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House Democrats move to use lottery funds to help pay teachers’ loans

EducationIn February, we reported the startling number that students seeking education degrees in the UNC system had plunged by about 30 percent since 2010, just the latest evidence that the profession is growing increasingly unattractive to prospective teachers.

This week, a handful of state House Democrats have filed legislation they say should help to provide at least one incentive for teachers to remain in North Carolina.

House Bill 1031—co-sponsored by representatives Graig Meyer, Ed Hanes Jr., Bobbie Richardson and Brad Salmon—would funnel $38.5 million of the state’s lottery proceeds in the 2016-2017 fiscal year into a fund geared to help teachers repay their school loans.

According to the draft bill, the fund would be administered by the State Education Assistance Authority and could be used to help pay off loans for undergraduate or graduate studies. The fund would be accessible to licensed, full-time teachers employed in public and charter schools.

Teachers would be able to use the funds to repay oustanding loans for up to four years. Those who receive the financial assistance—limited to no more than $10,000 per calendar year—would be required to sign a “statement of intent” to remain a teacher in the state for at least four years, according to the draft.

House Democrats unveiled the bill in a press conference Wednesday morning, touting the draft legislation as a means for attracting teachers to the state.

Bill supporters said the $38.5 million appropriation is the “windfall” reaped in January by increased attention for a billion-dollar Powerball jackpot.

“We were looking for a way to support schools with a one-time infusion of cash,” said Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County. “We want the windfall to be a jackpot for North Carolina teachers.”

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News

On National Teacher Appreciation Day, educators and lawmakers call for raises, big reforms in NC

EducationN.C. Sen. Dan Blue, the Democratic leader in the Senate, remembers Dorothy Washington, his high school English teacher and an educator in his former home in Robeson County for a half-century.

Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County, still keeps an aging, brass school bell on his legislative desk to remind him of one of his most beloved teachers.

And Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat who represents eight counties in the northeast corner of the state, doesn’t have to look far for her inspiration when it comes to education. Smith-Ingram is a former high school math and science teacher.

All shared their personal stories on Tuesday, National Teacher Appreciation Day, during a press conference geared to push the public school agenda with lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly back in session and expected to consider some of Gov. Pat McCrory’s school budget proposals as early as this week.

Read more analysis of McCrory’s K-12 budget proposal from the N.C. Justice Center here. And, also, here.

Tuesday’s press conference, organized by the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, included a laundry list of demands for legislators that largely echoed the sentiments of the group’s full legislative agenda.

Among its requests, the group notably called for lawmakers to increase teacher pay and per-pupil spending to the national average (N.C. ranked a dismal 42nd and 46th, respectively, at last count), restore master’s and longevity pay bonus checks and overhaul the state’s controversial, A-F school performance grading system to place a greater emphasis on student growth, rather than student performance.

“Let us stand for the schools that we deserve,” said Rodney Ellis, NCAE president.

Blue called teaching the “cornerstone of every profession” in the state. “We present them with unattainable goals and provide them with inadequate resources to achieve those goals,” Blue said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ellis told reporters that he was skeptical about the “lofty ideals” presented in the governor’s proposed budget, which McCrory said would give teachers an average raise of about 5 percent, bringing the state’s average teacher pay up to about $50,000 a year. The national average exceeds $56,000.

“It’s an election year, so you can anticipate some numbers out there that may or may not come true,” said Ellis.

Legislators in the powerful House appropriations committee for K-12 education are expected to discuss the governor’s budget in detail later this week, although most political observers expect the state’s final budget to undergo major changes before its approval by both chambers.

Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Hall, the Democratic leader in the state House, on Tuesday called for more of a long-term plan for K-12 spending while taking pointed jabs at Gov. McCrory’s budget.

“Folks are going to have to do more than put out a proposed budget that’s dead on arrival and say, ‘I’ve done my part,'” said Hall.

NC Budget and Tax Center

State leaders need to know: Cash-strapped N.C. homeowners do exist

Simply saying something doesn’t exist doesn’t create a new reality. The Senate Finance Committee voted in favor of a bill yesterday that includes a provision that will continue to require cash-strapped homeowners to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders, even though no cash is provided to the homeowner. State leaders pushed through this tax change last year and plan to keep it in place this year.

In rejecting a request by Sen. Ford, who represents Mecklenburg, to exclude the provision from the bill, committee co-chairman Sen. Rucho, who also represents Mecklenburg, stated that he had not heard of any North Carolinian benefiting from the tax provision. He made the same assertion last year when making his case for targeting cash-strapped homeowners.

