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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

Commentary

School-vouchersThis morning’s editorial in the Fayetteville Observer takes a rather charitable view toward parents who signed their children up for North Carolina’s new school voucher plan and then found themselves without the subsidy once Judge Robert Hobgood rightfully struck down the program as blatantly unconstitutional. The paper is okay with last week’s Court of Appeals ruling that the state should go ahead and disburse the money to the private schools in which the parents enrolled their kids.

Reasonable minds can differ on this generous take; after all, it’s the private schools (which knew the risks) that are really out the money. But the paper is right that, assuming this is a one-time deal, the damage will be minimal. The remainder of editorial is largely spot on, however, with its take on the voucher program more generally and going forward:

In his earlier ruling against the program, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said it not only gave tax dollars to non-public schools, but established no standards for the schools to which the money would go.

Friday’s decision wisely allows the children already enrolled to continue through this school year. There’s no point in penalizing families who believed they were part of a legitimate state program.

But lawmakers should stop hoping for a court to read the constitution crossed-eyed and discern something that isn’t there. The General Assembly should prepare for the rejection of Opportunity Scholarships.

Hobgood’s ruling also spelled out the way legislators can fix this: “The expenditure of public funds raised by tax action to finance the operation of privately operated, managed and controlled schools … would require a constitutional amendment approved by the vote of the citizens of North Carolina.”

To preserve Opportunity Scholarships, stop pretending and begin the amendment process. And also include standards to hold participating private schools accountable.

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

WRAL.com has a featured story this morning about the state sponsored form of child abuse known as “corporal punishment.” You know — that’s the thing the state law prohibits prisoners and animals from being subjected to, but approves for children as an a tool of “education.” The issue is in the news again these days because of the arrest of a famous football player for beating his child with a tree branch (to the point at which cuts and bruises were inflicted). The beating was apparently inflicted  because the child pushed another child away from a video game.

One encouraging aspect of the story if that so-called corporal punishment is slowly but surely dying out. As with the death penalty, opposition to same sex marriage and efforts to block Medicaid expansion in the states, the truth is wearing down the defenders of this long-discredited practice. As NC Child’s Tom Vitaglione told WRAL:

“There’s been no evidence this makes a difference in terms of behavior or academic improvement  In North Carolina, the end-of-year grades and graduation rates have been going up for the last decade. At the same time, use of corporal punishment dropped dramatically.”
As the story also notes, however, child beating remains an officially sanctioned part of our public education system in several North Carolina counties — most notably, one of the state’s poorest counties, Robeson. Now here’s perhaps the most shocking part of the story: In the  2102-2013 school year, 203 North Carolina children were subjected to state-sanctioned beatings. Of that number, 128 – fully 63% — were Native American children! According to the Census Bureau,  Native Americans make up 1.6% of North Carolina’s population.
Of course, these amazing numbers are chiefly due to the situation in Robeson — where Native Americans make up a sizable chunk of the population. Robeson County school leaders are conducting most of the beatings — nearly 70%. It’s perhaps worth noting at this point that Robeson is also the county that so readily sentenced Henry McCollum to death.There are many other disturbing numbers in the story — the fact that 21 Kindergartners were subjected to beatings and that six children were beaten for “cell phone use” stand out — but if for no other reason than the obvious racism of a system that subjects 1.6% of the children to 63% of the punishments inflicted, North Carolina leaders must step up to the plate and end this absurd violence ASAP.

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Each year public schools across the state experience changes in their student enrollment levels – some see an increase, others a decline, while enrollment in some schools remain steady. A policy change included in the budget approved by state lawmakers for the current fiscal year 2015 means schools experiencing growth in student enrollment are no longer guaranteed to receive full state funding for the additional students when state lawmakers create a budget for the next school year.

The new provision in the budget no longer includes enrollment adjustments for public schools as part of the baseline budget, also referred to as the continuation budget. Prior to this policy change the state’s budgeting process took enrollment adjustments into account when determining how much state funding is required to maintain education service levels. Doing so more accurately reflect the actual level of state funding that should be invested in K-12 education.

Public schools that experience an increase in student enrollment from one year to the next must now wait until state lawmakers finalize a budget for the next fiscal year to know if enrollment growth is fully funded. Many public schools across the state could potentially feel the impact of this deceptively subtle policy change. Read More

Uncategorized

The Charlotte Observer:

In striking down the state’s new school voucher law on Thursday, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood laid out a cogent, compelling constitutional case against the bad law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt…,” he said from the bench, “the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from taxpayer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution….”

Voucher advocates say they will appeal, noting that parents need choices other than traditional public schools. But Hobgood correctly notes that the state is constitutionally obligated to provide a sound, basic education to N.C. students, and lawmakers can’t delegate that obligation to “unregulated” and “unaccountable” private schools.

The Greensboro News & Record:

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s opinion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was blunt.

“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” he said Thursday in ordering an immediate halt to the voucher plan.

That was not a political statement. Hobgood, a veteran judge holding court in Wake County, cited several provisions of the state constitution violated by the voucher program….

Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office will appeal to higher courts, but Hobgood’s interpretation of the state constitution seems sound.

It was the legislature that went off track in enacting a program that diverts millions of dollars from public schools and contradicts good judgment. At a time when more accountability is demanded of public schools and educators, this program asks almost nothing of participating private schools. It just sends them money.

Bad idea. And, according to the judge, it violates the state constitution.