Commentary

Sigh…NC voucher school benefits from assault weapons raffled off in February fundraiser

Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport

Smith & Wesson “M&P15 Sport” assault weapon

Here’s some really encouraging news to wrap up your Tuesday. A self-described North Carolina “Christian school” that receives thousands of dollars in public taxpayer funds supplemented its income last month via a “gun raffle” that gave away two semi-automatic “assault weapons” along with 10 other guns.

According to the Facebook page for the event, the guns were given away as part of a raffle to benefit the Halifax Academy in Roanoke Rapids (which uses the tagline “A Christian School”) on February 2. No word on how much cash the event brought in, but it seems safe to say that it was probably substantial. The school in question looks to be growing and doing pretty well and the gun raffle also appears to be an annual event.

In the New York Times today, a conservative Republican penned an article about the current presidential race entitled “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” From the looks of things, he might want to turn his gaze to Halifax, North Carolina as well.

Commentary

Editorial: State Supreme Court should bust tenure-busting law for teachers

The Fayetteville Observer gets it right with an editorial blasting the anti-teacher law that would transform all state educators into, in effect, “temps.” The law, which stands as one of the real signature “achievements” of conservative rule in North Carolina these past five years, is now before the state Supreme Court. Here’s the Observer:

“The battle over tenure for North Carolina teachers reached the state Supreme Court this week. We hope the justices will put this misbegotten piece of punitive legislation out of its misery.

The law, passed by the General Assembly in 2013, stripped teachers’ ability to earn “career status” after four years of satisfactory performance. Lawmakers mischaracterized it as tenure, saying it prevented school districts from firing incompetent teachers.

The truth is, if school districts use it as an excuse to keep lousy teachers in the classroom, it’s their own fault. The law specifically empowers administrators to fire bad teachers for reasons including poor performance, insubordination and immorality.”

After noting that Attorney General Cooper is, regrettably, defending the inane law, the editorial concludes this way:

“As the teachers’ association lawyer responded, if lawmakers really wanted to improve the quality of teaching in the state’s classrooms, they could have raised the performance criteria teachers must meet to keep their jobs.

We’d like to see the General Assembly do just that, instead of simply attacking anything that looks remotely like a union – a theme that has run through a considerable body of legislation for the past three years.

That, in truth, is what the tenure battle is about. Even though there are no public-employee unions in North Carolina – they’re already banned by law – lawmakers appear determined to rid the state of any protection that looks even remotely union-ish. Hence a war on a tenure status that doesn’t exist.

Teachers have earned what little job protection they do have. In fact, it was promised to them as a benefit of their employment. That’s why the court should strike down this law.”

Commentary

Editorial: It’s no surprise that NC’s teacher pipeline is drying up

An editorial in today’s Wilmington Star-News does an excellent job of explaining why the ranks of North Carolina teachers and teachers in training are thinning:

“Apparently, a lot fewer people want to be teachers in North Carolina.

Gee. Wonder why?

Alice Chapman, vice president for academic programs in the University of North Carolina system, told the N.C. Board of Education that enrollment in undergraduate and graduate education programs — essentially, the teacher-track course at the state’s public colleges — has declined by 30 percent since 2010.

The brain drain has slowed a bit, Chapman noted; in 2014-2015, the drop-off was just 3.4 percent. Still, she called the trend ‘very concerning.’

That’s an understatement. With North Carolina hovering around 42nd place out of the 50 states in how much we pay teachers, we’re not likely to draw very many new teachers from somewhere else. The UNC figures mean our homegrown supply of teachers is shrinking, even as school enrollments grow.

Now, before the Great Recession, teacher salaries in North Carolina stood very near the U.S. median. Legislators — in both Democrat and Republican years — chose to put off hard financial decisions by putting off raises. Now we’re seeing the result.

This year, with a $450 million surplus in the bank, our Honorables gave a 2 percent raise — but only to beginning teachers. The rest had to content themselves with the $750 one-time-only bonus other state employees got.

The state Department of Public Instruction reports a teacher turnover rate of 15 percent last year — which means teachers moving on to other jobs. Earlier, the department found that 1,082 North Carolina teachers took jobs in other states last year, roughly triple the number who moved away in 2010.

Of course, money isn’t everything. In the past, though, many teachers chose the security of steady employment and the promise of a pension.

Even that, however, seems to be eroding. Read more

Commentary

Outgoing Reynolds Foundation director authors devastating takedown of NC’s school grading system

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

This is how bad it’s gotten for teachers in North Carolina

school suppliesIn case you missed yesterday’s Fitzsimon File, be sure to check out the fascinating and damning find from the recent state budget that Chris highlights.

It turns out that conservative state lawmakers have been bragging in the aftermath of the 2015 session about how they revived a tax break for teachers that they previously put on the books in 2011 and then allowed to expire in 2013. The tax break provides a small deduction for teachers (at least, those well off enough to itemize deductions) for their out-of-pocket costs for purchasing classroom supplies up to $250. This means that if a teacher takes the full deduction — meaning they spent $250 or more on supplies — they would save a whopping $14.75 on their state tax bill!

You really can’t make this stuff up. As Chris noted yesterday:

“It [the tax deduction] reimburses teachers for [a tiny portion] of their purchases but also reminds them that the folks currently running things in Raleigh have no intention of properly funding the schools. And they are counting on teachers themselves to pick up the slack.

Thanks to cuts in recent sessions, there are now 7,500 fewer teacher assistants in the classroom before the recession.

Taking the philosophy of the tax credit for supplies to its logical conclusion, teachers who don’t like it and need the extra help in the classroom should stop complaining and hire the TAs themselves and pay them personally. Maybe lawmakers will reward them with another tax break worth a few dollars.

That’s what it has come to in our public schools. Adequately funding the classrooms is apparently no longer on the table.”

The bottom line: It’s hard to know what’s more laughably outrageous — the notion that lawmakers would underfund schools and toss this minuscule crumb in the first place or that they would then go on to brag about it as some kind of real achievement. Whichever the case, it’s clear that: a) state leaders continue to treat North Carolina school teachers as so many disposable units and b) the cynicism surrounding their miserly and shortsighted policy decisions knows few bounds.