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Just weeks after passage of a bill that allows publicly-funded charter schools to hide the salaries of their for-profit education management companies’ employees, State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey requested all charter school boards to disclose the salaries of their for-profit operators by September 30, or face the possibility of being shut down.

In a letter requested by Cobey to all charter school boards dated August 13, N.C. DPI’s CFO Philip Price explains that the new legislation, SB 793 or “Charter School Modifications,” does not change the fact that charter schools must abide by North Carolina’s Public Records Act as well as requirements set forth in their charters that demand them to disclose all employees’ salaries associated with the operation of their schools – whether they be employed by for-profit companies or not.

“After we looked at the law with lawyers, they ensured me it was our [the State Board of Education] authority to ask all charter schools, even for-profit education management organizations, to send all the salary info to us,” said Cobey.

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School-vouchersThe N.C. Court of Appeals rejected an emergency request by the state’s Attorney General and parents to allow taxpayer-funded school vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last week, to be disbursed to private schools while a higher court decides on the fate of the program.

Last Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood found the recently-enacted “Opportunity Scholarship Program” unconstitutional and permanently enjoined disbursement of state funds for that purpose (see our feature story about Hobgood’s decision here). 

Attorneys for the state and parents wishing to take advantage of the school vouchers this fall filed an emergency motion with the N.C. Court of Appeals on Friday requesting that the vouchers, worth $4,200 annually for roughly 2,400 students, be paid out for this school year while the case is appealed.

The attorneys filed their emergency motion before Judge Hobgood released his written order — a premature move, according to attorney Burton Craige, who represents plaintiffs challenging the school voucher legislation.

“If there’s no written order, then there’s nothing to appeal,” said Craige, who said the move to file an emergency petition was an attempt to get around the usual order of business.

The Court of Appeals did make it clear in its decision that once a written order is in place, the state may re-file its motion for a temporary stay in the case, “without prejudice.”

But Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC), a pro-voucher advocacy organization that has hired an out-of-state law firm to intervene in the school voucher litigation, issued a press release today saying the Court of Appeals’ decision immediately paves the way for bringing an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“Today’s decision is disappointing but we’re glad we can now quickly appeal to the highest court to help many Opportunity Scholarship students who have already begun their school year and been thrown into disarray… the Supreme Court overturned a previous temporary injunction ruling once before this year and I am confident they will do the same in this case which will allow the Program to move forward until the merits of the case can be heard.  

Stay tuned for further developments.

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

trackingCuts-web-600Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education approved a budget last week that eliminates 22 teacher assistant positions, thanks to a $911,000 budget shortfall handed down by state lawmakers.

According to chapelboro.com:

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said that while the state budget would allow Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools to shift some money back into hiring TAs if so desired, the legislature slipped in some additional rules that would have resulted in eight more teacher losses than the school system could handle.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro also had to cut 4.5 gifted specialist positions and eliminate some custodial positions.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the city’s school system was able to move those TAs into other vacant positions, but classrooms in grades 4 and 5 will have to cope with less instructional support.

State budget cuts also forced Randolph County Schools to make reductions in force: that district cut 30 media assistant positions for the upcoming year.

RCS’ Public Information Officer Tim Moody said the district does have other vacancies available and it’s possible some of those media assistants were able to step into those jobs, but he wasn’t sure how many.

Each school in the district lost a media assistant position.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill earlier this month that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though he has repeatedly said he would only sign a budget that preserves all TA positions. 

School districts around the state are reporting that they have been forced to eliminate teacher assistants’ jobs and other positions thanks to budget shortfalls passed down to them by state lawmakers.

Do you know of budget cuts school districts are coping with as they begin the academic year? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com 

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Following a presentation today to educators and advocates at an NC Chamber of Commerce event, Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters that if local school districts do not hire people to fill vacant teacher assistant positions, then that action can’t be characterized as a result of a budget cut to TAs handed down by state lawmakers.

“If at the end of this legislative session, if they [LEAs] had teacher assistants in place—in positions—they should all be rehired, based upon the budget,” said McCrory. “If they were vacant or they were using that money for other reasons, you cannot then call that a cut, because they weren’t using the money for teacher assistants.”

Prior to signing the appropriations bill last week, Gov. Pat McCrory said that the fact that this budget preserves all teacher assistants jobs contributed to his decision to sign off on it.  

But according to the CFO of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Philip Price, the 2014 budget that the Governor signed actually spends $105 million less on TAs than what was planned for the upcoming year, which means local school districts will take a 22 percent hit to their teacher assistants – on top of huge cuts to TAs over the past several years. 

Lawmakers have said that this budget simply a reshuffles money that school districts were already spending on other things, like teachers, and that districts could choose to shuffle the money back to TAs if they want.

But years of under funding teacher assistants and public education as a whole has left school districts with little choice but to slash TA positions or leave them unfilled. Some districts have been forced to make the difficult decision of using teacher assistant money for badly needed teacher positions, thanks to state disinvestment. 

McCrory said folks should take a closer look at the language in the budget, which he says should allow local school districts to preserve teacher assistant jobs.

“If you were a teacher assistant last year, you should be rehired this year,” said McCrory.

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A couple of days ago, I reported that Gov. McCrory was reaching out to state school superintendents to figure out a couple of fixes to the education budget that he proudly signed last week. As it turns out, he’s casting a wider net — on Monday, his education staff also met with staff at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to brainstorm solutions, according to Dr. June Atkinson.

“I appreciate the Governor’s office reaching out to us…to find a solution,” Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch yesterday afternoon.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s at issue: educators and advocates around the state are up in arms over two provisions (among many) in the new state budget that they say hurt education: a) the move to stop funding local school districts on the basis of student enrollment growth, and b) a complicated allocation of money that puts funds that would normally go to teacher assistants in a pot for teachers — but school districts have the “flexibility” to move that money around (although some say that’s a false choice).

As a result, local school districts will have great difficulty budgeting and hiring necessary personnel to accommodate more students in their classrooms—and at the same time, they are faced with either instituting a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistants or saving those positions by taking money out of their funding streams designated for teacher positions.

Atkinson said no solution was ultimately crafted between DPI and the Governor’s office on Monday with regard to the enrollment funding issue.

“We are still thinking about how to get to a place where we can help schools do the planning they need to do, like hiring more teachers when enrollment goes up,” said Atkinson. “There’s no solution yet, short of the General Assembly reinstating annual student growth as a part of the base budget.”

McCrory agreed to sign the budget, in part, because it preserved teacher assistants. But local media reports already indicate TA jobs are disappearing as local districts prepare for the upcoming school year, thanks to state budget cuts.

And the provision in the budget that stops funding school districts based on enrollment growth received very little attention from lawmakers as they debated the budget — perhaps because they only had hours to digest it before voting.

Gov. McCrory’s office hasn’t returned inquiries seeking comment on this issue.