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Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) sent a letter on Monday to Gov. Pat McCrory, asking him to veto legislation sent to him last week by the General Assembly that allows private, for-profit charter school operators to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds. 

“While this bill requires that charter schools disclose the salaries of direct employees, including teachers, it creates a dangerous loophole that would allow Charter School Management Companies to take advantage of taxpayer funds by hiding payments to the very people and entities for which disclosure is most necessary,” Cotham wrote to McCrory.

Governor McCrory has previously said he would veto any legislation that shielded charter school salaries’ from the public eye.

“I still share my previous concerns with transparency for charter schools, not just for teachers, but for board members and all employees. Lawyers are currently reviewing the interpretations of this new law and I won’t take action on the legislation until we have a clear interpretation on transparency,” McCrory said in a statement last Friday.

Rep. Cotham delivered an impassioned plea to fellow House lawmakers last week to reject SB 793, ‘Charter School Modifications’. Not only did the bill suddenly contain a provision that shielded the salaries of charter school staff who are employed by the parent for-profit company of a school, it also jettisoned an earlier version of the bill that contained protections for LGBT students.

The additional provision to SB 793 comes following months of fighting between prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., and local media outlets that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools—teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy. Mitchell has refused to disclose his for-profit employees’ salaries.

In addition to operating four charter schools in eastern North Carolina, Mitchell is also deeply involved in charter school politics at the state level. He sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, which approves and monitors new charter schools across North Carolina. 

Mitchell has also given thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph), a key proponent of charter schools.

In her letter to McCrory, Rep. Cotham asked McCrory to keep his word about transparency.

“Now is not the time to play politics, to play word games, or to only listen to donors. Now is the time for ethical leadership and for unwavering commitment to the principles you earlier said you support. I call on you to keep your word and veto this bill.”

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Update: Both the Senate and House passed versions of the bill Thursday on second readings, with the House tacking on language placing the economic development partnership back under state ethic rules. The proposals will be back next week for final passage in each chamber.

Parallel bills to privatize pieces of the state’s economic development work is on the path to approval at the state legislature, with changes emerging Tuesday that lower the private fundraising requirements and restrict some of the transparency measures.

The Senate is supposed to consider the bill on the floor today.

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

The most reason versions of the 19-page House Bill 1031 and Senate bill 743 would also reduce the required amount the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina must raise from private funders, leaving the group to raise $6 million from private funders over the next five years.

(To read the entire bill, click here.)

Taxpayers are expected to contribute $90 million over that same period. That’s if Gov. Pat McCrory’s request to transfer 67 positions and an estimated $18 million next year to the new group from the Commerce Department is endorsed by lawmakers in budget negotiations.

Draft legislation had initially put the group on the hook to raise $10 million from private sources immediately, but the language endorsed by House and Senate committees will lower that to $6 million over five years, a move that Republican sponsors is more realistic for a startup group.

The privatization proposal would set North Carolina on a path of its economic development that a dozen other states have embarked on, with mixed results. The public-private partnerships, sometimes referred to as PPPs, have come under fierce criticism in other states with accusations that the private setups have wasted taxpayer money, exaggerated job claims and been used to reward political campaign donors and supporters.

The current form of the bills also remove provisions putting members of the nonprofit’s board and top employees under state ethics rules, which require an annual public disclosure of financial interests as well as put in varied prohibitions on accepting gifts and performing favors. The ethics law also attaches criminal penalties for accepting money or gifts from those looking to s curry favor from public servants. (Click here for a background story). Read More

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The April employment numbers released Friday show that North Carolina’s unemployment rate is continuing to drop, with 6.2 percent of the state’s residents out of work and looking for jobs.

The drop is a full 2.2 percentage points lower than what it was last April, when 8.4 percent of the state’s labor force was looking for work.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, in a written statement, hailed the unemployment drop as a success, but said more progress is still needed.

“We continue to see encouraging signs in North Carolina’s economy with each month that passes,” McCrory said.

Today’s job numbers (click here to read the whole report) show that the state added 14,000 from March to April, and that the overall labor pool (which includes those on the job and those actively looking for work) also grew by about 10,000 from the previous month.

Here’s a quick glimpse of the number’s released today by state commerce department’s labor and economics division:

jobsnumbersapril

Source: N.C. Commerce Department

 

The larger meaning of jobs report data have become heated topics in policy and political circles, with sometimes competing theories about what the steady drop of unemployment in the state means.

