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As reported here on Wednesday by N.C. Policy Watch Education Reporter Billy Ball, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is calling for state teachers to receive a 10% raise. Yesterday, in response, House Speaker Tim Moore shot down the idea, saying it was unrealistic.

Here, in two simple graphs, is an explanation of why Atkinson is right and Moore is wrong. The graphs come from Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have transformed North Carolina, the special N.C. Policy Watch report released late in 2015.

The first shows how teacher pay in North Carolina has been falling further behind the national average.

Teacher pay 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second shows where the overwhelming majority of the massive tax cuts enacted by the Governor and the General Assembly in recent years have gone — i.e. the wealthiest North Carolinians.

Tax cut winners

NC Budget and Tax Center

A report released today by Budget & Tax Center highlights that state support for early childhood development, public schools, and public colleges and universities remains below investment levels prior to the Great Recession. This trend will persist under the current budget passed by state lawmakers that North Carolinians must live through until July of 2017. The annual cost of tax cuts in 2015 balloons to over $1 billion each year within four years, and comes on top of costly tax cuts passed by state lawmakers in 2013.

Ensuring high-quality learning and education opportunities for all North Carolina children and students remains a challenge as the student population grows and best practices in the classroom evolve. The BTC report highlights areas of inadequate investment in North Carolina’s education pipeline.

  • State funding for NC Pre-K is 15 percent lower when adjusted for inflation than the 2009 budget year, when funding and the number of children served peaked. This year, more than 6,400 fewer state-funded slots are available in NC Pre-K than in 2009 despite more than 7,200 children being on NC Pre-K wait lists last year.
  • State support for the Smart Start program, which promotes school readiness for North Carolina children from birth to age five, is nearly 40 percent below 2009 when adjusted for inflation.
  • State funding per-pupil for public K-12 schools is nearly 9 percent below its 2008 pre-recession funding level when adjusted for inflation.
  • Compared to peak funding in the 2008 budget year, state support per student at four-year public universities this year is down nearly 16 percent while tuition have increased significantly during this time period.
  • Tuition at community colleges has increased by 81 percent since 2009.

The report highlights other areas of diminished and lagging support for public education – the decline in state funding for classroom textbooks, for example – and how state lawmakers shifted existing state dollars from one area to another to make state support for public education appear more generous than in reality.

Public investments in early childhood development, quality public schools, and affordable higher education are essential building blocks of long-term economic growth and shared prosperity. Yet amid an uneven and slow economic recovery, state policymakers chose to deliver greater benefits to the wealthiest few rather than boosting investments in its education pipeline to ensure access to opportunity for all North Carolina children and students, the report notes.

Commentary

It’s an open secret that many modern American conservatives want, as one of their ideological leaders put it with horrific and violent imagery a few years back, to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

And here in North Carolina, we can attest that the plan is fully operational. In area after area, our state’s right-wing leadership is doing its utmost to undermine our public structures — in education, healthcare, environmental protection — as part of a plan to hollow them out and sell them off.

Indeed, it’s not too far-fetched to begin to see some parallels between the Flint, Michigan water crisis and what’s going on here. Think about it. As I point out in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“The Right’s disingenuous propaganda about ‘choice'”) there are actually some striking parallels and important lessons:

“The simple truth is that public education is not a commodity or a consumer product. It is an indispensable component of a free and healthy society – like clean air and water or a public safety system.

Imagine if we told the people of Flint, Michigan that they are now ‘free’ from the ‘burdensome regulations’ of a failed public water system and have ‘choice’ when it comes to where they get their water. As outrageous as that would be, it’s hard to see how it differs much from the bill of goods school ‘choice’ champions are peddling here.”

Indeed, that’s precisely the nature of the scam: Keep under-funding public systems and structures and then, when they fail to perform up to snuff, blame it on the very nature of government and “bureaucracy” and use it as a justification to perpetuate the vicious cycle by cutting spending still further and selling off more public assets.

Let’s hope the crisis in Flint wakes people up to the simple reality that the only way for Americans to save their public structures and common good institutions from the privatizing vultures is to nurture them, invest in them and keep them strong.

