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Tennessee’s education commissioner has ordered the closure of a struggling K12, Inc.-operated online school, as lawmakers here at home debate a budget proposal that could pave the way for K12 to finally set up shop in North Carolina.K12 logo

Tennessee Virtual Academy began operating in 2011 and struggled to produce positive academic results from the get go, according to The Tennessean. Three years of low student growth at the K12-managed school prompted Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, to order the school’s closure at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

K12, Inc. has a history of producing low performance and graduation rates across the country, most recently prompting the NCAA to announce that it will no longer accept coursework from 24 virtual schools that are affiliated with the company.

The company has also been compared to subprime mortgage lenders, pulling in and churning out a disproportionate amount of students who are not well prepared for the online learning model–all in the name of big profits from taxpayer budgets.

A spokeswoman for K12, Mary Gifford, told members of a study committee considering virtual charter school options here in North Carolina that the poor results simply reflect the fact that their company tends to attract low performing students, and the home-based system of education can do little to help that demographic.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group in February. “Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

K12, Inc. has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to land in North Carolina, and is currently waiting on the state Supreme Court to hand down a decision on their appeal to open a virtual charter school in the state.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have acted on the recommendations of a virtual charter school study committee and have inserted language into the proposed 2014 budget to direct the State Board of Education to establish a Virtual Charter School Pilot Program, which would authorize the operation of two virtual charter schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

The provision would allow the virtual charters that show positive academic outcomes to become permanent institutions at the discretion of the State Board, without having to go through a formal application process.

There does not appear to be criteria set forth in the proposed legislation for how the State Board of Education should vet and select the two virtual charter schools that would take part in the pilot program.

Notably, at least 90 percent of all teachers employed by the virtual charter schools must reside in North Carolina.

To read the virtual charter school study committee’s report to the legislature, click here.

To read the language for a virtual charter school pilot program in the state budget proposal, click here and read section 8.35.

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Bettina Vinson has driven a school bus in Wake County for 17 years, and when she learned that after years of frozen pay she would receive a $500 raise according to the budget proposal state legislators are debating now in Raleigh, she was shocked.

“It was like a slap in the face,” said Vinson.

Lawmakers have included in their 2014 budget proposal a $1,000 raise for most public employees, but non-teaching public school workers – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other non-certified and central office staff—will only see a $500 salary increase, if lawmakers pass the budget as it is currently written.

“Why are the N.C. State bus drivers, who are doing the same job and are driving older kids who are easier to manage getting a $1,000 pay raise when we’re driving small kids and doing the same work they are doing and getting $500?” said Vinson.

“I think it’s wrong because what people are not realizing is that we are the first ones that these children see in the morning,” said Vinson. “And we set the tone for the teachers. Sometimes you have kids who’ve had nothing to eat, and I buy food to keep on the bus because you know the ones who get on the bus without breakfast or supper the night before, and so I feed them.”

So far, not one lawmaker who has had a hand in crafting the budget proposal has explained why public school employees are getting the shaft. Read More

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Education-budgetLate last night, lawmakers released a final budget deal brokered between the House and Senate that provides pay raises for teachers and a number of other education funding adjustments.

There’s a lot to process in the mammoth document, so let’s just get started with the basics on education, and I promise you — there will be more to come.

Teacher Pay

Lawmakers say they’ve provided an average 7 percent pay increase for teachers in this budget, but there’s widespread dispute over that figure since longevity pay has been wrapped up into the pay raises.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the old and new teacher pay schedules, click here.

Senator Phil Berger called the teacher pay raise the largest in North Carolina’s history, although the folks at ProgressNC fact-checked that claim and found it to be false.

Teacher Assistants

Lawmakers say TAs are “preserved” this year in the budget, but there are a few catches.

Lottery revenues will pay for a share of the funding for teacher assistants, and a portion of TAs will also be funded with non-recurring funds – meaning there will be another fight to keep them next year.

Also mentioned at Tuesday’s press conference– $65 million that was supposed to pay for TAs was moved back into funding for teacher positions. But local superintendents have the “flexibility” to move that money back over and save more TAs.

*However, that figure is not apparent in the budget’s money report. What we do know, however, is that in the certified 2014-15 budget, TAs were slated to cost $477,433,254 — but this latest budget spends $368.3 million.

Finally, while most state employees will get a $1,000 raise, TAs only get a $500 raise, along with public school custodial workers, cafeteria workers and other non-certified and central office personnel.

Higher Education

While lawmakers said on Tuesday they were able to preserve current funding levels for the university system, what actually is in place is a now slightly increased $76 million dollar cut that was in the original two-year budget passed in July 2013, but not in the most recent budget proposals.

This cut comes on top of years of cuts to the university system that have resulted in thousands of lost jobs and eliminated courses.

In 2011, the state’s universities had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated, 3,000 jobs were cut and another 1,500 vacant jobs were eliminated. In the four years prior to 2011, state funding to the university system was slashed by $1.2 billion. Read More

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Barbara Dell Carter

Second grade teacher Barbara Dell Carter

Do you remember Barbara Dell Carter?

She’s the second grade classroom teacher at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in “little” Washington, who I visited late last summer while she dutifully prepared her classroom for the first day of school.

As she straightened up her books (many of which she procured through her own means), Carter told me of her fears of facing yet another year without a dedicated teacher assistant (TA), not to mention how to cope with a state budget that dealt significant cuts to other areas of the classroom.

She is worried. Not the back-to-school jitters kind of worried; she has deep-seated concerns about the challenges she will face this year as educators grapple with a public school budget that spends $500 million less than what was spent in 2008.

Five years ago, the teacher assistant who is now sitting in Carter’s classroom preparing instructional materials would typically spend the entire day, every day, with Carter during the school year. That teacher assistant would help her manage 21 or 22 seven-year-old children who need to go to the bathroom, get fed, learn a lesson at a slightly slower or faster pace, or go to the nurse’s office, among many other possible situations, all throughout the day.

Now, that teacher assistant will be shared among four or five other classrooms. So maybe Carter will have a colleague help her manage her classroom for just an hour each day.

Maybe.

Read More

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On the heels of its Raleigh job fair in May, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is once again looking to poach North Carolina’s school teachers to come work in Texas for much higher pay. The Texas school district will be holding job fairs this week in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.Houston

The available jobs in Houston, according to Greensboro’s News & Record, are in “critical shortage” areas including bilingual education, secondary math and science, special education and career and technical education.

HISD, which is headed by former Guilford County Schools superintendent Terry Grier, advertises a starting salary for teachers of $49,100. In North Carolina, the starting salary for teachers is currently $30,800. The advertisement says the Houston school district is “prepared to make job offers on the spot.”

North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and there has been no shortage of attention to the fact that teachers, who haven’t seen a significant pay increase in six years, are leaving the state in large numbers.

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in a budget battle over how much more to pay teachers, proposing anywhere from a 6 to 11 percent pay raise and bringing the starting salary for teachers up to $35,000.

But those salary increases may come at the expense of teacher assistants, who could be laid off in large numbers this fall to pay for the pay bumps.

See HISD’s job fair advertisements here, here and here.