The state’s labor pool is significantly lower (by 33,005 people) than it was a year ago, a circumstance that has led some, including the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, to point out that many of the state’s long-term unemployed stopped looking for work and are not being accounted for in federal labor data. That comes after the state slashed both the length and amount of unemployment people can collect as part of an extensive overhaul of the unemployment system last year.

The state is also seeing huge disparity in different regions when it comes to unemployment, with areas surrounding the economic powerhouses of the Triangle and Charlotte showing low unemployment while more troubled areas still have counties with unemployment topping 10 percent.

Dare, Edgecombe, Graham, Hyde  Scotland and Swain counties all had unemployment rates over 10 percent in March. (Note, these numbers are not seasonally-adjusted, unlike the statewide numbers released today.)

Supporters of that unemployment reform policy, including McCrory and other Republican leaders, say the drop in benefits may have spurred many of the jobless to accept jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have looked at.

The Washington Post had this national perspective on the shrinking labor pool last year, finding that the contracting stems from a combination of the baby-boom generation entering into retirement, younger workers headed back to school and the long-term jobless throwing up their hands.

Here’s a great explainer from the New York Times earlier this month about how federal jobs data (which is released every month and is based on surveys) can fit a number of different narratives (economy better, economy worse, more jobs, less jobs) and all be right.

From the aptly-tilted article, “How Not to be Mislead by the Jobs Report“:

We obsess far too much on the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report.

Think about it this way: It’s the first Friday of the month, and the Labor Department has bad news. The economy has added a mere 64,000 jobs last month, a steep slowdown from 220,000 the month before. From Wall Street to Twitter, the reaction is swift and negative.

The price of oil falls, as do the prices of blue-chip stocks like General Electric. The Federal Reserve faces calls to push interest rates lower. The lead headlines in the next day’s papers talk of faltering job growth.

But what if all the worries were based on nothing more than random statistical noise? What if the apparent decline in job growth came from the inherent volatility of surveys that rely on samples, like the survey that produces the Labor Department’s monthly employment estimate?

 

You can read more here.

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At a Tuesday morning roundtable sponsored by Dell, Intel and the N.C. Business Committee for Education, Gov. Pat McCrory spoke to educators and business leaders who were gathered at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to strategize about ways to improve teacher effectiveness and next generation learning.

Using the opportunity to reiterate his education goals for the upcoming legislative session, which include paying all teachers more, McCrory hammered home his idea to create a “career pathway plan.”

“We want to ensure teachers have a career…and not a temporary stopover,” said McCrory, explaining that currently teachers have no way to move up in their profession unless they move into higher-paying administrative roles – a career move that not all practitioners are interested in making.

In addition to proposing a two percent average pay increase for all teachers and paying beginning teachers even more, McCrory proposed last week to create a long-term plan that would entice more teachers to stay in the profession by seeing salary increases that are linked to their work as teachers.

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GTNThis summer, approximately 450 teachers in North Carolina could receive $10,000 bonuses if they are selected for the Governor’s Teacher Network (GTN), a federally funded initiative that will ask teachers to share their best work around instruction and professional development in exchange for a pay bump.

Gov. Pat McCrory, along with the NC Department of Public Instruction, established GTN with funds from the federal Race to the Top grant. Teachers who apply and are selected to participate in GTN will serve for one year as Race to the Top-aligned instructional and professional development experts, in addition to their normal teaching duties.

Applicants are expected to submit project proposals, which could include developing professional development sessions and materials, or creating unit plans, lesson plans and assessments for the state’s Home Base system, a suite of web-based technology tools designed to elevate teaching.

“The Governor’s Teacher Network is a fantastic opportunity for teacher leaders to offer their very best thinking and expertise to support their peers across the state,” said Gov. McCrory in a press release. “Their work will directly result in North Carolina teachers having access to more resources that will help them help students achieve at greater levels.  Best of all, these resources will be designed for NC teachers, by NC teachers.”

The proposal sounds similar to a plan McCrory floated last summer, when he announced his intention to use $30 million of Race to the Top funds for an Education Innovation Fund that would reward 1,000 top teachers with $10,000 stipends. That proposal was met with criticism by State Board of Education members at a meeting shortly after his announcement. Read More