Commentary

Leslie WinnerIn case you missed it, the best op-ed of the weekend was written for the Charlotte Observer by outgoing Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Executive Director Leslie Winner. In “A school that’s trying, succeeding – and gets a D,” Winner offers a devastating takedown of North Carolina’s absurd school grading system (i.e. the one that Senator Phil Berger modeled on Jeb Bush’s Florida scheme).

In the op-ed, Winner looks at the remarkable achievements of a middle school in Hamlet, North Carolina that has, against all odds, made tremendous progress in lifting the performances of its students, retaining good teachers and overcoming the daunting challenges that confront rural, high poverty schools. The numbers she reports are truly impressive.

“In 2015, 88 percent of the students exceeded expected growth, meaning they made a year or more of academic progress that school year and only 11 percent of teachers left, four out of 36, impressive for a high poverty, rural middle school.”

What’s more, school suspensions are down by 75%.

And the reward for principal Jim Butler and his staff? A Winner reports, the state of North Carolina gave the school a “D.” Again, here’s Winner:

“That’s because, under the State’s school grading system, 80 percent of the grade depends on what portion of students are on grade level, and all the work those teachers did to enable the students to achieve high academic growth, getting a year or more of learning that year, only counts for 20 percent of the grade.”

The point of Winner’s column is not to say that everything is hunky dory in Hamlet. The school and the community obviously have lots of progress still to make. But it’s a testament to the clumsy and destructive ham-handedness of North Carolina’s school grading system that it would brand such a school with, in effect, a scarlet “D.’ As she notes in conclusion: Read More

Commentary

Tuition2For years, the denizens of the think tanks funded by right-wing power broker Art Pope have been making two rather remarkable arguments with respect to higher education: 1) that too many North Carolinians go to college and 2) that tuition and fees should be much higher in order to place more of the cost of attendance directly on students and their families.

It’s essentially the Ebeneezer Scrooge, no-free-lunch, pick-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps  argument. Indeed, if you tilt your head and cup your ear you can almost hear a gaggle of grumpy old white guys sitting around and lamenting how today’s younger generation has no respect and doesn’t have to sacrifice like they did when they went to college.

All of this would be easy to dismiss as so much absurd, conservative blather except for the unfortunate fact that these people and their buddies are, for the time being, running the state. Hence the rapid increases in college fees and tuition in North Carolina in recent years and the disturbing moves to downsize the UNC system.

Fortunately, more and more people are catching on to what these folks are up to and are pushing back. The lead editorial in yesterday’s Greensboro News & Record did a good job of giving voice to the views of those who believe that widespread higher education is a necessity for any state that wants to thrive in the 21st Century. Here’s the N&R:

“Last year, a solidly Republican state launched the Tennessee Promise, which provides last-dollar scholarships for first-time students at community and technical colleges.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. It’s raising tuition for community colleges and may add significant surcharges decided on a campus-by-campus basis. The surcharge, up to 10 percent of tuition, would generate revenue strictly for needs on the individual campus where the money was raised.”

After highlighting the fact that many conservative states (besides Tennessee) are actually following President Obama’s urging by pushing to lower costs (and lamenting North Carolina’s move in the opposite direction) the editorial puts it this way:

“North Carolina should make it easier for students to attend community college, not more expensive.

The Tennessee Promise, when implemented last year, immediately boosted enrollment by 6 percent.

Other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, are considering similar plans….

Which makes it frustrating that North Carolina wants to shift more costs to the students, at both community college and state university campuses.

A 10 percent tuition surcharge would yield more than $2 million a year for Guilford Technical Community College, according to system estimates. The money could be well spent, providing better educational experiences. But putting more state resources into community colleges would be a wiser strategy.

The $2 billion bond proposal is a sound investment in a state that has fallen behind in building 21st century infrastructure. But human capital is lagging, too. Providing community college training at less cost to students, not more, could pay big dividends.

If North Carolina doesn’t, competing states will leave us behind.”