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Gov. Pat McCrory’s office is working with local school superintendents to come up with a fix for two hotly contested budget provisions lawmakers just enacted that would stop funding public schools on the basis of enrollment growth and cut funds to teacher assistants, according to a Lee County Schools superintendent and a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA).

“We have verbal confirmation from the Governor’s staff that they are concerned with the issue of no longer funding local school districts on the basis of enrollment growth as well as problems with trading teacher positions to fund TAs, and they are asking for budget technical corrections to present to the General Assembly that would fix these issues,” said Katherine Joyce, a lobbyist for NCASA.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill last week that contains a provision that would stop automatically paying for enrollment growth at public schools. The budget also spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though McCrory has repeatedly said he was proud to sign a budget that preserves all TA positions.

The two budget provisions force local school districts to plan their budgets in the spring without knowing whether or not the state will pay for increased numbers of students in their schools, making it difficult for principals and superintendents to figure out if they will have the means necessary to hire the teachers and other school personnel they actually need. In addition, the budget cuts teacher assistant funds for local school districts by 22 percent.

Joyce explained to N.C. Policy Watch that NCASA, along with their local superintendents, are engaged in conversations with the Governor’s office to come up with language for a budget technical corrections bill they hope to see taken up by the General Assembly in August that would ensure schools go back to the old system of receiving their budget allotments from the state on the basis of student enrollment growth.

The bill would also allow local districts to use average teacher salaries, instead of beginning teacher salaries, to fund teacher assistant positions—freeing up more funds to save TAs. That fix, said Joyce, would effectively hold districts harmless when it comes to losing TAs and bridge the $105 million funding gap.

“Now we just need the General Assembly to actually come back into a real session and take up a budget technical corrections bill that will make these changes happen,” said Joyce.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan told the Sanford Herald this weekend that he learned Gov. McCrory plans to ask the legislature to implement corrections to the education budget on August 14.

“The Governor is recommending a technical correction that would allow school districts to receive planning allotments based on growth. As noted earlier, that is a really big issue for school districts and planning,” Dr. Bryan told the Sanford Herald.

In signing the $21.1 billion budget, Gov. McCrory said, “this budget reflects a pragmatic approach to managing taxpayer dollars.” He also said previously that critics of the budget should come up with their own spending plan instead of complaining about it.

This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf
This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf

Calls to the Governor’s office and his education advisor seeking comment on the possible budget fixes were not returned.

 

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The Rowan-Salisbury School System is trying to figure out how to handle a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistant funding stream.trackingCuts-web-600

The budget cut to TAs slices more than one way — in Rowan-Salisbury schools, many elementary school TAs double as school bus drivers (see my recent story about how TAs across the state also serve as bus drivers). 

Meetings will take place this week to determine how to handle the reduction in funds, and the school board will meet next Monday to make a final decision.

While the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Philip Price told N.C. Policy Watch that state lawmakers enacted a 2014 budget that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for this year, Gov. Pat McCrory and his former budget director, Art Pope, have been working hard to tell a different story.

Charlotte Observer education reporter Andrew Dunn reports that Pope called him after he wrote a story about how Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools will lose 90 TAs to explain how that simply should not be the case.

After my story ran, state budget director Art Pope called to walk through the numbers at a state level and say that because CMS was already using some teacher assistant money to hire teachers, they shouldn’t have lose anything.

“I can’t say why they’re coming up with any losses,” he said.

Then later, my colleague Ely Portillo spoke with McCrory, who offered up this:

“We are not reducing the number of teacher’s assistants,” he said. “Any teacher assistant who was working in a classroom last year will be working again this year if the local superintendents and principals set it up that way based on money that we gave them.”

I previously reported that lawmakers offered “flexibility” to school districts to handle their move to underfund TAs, which means they can move money out of classroom teacher positions that were intended to reduce class size in order to pay for the TAs they actually need.

But as one superintendent put it — that’s a false choice. You either save TA jobs and make classes larger, or the reverse — neither of which is great for kids or educators.

“If it’s going to cost people their jobs, I don’t see how we can use it (for class size),” Winston-Salem/Forsyth Superintendent Beverly Emory told the Winston-Salem Journal, explaining that she felt more pressure to save jobs than use that money to make classes smaller.

Know of more cuts to the classroom at the local level? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com

 

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Governor Pat McCrory has said repeatedly he plans to sign the 2014 budget passed last week–and with pride, thanks in part to the fact that it preserves teacher assistant positions, which are particularly important to him.trackingCuts-web-600

But on the ground, we’re already seeing local school districts cutting teacher assistants positions as they are faced with sizable shortfalls in their budgets that were handed down from the General Assembly.

The Chief Financial Officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Philip Price, explained to N.C. Policy Watch last week that this year’s budget actually spends $105 million less on teacher assistants than was originally budgeted for 2014 last summer– and this move comes on top of years of huge cuts to TAs.

Here’s what we know so far:

Got more cuts to the classroom to report? Email me at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com or give me an old-fashioned phone call at 919-861-1460. I’ll be Tracking the Cuts once again this year.

 

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Last week, I wrote about a bill that the General Assembly passed that would allow private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

That bill, SB 793, or ‘Charter School Modifications,’ also ended up with no protections for LGBT students at charter schools, even though an earlier version of the legislation did have that language in there.

So where’s the bill now? It’s currently waiting on Gov. McCrory’s signature, who has until Friday to sign it.

Previously he said he’d veto any bill that shielded charter school employees’ salaries from the public eye, but last we’ve heard from Gov. McCrory, he was working with his legal counsel to review just how good (or bad) a job this legislation does at keeping charter schools as transparent as their traditional public school counterparts.

Recently, eastern North Carolina charter school operator and profiteer Baker Mitchell has pushed back hard against having to disclose the salaries of his charter school employees, repeatedly batting away requests from local media and the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

He is also a frequent campaign contributor, having given $8,000 to Gov. McCrory’s campaign and $5,000 to Sen. Jerry Tillman, a principal sponsor of S793.

Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board and has a heavy hand in steering state-level charter school policy, submitted his resignation for his board seat to Senator Phil Berger last week, citing time constraints associated with too many commitments.

Along with fellow Board member Paul Norcross, who also submitted his resignation with a much more colorful letter, Mitchell has been a target of recent ethics complaints (see here and here), though no violations of state ethics law have been confirmed.

Stay tuned as we track this legislation.

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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.