Archives

Commentary

The indictments of the often-predatory for-profit college industry continue to pile up. This is from a new article by Prof. Stephanie Cellini for the Brooking Institution in which she argues that public community colleges are regularly a much better bet for students:

“Some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that for-profit associate’s degree students need at least an 8.5 percent annual earnings gain to cover the cost of tuition, foregone earnings, and debt service at a typical for-profit college. Our estimates fall short of this threshold, suggesting that for the average student, the earnings gains are too low to justify the cost and generate a positive return on investment. It also suggests that many students may not have full or accurate information on the earnings gains that they can expect post-college.

How do these estimates compare to the social costs of a for-profit education?  Adding in costs to taxpayers in the form of federal student grant aid, loan defaults, and other sources of federal funding would require a 9.8 percent earnings gain to cover the cost to the individual and society. In the public sector, despite higher taxpayer costs, the much lower costs to students means that  only a 7.2 percent annual gain is needed to cover the combined private and social costs—a figure well below current earnings gains estimates in that sector. These figures again suggest that—on average—public institutions may be a better deal for students and taxpayers.”

Of course, as Lindsay Wagner reported recently, lousy performance is far from the only common problem when one patronizes the for-profit college industry. There’s also the risk of blatant, predatory rip-offs.

Commentary

Jerry TillmanSenator Jerry Tillman and the rest of the General Assembly are on vacation this week even though they have not finished their most important task of the summer, passing a state budget for the next two years.

The delay is causing problems for school districts across the state as local education officials don’t know how many teacher assistants they can afford to hire or how many textbooks they will  have money to order.

This morning’s News & Observer detailed the uncertainty for year-round schools in Wake County, the state’s largest district, that has the budget flexibility to handle the funding limbo for a while.

It is much tougher for smaller districts that always have to scramble to make sure they have enough staff on hand when most students return to school in August.

This year’s legislative vacation and budget delay makes their job next to impossible. Tillman doesn’t seem too worried about not meeting the budget deadline or what schools are facing.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said the lead time to hire for the start of the school year depends on when legislators have a budget deal. The General Assembly approved a temporary state budget last week to keep the state running until Aug. 14.

“It could be two months, it could be two weeks,” he said.

School leaders in Wake and other districts have questioned finding the space to handle the lower class sizes proposed by the Senate. More teachers and lower class sizes may require some “creative scheduling” by districts, or “creative use of space,” Tillman said. “Most of them can handle it.”

Two weeks, two months, whatever. School officials will have to guess about their budgets and hire teachers or teacher assistants to teach kids…or not.
Tillman’s not going to lose any sleep over it. It’s only public education after all.
Commentary

Two stories really symbolize the state of North Carolina state government this morning on the first day of Fiscal Year 2016:

The first is the gridlock that’s starting to grip the state’s public schools. With a final state budget agreement light years away and few clear indicators from state leaders as to where things are headed — other than perhaps slashing thousands of teacher assistants — Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that “At least one-third of North Carolina’s school systems are suspending their driver’s education programs this summer until they learn whether they’ll receive any state money to help pay for the classes.”

Meanwhile, the second part of the story is crystallized in yesterday’s edition of the Fitzsimon File in which my colleague Chris Fitzsimon — who has closely observed North Carolina politics for the past three decades — explained how extraordinary the latest inaction by the General Assembly is:

“House and Senate leaders couldn’t meet their budget deadline of June 30, the end of the state fiscal year, so they approved a continuing budget resolution this week to give themselves 45 more days.

Next week they will be on vacation and two weeks after that many Republican lawmakers plan to be in San Diego for the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

It’s true, as supporters of the General Assembly have pointed out, that not having a final budget by June 30 is relatively common. Lawmakers have passed continuing resolutions many summers while they hashed out final budget details.

But the resolutions usually come after some effort at negotiations between House and Senate budget writers and the extensions are usually for 10 days or maybe two weeks, not a month and a half.

And there’s never been a case when lawmakers gave themselves 45 more days and promptly took the next week off. It’s especially noteworthy coming from Republicans, who promised a more transparent and efficiently run General Assembly when they won control of the House and Senate in the 2010 election.”

In short, state legislative leaders — who promised to “run government like a business” — are instead fiddling, Nero-like, while core state services they have already badly undermined crumble around them. All in all, it’s quite a mess. Perhaps the business they had in mind was Enron.

Happy Fiscal New Year!

Commentary

Driver's edAccording to the folks who run North Carolina government, these are fabulous times in the Old North State. To hear Gov. McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Berger and House Speake Moore tell it, North Carolina’s economy is soaring and state government is humming along like a finely tuned machine. In other words, it pretty much doesn’t get any better than this.

All of which makes this story from this morning’s Greensboro News & Record all the more striking.

“Hitting the brakes

A few hours behind the wheel stands between 937 local teenagers and a driving eligibility certificate.

They could remain in that holding pattern for a month or more until it is clear how much state funding, if any, Guilford County Schools will get to cover its driver education program.

The state funding for the program expires Tuesday. Starting Wednesday, Guilford’s program is suspended until the General Assembly decides how much money, if any, to spend on the state-mandated program.”

The article goes on to detail how lawmakers continue to seriously consider all kinds of proposals to cut driver’s ed, move it out of K-12 education to community colleges or even eliminate it all together.

You got that? In a state of 10 million people with vast wealth, supposed good times and an obvious and growing need for safer streets and roads, the government of the state cannot even get its act together to maintain something so basic to the health and well-being off the community as a functioning, well-funded driver’s education program.

But, of course, this should come as no surprise. The same people letting the driver’s education program go to seed are the same ones who are bent on transforming the teaching profession itself into temporary, early career option and the public schools into no-frills education factories.

If this is government when times are “good,” one hates to think of what things will look like the next time the the economy turns sour again.

Commentary

In the aftermath of last week’s unveiling of the dreadful North Carolina Senate budget proposal, this morning’s “must read” is an op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by children’s advocate Jason Langberg. In it, Langberg explains why North Carolina’s system of allocating funds to educate children with special needs is already disastrously inadequate — even before this year’s General Assembly gets through with it. Here’s Langberg:

“Students with disabilities may struggle in school for many reasons. For starters, it’s difficult to overcome the adverse educational effects of some disabilities. Other potential causes include the correlation between disability and poverty, rigid testing policies and practices, misallocation of resources, lack of staff training or effectiveness, or failures in service delivery. However, the biggest problem that plagues these students and the hard-working educators who serve them is inadequate and inequitable resources.

The state gives local school districts and charter schools a set amount of money per SWD in the district or school. In 2014-15, that amount was $3,926.97. However, state law also arbitrarily caps per student funding at 12.5 percent of the student population. The cap was established in the early 1980s amid panic after the passage of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as a way to limit expenditures and deter over-identification. Three decades later, it hasn’t changed.

The cap is unacceptably low and effectively penalizes districts with higher percentages of students with disabilities. Read More