Could it truly be the case that the massive and pervasive mortgage fraud committed by financial entities that ushered in the disastrous national economic downturn bypassed North Carolina? The simple answer is no. In the wake of the crisis, a number of financial institutions agreed to settlements that provide consumer relief to affected homeowners with unaffordable mortgages, which include reducing the amount of principal debt owed on mortgages to make them more affordable. SunTrust Mortgage, for example, agreed to provide as much as $21 million in relief to North Carolina homeowners in a national settlement. The General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division estimates that requiring cash-strapped homeowners to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders will generate $8 million in revenue for this fiscal year – an indication that North Carolina homeowners who may be eligible to receive such mortgage relief exist.

Yet state leaders continue to adopt this out of sight, out of mind thinking that was on display yesterday. To the contrary, they expend the necessary energy and effort to push through tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations at the expense of hardworking North Carolinians who struggle to make ends meet. This effort to once again target cash-strapped homeowners is yet another example of the disconnect between rhetoric and actual policy decisions by state leaders.

News

House leader questions fiscal feasibility of achievement school districts in North Carolina

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

N.C. Rep. Rob Bryan, a Republican from Mecklenburg County and perhaps the legislature’s biggest champion of achievement school districts, unveiled a new draft of the bill Wednesday that would legalize the controversial model in North Carolina, but at least one powerful House Republican questioned whether the state could afford the reforms.

Bryan told legislators on the House Select Committee on Achievement School Districts that he hoped the panel would take a vote on the bill by mid-April, in time for the full legislature’s reconvening on April 25.

Achievement school districts would allow state leaders to pull chronically low-performing schools into one district, regardless of geography, and possibly turn over management of the schools, including staffing powers, to charter operators.

However, Rep. Craig Horn, the Republican from Union County who chairs the House Education Appropriations Committee, seemed to question the likelihood of its approval in the legislature’s short session this year, noting it’s unclear how much support the proposal has in the state Senate.

Committee members heard dueling presentations on the district’s use in Tennessee in recent years following a $500 million federal grant, with at least one district leader in Tennessee touting it as a boon for students, despite middling numbers reported by Vanderbilt University education researcher Gary Henry.

But, on Wednesday, Horn emphasized that the bill has a “critical” need for community buy-in.

“Tennessee has spent over a half a billion dollars on this,” Horn added. “How are we going to find the money for this? Where do we have reason to believe that we can find that kind of money available in North Carolina at this point?”

The new draft of the bill released Wednesday includes a handful of additions to the proposal, including the use of “iZones,” a locally-run method of school turnaround involving new flexibility, funding and development that reported “significant” gains in school performance in Tennessee, according to Henry.

Bryan emphasized Wednesday that the achievement school districts would be one component of a school turnaround platform that includes district- and state-led interventions as well as “iZones.”

“I don’t view it as a silver bullet to miraculously solve all these problems,” said Bryan.

News

ACLU says NC’s anti-LGBT law risks billions in federal funding for schools

RESTROOMS-400-1On Friday, Gov. Pat McCrory, responding to an avalanche of criticism for North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law, released a list of “myths vs. facts,” a point-by-point attempt to derail the clamor over the mega-controversial law.

In one point, McCrory argued that the law will not threaten the state’s share of federal education funding under Title IX’s anti-discrimination provisions.

But Monday, in the midst of a press conference announcing a legal challenge to the anti-LGBT law, ACLU of N.C. Legal Director Chris Brook called McCrory’s statements “patently false on a number of different levels.”

Brook said federal education agencies have interpreted Title IX’s anti-discrimination regulations to include protection based on gender identity, meaning N.C.’s $4.5 billion share of federal funding could be imperiled.

“We’re putting $4.5 billion at stake to score political points by marginalizing an already marginalized community,” said Brook.

And, although Title IX was not mentioned in his statement, N.C. Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis was one of many who spoke against the law last week.

“House Bill 2 goes against NCAE’s core values of equality for every individual,” said Ellis. “This discriminatory law turns back decades of civil rights progress and hamstrings local governments from making their communities a reflection of their citizens and their beliefs. Today we stand up with educators, businesses, and local government leaders for the rights of the LGBT community and all the citizens of North Carolina from discriminatory practices.”

More on this to come.