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This morning’s edition of Setting the record straight over on the main Policy Watch website has some rare praise for the surprisingly progressive rhetoric emanating from state budget negotiations this week. But it also takes lawmakers to task for their failure to seize upon the most obvious solution to their inability to find a way to fund the essential services (i.e. teachers and health care) that they have prioritized. The best answer to the General Assembly’s budget dilemma, of course, is to halt next January’s scheduled tax cut that will primarily benefit the rich:

“According to the best and most recent estimates, the 2013 tax cuts – which overwhelmingly favor the state’s most wealthy taxpayers – are costing the state more than $500 million in foregone revenue in the fiscal year that began last week. Add to this the fact that the cuts have caused a downward revision of revenue projections by another $190 million and the gap may well balloon to more than $700 million.

Even if lawmakers left these cuts in place, however, and merely stopped the implementation of a yet another round of tax cuts scheduled to take effect next January, the state would still realize $300 million in additional revenue in calendar year 2015 – more than enough to make a significant dent in the education shortfall and solve innumerable problems in the current negotiations.”

Meanwhile, this morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer has another quick fix proposal — at least on teacher pay: Read More

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.

In 20 states, undocumented students that graduate from an in-state high school can go to college for in-state tuition. Studies show that these states are reaping serious economic benefits — and a new report shows why it’s time for North Carolina to join them.

Given the demographic and economic changes driving the state’s need for an educated workforce, tuition equity is a cost-effective way to make sure North Carolina isn’t left behind. The report, released today by the Budget & Tax Center, does a great job of presenting the facts and dispelling myths. 

According to Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center and one of the report’s authors, we need tuition equity to prepare our state’s workforce for the jobs of the future.

“Tuition equity is an important tool for furthering the state’s goal of increasing the education of its residents and ensuring that the workforce is ready for the jobs of the future,” Sirota said. “By lowering the cost barrier to college for undocumented students, North Carolina will come out ahead, with minimal costs and strong economic benefits.”

Read the whole news release here, and the report here.

Local schools in North Carolina have more time to decide whether they will adopt a universal school meal program for the upcoming school year. Eligible schools now have until August 31, 2014 to decide whether to adopt community eligibility – the initial deadline was June 30, 2014.

As I‘ve highlighted previously, the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) allows high-poverty schools in North Carolina to eliminate school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge. Eliminating the stigma associated with the existing free and reduced meal programs offered only to students from low- and moderate-income families helps increase participation rates in school meal programs and helps children learn on full stomachs. Otherwise, students may be reluctant to participate in the free- and reduced-lunch program and go hungry, which can adversely impact their ability to succeed academically.

At least 18 school systems across the state have already committed to adopting CEP for the upcoming school year. Some school districts will adopt CEP district-wide while others plan to adopt CEP in selected schools. Below is a map of local schools districts that plan to adopt CEP, based on news reports and special data requests.

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Ensuring that more students participate in school breakfast and lunch programs is one way to help promote a quality education for all North Carolina students. Students are inclined to be more focused and attentive, less distracted, and more engaged when they have enough to eat.

The extended August 31, 2014 deadline provides these schools additional time to consider and hopefully opt into the initiative. A listing of all North Carolina school districts and individual schools that are eligible for community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year can be found via the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Visit:http://childnutrition.ncpublicschools.gov/news-events/community-eligibility-provision/

ICYMI, the Wilmington Star-News hits the nail on the head with this editorial on transparency in charter schools. After noting efforts by local charter school boss and all-purpose right-wing crusader Baker Mitchell to keep details of his Roger Bacon Academy secret, the editorial says this:

“The state Senate is considering a bill that would make it abundantly clear that Mitchell and other charter school owners and operators are bound by North Carolina’s public records and open-meetings laws. Period. The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday passed the bill that clarifies that point, as well as one that is intended to ensure that charter school proposals are not rejected arbitrarily.

But some Honorables have made noise about deleting the disclosure provision – the one that is supposed to assure taxpayers that their education dollars are being spent to educate children, not to enrich private companies being paid by the state to compete with public schools.

They should leave it in, and Gov. Pat McCrory should refuse to sign any bill that does not unequivocally state that charter schools, funded overwhelmingly by taxpayers’ money, are subject to the same disclosure rules as “other” public schools.

Of all people, Republican lawmakers who rode into office decrying wasteful government spending surely recognize that the best remedy for that thing they so despise is transparency – especially when it comes to how tax dollars are spent.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.