One of this weekend’s “must read” editorials appeared in the Sunday edition of the Winston-Salem Journal under the headline “Low-performing schools: Local system right to stand up to legislature.”

The subject was last week’s over-the-top interrogation at a General Assembly oversight committee during which Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and his lieutenants lined up to bash and harass some hardworking local school officials from Winston-Salem. The subject was Berger’s ill-conceived and destructive school grading system which, as Senator Bob Rucho admitted in a Freudian moment, is “designed to to show that the (public school) system has failed.”

Here’s the Journal:

“Earlier this year, the legislature changed the definition of ‘low-performing schools’ in a way that greatly expanded their number. The legislature then called for special reports on such schools, and threatened school principals whose schools were defined as ‘low performing” for more than two years. As a result, the number of schools in Forsyth County — and throughout the state — that meet the definition have increased significantly, undermining schools that were showing progress and threatening them with dire consequences.

Our school board pushed back with two resolutions, stating that the system would apply the same standards to all its schools and that the system would not take action against any of the principals at the schools in question, calling the requirement to do so ‘arbitrary and capricious.’

So the legislative leaders, who have never shown much love for public education, called our educators on the carpet.

While there, [Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Superintendent Beverly] Emory and [school board Chairwoman Dana] Jones tried to discuss the issues, but the legislature was more interested in making sure that our school system would comply with their dictates….

Unfortunately, the senators weren’t about to listen. As the editorial noted:

“Emory said at one point: ‘Do we intend to comply? Absolutely. Are there differences in opinion here? Yes.’

Ultimately, our system will have to follow the legislature’s dictates or risk even more funding cuts as long as the current crowd is in power.

But it’s beyond frustrating that these legislators don’t take our local officials’ well-thought-out concerns seriously. We know that our local officials are dedicated to better educational outcomes for all their students.

This current slate of legislators has repeatedly shown that it has nothing but disdain for public education. It has continually cut resources for public schools. Its treatment of North Carolina teachers has sent scores either to other states or out of the profession altogether. It has insisted on transferring tax money from public schools to charter and private schools with a scarcity of oversight.”

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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:

Read More


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.

Read More


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