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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

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North Carolina educator and blogger James Hogan has an interesting take on the Senate’s proposed 21-step salary schedule for teachers, which would raise average salaries by 11.2 percent next year, provided that teachers relinquish their tenure.

Hogan wonders: is the salary schedule, which provides teachers with no raises between years 20-29, cleverly designed to disincentivize teachers from retiring from the profession, with their pensions, by denying them a raise for a decade?

Teachers earn the same $50,000 wage from years 20-29. That’s a decade of service without a pay raise. In year 30, teachers earn just $42 more. Then, wages rise again, topping out at $56,129 at 36 years of service.

That means 16 years of teaching service–almost half the pay chart–is rewarded with only a cumulative 12 percent salary increase. The same working span, when measured from a teacher’s fourth through twentieth year of service, sees a cumulative salary increase of 47 percent.

So the plan clearly benefits teachers in the middle of the pack. And it provides a clear disincentive for teachers who seek to retire from teaching by denying them a raise for a decade. Why would the Senate structure salaries like that?

This is where the decision to give up career status becomes very important. Make no mistake–the Senate pay scale rewards young teachers and pushes older teachers out in the last third of their career.

And why would the state government be interested in teachers leaving the classroom in their last ten years of teaching? The answer, I’m afraid, rests in some of what Senator David Curtis said in his now-infamous response to Charlotte teacher Sarah Wiles [who wrote a letter to legislators complaining about teachers’ pay in the state]:

“You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.”

What he’s saying is the state retirement pension program is the last golden egg for teachers. Here’s why. Say you’re a teacher who began your career the year after college at age 22. You taught for thirty-three years in North Carolina and retired at age 55. Based on today’s standards, you’re set to earn about $28,000 per year in retirement income every year until you die.

If you live another 33 years and die at age 88, that means you stand to collect $924,000 in retirement income. And the reason Senator Curtis was so ardent in pointing out the pension system to Ms. Wiles is that pensions cost the state a lot of money, and my guess is the fiscal conservatives in Raleigh are interesting in doing whatever they can to change that.

It’s an interesting theory. Read Hogan’s full piece over at The Washington Post.

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Shell gameHundreds of school administrators gathered in Raleigh yesterday to review the state of public education and, not surprisingly, Gov. McCrory dodged the event and sent an assistant to what promised to be a not-terribly-friendly venue. That former Gov. Jim Hunt was speaking (he got a standing ovation at one point) probably helped guarantee that the Guv would have a “conflict” and decline the invitation to appear.

Another probable reason for sending aide Eric Guckian was the message he was forced to deliver — namely, that things are unlikely to improve in the education funding department anytime soon. According to AP reporter Emery Dalesio’s story, any significant improvements in educator pay beyond the bumps recently proposed for starting teachers will take “years” and will only occur “if state finances allow” — i.e. when Budget Director Pope assents. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Of course, this is an absurd and utterly dishonest position. North Carolina could easily have a great deal of money to address many important needs (including the abysmal pay it provides to teachers and many other state employees) if McCrory and legislative leaders had merely chosen not to slash taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations in recent years to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Simply put, the administration’s rap is like that of a father with a gambling or drinking addiction who refuses to make eye contact as he tells his family that there will be no new clothes or shoes this year because “finances are tight.” No wonder the Guv found something else to do yesterday.

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

The Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir published this story today about a 12-year-old girl who began experiencing an asthmatic episode while at school, did not get the medical attention she needed because there was no school nurse available thanks to budget cuts, and died later that day.

While it cannot be determined for certain if the girl, 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, would have survived had a school nurse been on-site, we do know this much, according to the City Paper:

  • The School District of Philadelphia, long underfunded and now reeling from budget cuts implemented by Gov. Tom Corbett, has nearly 3,000 fewer staff members than it did in June.
  • Today, there are 179 nurses working in public, private and parochial schools, down from 289 in 2011.
  • Bryant Elementary, where Massey was attending school, only has one nurse on staff two days/week.
  • After the initial cuts, one protesting nurse at Bryant Elementary specifically warned that other staff were not competent to deal with asthmatic students in her absence.

North Carolina is dealing with its own school budget cut woes thanks to reduced spending on education by state lawmakers this year. We’re tracking the cuts local school districts have had to make — click here to read those accounts.

While I have not yet seen reports of eliminating school nurse positions, I have seen reports of eliminating school psychologist positions, in addition to teacher assistants, teachers, and administrative staff.

Do you have school budget cuts to report or stories to tell that are a direct consequence of reduced funds for your school? Let us know at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com