Commentary, News

The state Senate convenes at 2:00pm Wednesday with the Republican-controlled chamber poised to give final approval to the proposed $21.7 billion state budget.

The Senate gave the 429-page spending plan initial approval Tuesday, despite appeals from Democrats to allow for more time to fully review the details of the two-year budget.

Senator Josh Stein told the chamber that even as the economy was showing signs of improvement, the  spending plan did little to restore the deep cuts made during the Great Recession:

“We are 42nd in the nation in what we pay our teachers. This bill does nothing to redress those deficiencies,” explained Stein.

“The budget spends $877 less in 2016-2017 per student, than the state did nine years before in ’07-’08 in real dollars. That’s nearly one thousand dollars less per kid next year, than we did nine years earlier.”

Stein noted that this budget also pays for 5,400 fewer Pre-K slots than the state budget passed before the Great Recession.

Senate President Phil Berger countered that this year’s budget will provide tax relief and shore up the state’s rainy day fund, bringing that total to more that one billion dollars.

The Senate is expected to give the budget its final approval today. The state House will cast its first vote on the spending package Thursday.

Click below to hear part of Tuesday’s debate:

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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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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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Thom TillisNorth Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis headlined a press event at the General Assembly this morning that was supposed to be about kicking off the 2014 legislative session but that, at times, felt a lot like a part of Tillis’ U.S. Senate campaign.

There will plenty of time for dissecting the details of what was said at the event, but there was at least one familiar conservative talking point repeated by Tillis that deserves to be debunked immediately and often.

Namely, it is utterly absurd for legislative conservatives (or anyone else for that matter) to argue — as the Speaker did at at least one point — that Democrats imposed more significant cuts on state services (like public education) back in 2009 and 2010 than have been imposed since the GOP assumed control of the General Assembly  in 2011 and the Governor’s mansion in 2013. This is like blaming FDR for the plunge in federal spending during the Great Depression.

Earth to Speaker Tillis: Yes there were large and problematic state budget cuts in 2009 and 2010, but that’s mostly because state revenues had literally dropped like an anvil as a result of the global Great Recession. Read More


North Carolina’s General Assembly reconvenes in less than two weeks and it’s still unclear whether veteran teachers or state employees will see a pay raise this year.

Governor Pat McCrory has said raising the base salary for starting K-12 teachers is his goal, but available revenue will determine if others see a jump in pay.

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson, who joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, says the state cannot afford to overlook any of its teachers:

“One of the first priorities must be to give all of our teachers a raise, ” said Atkinson in a radio interview with NC Policy Watch.

Atkinson also shares her thoughts on the proposal by some lawmakers to ditch the Common Core and replace it with new state standards, which have yet to be developed.

For an excerpt of Dr. Atkinson’s weekend radio interview, click below:
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