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.”

Driver's ed


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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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.


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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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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