts to receive planning allotments based on growth. As noted earlier, that is a really big issue for school districts and planning,” Dr. Bryan told the Sanford Herald.

In signing the $21.1 billion budget, Gov. McCrory said, “this budget reflects a pragmatic approach to managing taxpayer dollars.” He also said previously that critics of the budget should come up with their own spending plan instead of complaining about it.

This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf
This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf

Calls to the Governor’s office and his education advisor seeking comment on the possible budget fixes were not returned.

 

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In case you missed it, WRAL.com had an instructive story last night entitled “NC education spending on a decades-long slide.” The story reported that the percentage of the North Carolina budget dedicated to K-12 has been falling steadily:

“WRAL News reviewed budget numbers for the last 30 years and found that the percentage of general fund dedicated to K-12 classrooms has been on a long, slow slide, even as the total dollars for education increased.

In 1984-85, the $1.89 billion authorized for public education accounted for 43.7 percent of the budget. A decade later, the $4.08 billion authorized in the budget was 42 percent of the 1994-95 budget. By 2004-05, the state was spending $6.52 billion on public schools, which accounted for 41.1 percent of the state budget.

The slide has accelerated in recent years because of the national recession, and the $7.9 billion authorized in the 2013-14 budget meant only 37 percent of the general fund was earmarked for public schools. Even with the North Carolina Education Lottery chipping in money for school construction and early childhood education, per-pupil spending has dropped since the lottery started eight years ago.”

And, of course, as the Budget and Tax Center has reported repeatedly, K-12 funding has fallen in absolute terms as well in recent years when one adjusts for inflation.

The bottom line: There’s no way North Carolina is going to get to where it needs to get if it stays on this track. Moreover,  even under the House and Senate proposals to raise pay, the long-term decline remains unaddressed.

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House Speaker Thom Tillis partnered with Gov. Pat McCrory today to announce their efforts to work together toward a teacher pay plan they characterized as responsible and affordable—but key details of the House’s new mini-budget proposal, unveiled today, remain unclear.

“We’ve been preparing plans from not inside the beltline but outside the beltline – by listening to the experts who are closest to the action, who are every day inside the classroom,” said McCrory, who was flanked by Speaker Tillis, State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey, State Superintendent June Atkinson as well as lawmakers, school superintendents, teachers and other education advocates from around the state.

McCrory called on local superintendents and teachers to support his proposed teacher pay plan, which would work toward implementing career pathways that reward teachers for performance as well as experience and avoid cutting teacher assistants, unlike the Senate proposal which would slash TAs in the second and third grades.

Tillis followed McCrory by stepping up to the podium to announce his revised “mini-budget” that would be unveiled later in the afternoon in the House appropriations committee.

Calling it a consensus bill that people on Main Street would support, Tillis said his revised legislation would give teachers a raise but take the lottery funds off the table to do that. He would also preserve funds for teacher assistants. Read More