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EdbudgetReaders should anticipate a more in-depth look at the education portion of the budget this week from NC Policy Watch; if you’re tired of scouring Twitter for the details, then here’s a snapshot with some of the most notable points.

School vouchers: ‘Opportunity Scholarships’ to begin in year two of the budget, or for the 2014-15 academic year. $10 million set aside for $4,200 vouchers for students to use at private schools. Household income for those students cannot exceed 133% of the federal poverty level, at least for the first year.

Lawmakers will also decide this week on a separate bill that would give students with disabilities $3,000 per semester to use for private schooling.

Teacher tenure: teachers would become temporary employees with this budget. Instead of having ‘career status’, also known as tenure, teachers will have contracts that can be renewed based on performance measures.

Teacher pay: no raises for teachers, who have only seen a 1% pay increase in the past five years. Supplemental pay for teachers who have master’s degrees is gone, with the exception of those whose jobs require advanced degrees. A scheme for merit pay is included, with highly performing teachers getting bonuses in the second year.

Pink slips? Funding for teaching assistants was reduced by 21%. That cut will affect teachers, too, since many local districts also use that pot of money to fund their positions. And as we lose teachers, the cap on class sizes is lifted – so even more crowded classrooms to look forward to.

Pre-K: eligibility guidelines were not changed with this budget, and 2,500 slots were added. But since 5,000 slots are expiring this month, all this does is reduce the loss of pre-K slots by 2,500.

Charter schools: Language is included in the budget that calls for the State Board of Education to study virtual charter schools, including application requirements, enrollment growth and funding allocations.

The House budget proposal that included a half million dollars for PEFNC to develop charter schools in rural areas appears to have not moved forward.

Teaching fellows: The budget includes $12 million over the two year period for Teach for America, while the NC Teaching Fellows program is phased out.

Higher education: tuition will go up by 12.3 percent at UNC schools and community college students will also see increased fees.

The House bill that was modified at the last minute to allow charter schools to expand without having to gain State Board of Education approval passed the Senate floor yesterday, 34-11.

HB 250, which would have allowed charter schools to expand several grades at a time wihtout having to make a request to the State Board of Education, was amended before passage.

Sen. Norman Sanderson from Pamlico County put forth an amendment that would allow charters to expand at only one grade at a time. Sanderson’s amendment seemed to respond to considerable pressure from his constituents at home, who are concerned that the passage of the bill would spell disaster for their lone public high school.

This NC Policy Watch story reported that Arapahoe Charter School’s request to expand to a K-12 school was recently denied by the State Board of Education. The school’s director told NC Policy Watch that he decided to circumvent the appeal process by asking local lawmakers to find a legislative fix to allow the school to expand without State Board of Ed approval.

While Sanderson’s amendment appears to be a concession, it would in fact still allow Arapahoe Charter School to expand, one grade at a time, over the next three years. The public charter school currently offers grades K-9.

As outlined last week, the public high school in Pamlico County could be devastated by Arapahoe’s expansion.

Sen. Jerry Tillman also ran an amendment that effectively weakened the current requirement that public charter schools’ student populations must reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of their local district. The language in his amendment would instead allow charters to simply make efforts toward diversity.

The bill must be reconciled with the House before going to Gov. McCrory’s desk for his signature.

The bill that would allow charter schools to expand the grades they offer without prior approval from the State Board of Education will be on the Senate floor this afternoon. The bill has already passed the House.

HB 250, Charter School Enrollment and Charter Revisions, was originally intended to address only charter school enrollment procedures. Last week, NC Policy Watch reported that the director of Arapahoe Charter School, Tom McCarthy, decided to work with his local lawmakers, Sen. Norman Sanderson (R-Carteret, Craven, Pamlico) and Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Beaufort, Craven, Pamlico) to craft legislation that would allow his school to get around a State Board of Education decision to deny Arapahoe’s request to expand to a K-12 school. The resulting bill would allow all public charter schools to expand their offerings, within certain limits, without State Board of Ed approval.

At a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, lawmakers briefly debated the new language – language that the House never even saw – and offered a favorable report for the bill, even as Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association, explained to the committee the devastating effect it would have on rural school districts.

“We already know that passing this provision would immediately threaten the very existence of Pamlico County’s lone public high school,” Winner told NC Policy Watch.

The law currently requires public charter schools to gain State Board of Education approval in order to expand their offerings. The requirement is in place to mitigate any potential adverse impacts on local school districts resulting from public charter school expansion.

Click here for more background on the Arapahoe Charter School and the bill that hits the Senate floor today.

WUNC’s Dave DeWitt has a good story this morning comparing Teach for America in NC to the 30-year old NC Teaching Fellows program.

The NC Teaching Fellows program awards $6,500/year scholarships for tuition at an in state college to North Carolina high school students interested in teaching. In return, students must teach for four years in North Carolina after graduation.

According to DeWitt:

The Teaching Fellows program has had a transformative effect on the profession in North Carolina: currently more than 4,000 teachers are Teaching Fellows. And more than three-quarters stay on as teachers past five years.

Despite these results, the Republican-controlled Legislature abruptly cut the program two years ago.

Teach for America, on the other hand, is gaining momentum in North Carolina:

Teach For America will place more teachers in eastern North Carolina than ever starting this fall, and TFA’s political influence has grown here has, as well. Governor Pat McCrory recently named a former TFA teacher as his new education advisor. Nationally, Teach For America has a budget of around $300 million, drawing donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton Family Foundations.

Fast forward then to last month, and the State Senate’s proposed budget (pdf). For the third straight year, the Teaching Fellows annual budget of $13 million went unfunded, as it did in the Governor’s version of the budget.

Teach For America, meanwhile, is poised to get a new initial allocation of $6 million in the Senate budget.

While the House budget restores the Teaching fellows program, the Senate is on track to support TFA over the native program that trained and retained such a large percentage of its participants over the years.

The House’s final vote on its budget comes this afternoon.

Members of the House appropriations committee gathered today to debate their proposed budget for 2013-15.

The budget includes all of the language from the school voucher bill, or HB 944 Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would siphon $50 million over two years from public education and funnel that money to private schools.

Rep. Chris Whitmire, a Republican from Transylvania County, put forth an amendment that would have removed the school voucher language from the budget, calling the voucher bill a “Trojan horse” that would have brought the government into private settings and had not been fully vetted by the entire House. Read More