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Education cutsThis morning’s Winston-Salem Journal provides another example of how absurdly underfunded our public education system has gotten this morning in an editorial about the pay rates North Carolina maintains for teacher assistants.

Starting T.A. pay under the current state schedule works out by my back-of-the-envelope math to something on the order of around $12 an hour. There are plenty of chain restaurant servers who make more and this is well below the state’s living income standard. Stay on the job into middle age or retirement and you might eventually work your way up to $19 an hour.

As the Journal editorial reminds us, this is a preposterous way to treat the people entrusted with educating our children and a lousy way to attract quality employees. The editorial holds up the story of this year’s T.A. of the year — an amazing woman named Andrea Cranfill who has overcome her own disabilities to perform superhuman tasks working with challenged kids .

Cranfill’s service is clearly something akin to mission work performed at a great self-sacrifice. As admirable as this is, however, it shouldn’t have to be this way.  As any teacher will tell you, having a qualified and competent T.A. can make all the difference in transforming a classroom, or even a school itself.

So long as North Carolina is going to avoid the obvious solution of dramatically reducing class sizes to the point at which our teachers can have a reasonable shot at providing each child with the individualized attention each one deserves, the least we can do is pay our T.A.’s a living wage. Right now, we’re not even close.

Commentary
Senator Tom Apodaca

Senator Tom Apodaca

It is becoming increasingly clear that the single, best thing that North Carolina lawmakers could do to aid public education in our state is this: nothing.

Seriously, lawmakers would do our young people, educators, public education officials, employers, and the state at-large an enormous service if they would simply pass one bill each year providing the funding that our schools really need and then get the heck out of the way and check back in five or ten years. No more “ABC’s” of this or that or “Excellent Schools Acts.” Nothing, nada, zip. Just give our professionals the money and the mandate and let them do their jobs.

Unfortunately, the urge to meddle, micromanage and pass half-baked ideas that some lawmaker heard something about over dinner or on Fox News assures that this will never happen. For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools.

What a great idea! Maybe this can even set a precedent for other parts the education system. For instance, Read More

Commentary

Be sure to check out Tazra Mitchell’s excellent essay over on the main Policy Watch site this afternoon: “Governor McCrory’s flat budget proposal ignores research and reality.” As Tazra explains, the state is cutting essential services to provide enrollment growth increases in education and health care. As a practical matter, everything else remains frustratingly and destructively stuck in neutral:

“With his 2015-2017 budget, Governor McCrory chose to ignore the need for reinvestment in public education, health, safety, and the other programs that improve well-being for us all. Total state investments under his 2016 fiscal year budget proposal would be 6.1 percent below pre-recession levels, adjusting for inflation. North Carolina’s lived experience shows us this is the wrong way to go—in past economic recoveries, state investments returned to and exceeded pre-recession levels far more quickly. Our former leaders understood that investing in the infrastructure of opportunity spurs economic growth.

Governor McCrory’s spending plan, in large part, freezes state investments at a time when his priority should be to roll back harmful budget cuts enacted since the downturn. His budget for the 2016 fiscal year increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or two percent, but the costs of enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs are estimated to slightly exceed that year-to-year increase. That means every new dollar, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth rather than replacing budget cuts that stifle economic mobility or pursuing new initiatives to position the state competitively.

And despite promises that the 2013 tax cut for the wealthy would deliver a huge boom to the economy, North Carolina has experienced nothing of the sort. Job growth has largely followed national trends in recent years, but we still have not gotten back to the level of employment—when accounting for population growth—that was the norm before the recession. Wages in North Carolina have slipped further behind the national average and are not even keeping up with inflation, which means many people’s paychecks do not go as far as they did before the downturn.

So the promise of an economic boost from tax cuts has failed to pan out, but state leaders are sticking with those cuts rather than reinvesting in the long-term building blocks of opportunity and prosperity like schools and environmental protection.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Commentary

Today’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News speaks the truth about the controversy manufactured by some on the Right about the AP history course taught in our high schools. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Students learn from the time they are in grade school that America is special, that it is a force for good in the world, that its people cherish the “inalienable rights” with which their creator endowed them. But history is not an exercise in black and white. It involves many shades of gray, and complex, often conflicted human beings. The struggles that our nation went through over its 238 years are an important part of that story, and the story of how the nation grappled with and addressed those problems collectively represent the pluck and “American exceptionalism” the state law emphasizes.

AP History is not taught in a vacuum. Most students who take the course should be familiar with the basics; some concepts are covered or reinforced in other courses, such as civics and world history. Most advanced-placement teachers are among the best in their school; their students are among the best and brightest. At this level students should be considering a variety of perspectives on a single event and shaping their own conclusions based on the facts and opinions presented.

If the state board believes the course doesn’t spend enough time on the founding principles, it could mandate American History I as a prerequisite, although that would require eating into other electives that also enrich students’ education and could be redundant. But neither the board nor the General Assembly should seek to dilute a college-level course that is designed to promote critical thinking, a skill important not only in job seeking but in being an informed United States citizen and well-rounded adult.

Before meddling with a well-respected history course, perhaps legislators should go back to school and sit in on a few AP History lessons. It could be a good refresher.

Amen. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

 

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

The final budget for fiscal year 2015 – which runs from July 2014 through June 2015 – includes a pay raise for public school teachers for the first time in several years. What the pay raise translates into regarding additional dollars in teachers’ paychecks is unclear based on differing comments by the governor and state lawmakers. Whereas Governor McCrory proclaims an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers, state lawmakers tout a 7 percent average pay raise.

Beyond the on average presentation of the teacher pay raise by state policymakers, the amount of additional money teachers will see in their paychecks varies greatly – particularly among early-career teachers compared to more experienced teachers.

Not all teachers are provided a long-awaited, meaningful pay increase under the new teacher pay structure. The new six-step pay structure for teachers included in the final budget replaces the existing 36-step pay scale – these steps are based on years of teaching experience and determine when a teacher gets a pay increase. Reducing 36 steps down to six entailed much maneuvering by state lawmakers, resulting in some teachers getting a boost in pay at the expense of other teachers.

Under the new pay scale, the starting pay for early-career teachers jumps to at least $33,000 from $30,800 under the old pay schedule—a 7.1 percent increase. However, salary increases for more experienced educators are much lower. In fact, some teacher would actually earn less under the new pay scale compared to the old pay scale; these teachers will continue to earn salaries based on the old pay scale for the 2013-14 school year along with a flat annual $1,000 bonus. Read More