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NC Budget and Tax Center

Amid major differences between the House and Senate respective budgets, public schools across the state wait to see what level of state support will be provided for public education. The final decision doesn’t just matter for the education of our children but the attractiveness of our communities and the long-term potential of our economy to grow together.

Funding may not solve every challenge in public education, but it certainly can make a difference in ensuring that a quality education for every child can be provided. As I’ve previously highlighted, smart allocation of public dollars can ensure that regardless of where they live in the state, every child receives a quality education, and in so doing an opportunity for them and in turn the economy to do well in the future.

Here are six trends that highlight the impact of state-level budget decisions on public education in North Carolina.

  1. Total state funding for public schools remains below pre-recession level

State funding for public schools has not yet reached its peak level for FY 2008 prior to the Great Recession. For FY 2015, total state funding for public education was $8.04 billion compared to $8.6 billion for FY 2008 when adjusted for inflation. This decline in state funding equates to $578 million in less funding for public schools.

Total Pub Ed Spending

Note: For this blog post, state funding for teacher pay increases are included in total spending for public education. BTC normally backs this particular funding out of the public education budget, as it has historically been included in the Reserves section of the state budget. Accordingly, figures in this blog post may differ from BTC’s other analyses of the state budget.

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News

Common Core picMembers of a panel tasked with reviewing and possibly replacing the controversial Common Core academic standards convened Monday to unveil their draft recommendations on how to restructure math and English language arts academic goals for grades K-12 in North Carolina.

I couldn’t be there yesterday, but several media outlets covered the meeting.

From the News & Observer:

The Academic Standards Review Commission met Monday to discuss draft recommendations for changes to Common Core, national standards for English and math that cover kindergarten through 12th grade. The proposals call for a restructuring of high school math, adopting Minnesota standards for kindergarten through 8th grade math, a streamlining of English goals, and making more opportunities for students to write.

The state adopted Common Core in 2010. It is not a curriculum, but a set of detailed goals students should achieve by the end of each grade. Schools are entering their fourth year using the standards, but the goals continue to be a target of criticism. The commission, a group of political appointees, was charged with reviewing the standards and sending their recommendations for changes to the legislature and the State Board of Education by the end of the year.

The N&O’s Bonner reported that those reviewing the Common Core math standards recommended going back to teaching Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II separately, rather than in an integrated fashion over three years as Common Core suggests.

Reviewers looking at the English language arts standards focused on areas that were developmentally inappropriate and came down on the Common Core for moving too far away from writing instruction.

“I think we can generally agree that writing is falling to the wayside,” said high school English teacher and commission member Katie Lemons. Read More

News

“I feel like our kids are being held hostage by the General Assembly’s lack of a budget.”

That’s the word from Yancey County Schools’ superintendent Tony Tipton, who says that lawmakers’ failure to reach a deal on a two year state budget means students haven’t been able to learn how to drive over the summer.

From the Asheville Citizen-Times:

The other big wild card in school funding this year is whether the state will continue paying for driver’s education classes. The Senate budget would eliminate funding and the House would continue it.

That has left many WNC school officials reluctant to continue their driver’s ed programs past the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year June 30 for fear that they would have to pay all of the cost with local funds.

Some systems stopped classroom instruction but allowed students who had completed classwork to get in their time behind the wheel. Others just halted their programs altogether, said Lee Roy Ledford, head of a private company that employs 60 people providing driver’s ed instruction in nine WNC school systems.

“Probably half of our faculty or staff is sitting idle right now,” he said.

“I get calls every day from parents: ‘What about my kids’ driving?’ ” Tipton said. “I feel like our kids are being held hostage by the General Assembly’s lack of a budget.”

Both Jackson and Buncombe schools said they are looking at the prospect of charging $300 per student for driver’s ed if the Senate position prevails.

Teacher assistants are taking tough hits as well in Western NC.

The General Assembly has steadily cut funding for teacher assistants in recent years. Jackson schools at first were able to use local money to keep from laying off assistants, but eventually Murray said he decided, “That is a bleeding wound that I can’t keep let happen,” and had to make adjustments.

Assistants now don’t work when school is not in session. Many also work in school lunchrooms or drive buses to piece together enough hours to be full-time employees.

More than 60 percent of school funding in North Carolina comes from the state. WNC school officials say local sources of funds have already been stretched to fill in for previous state funding shortfalls.

Scared off by the prospect of potentially losing their jobs each year, many TAs have left their jobs voluntarily in Yancey County.

Keeping assistants has already become more difficult than it should be because the General Assembly seems to argue every year over how many to pay for, Tipton said.

“Over the last six years, some of ours have left and said it’s just too disheartening” to wonder each summer whether they will have a job when school begins, he said.

Read the full story on the effects of the NCGA’s budget stalemate here.

News
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Gov. Pat McCrory at the NC Chamber’s 2015 Conference on Education

As House and Senate lawmakers continue to fight over whether or not to fully fund early grade classroom teacher assistants for the upcoming school year, Governor Pat McCrory told education advocates and members of the business community at a NC Chamber of Commerce conference on Thursday that he wants to get the entire debate out of Raleigh.

“What I refuse to do is to get into the debate on the state making the decision for each school,” McCrory said of the need for teacher assistants, which he believes should be in every first, second and third grade classroom.

“What I think we ought to do in the budget,” said McCrory, who added that he expressed his views strongly to legislative leadership Thursday morning, “is that I think we ought to give the same set amount of money with the necessary increases due to the increase in students in North Carolina and let the schools decide if you want [teacher] assistants, if you want more teachers, or if you want a combination of both.”

Senate and House lawmakers are staring down the sixth week of a budget stalemate, thanks in part to their inability to come to a decision on whether or not to fire 8,500+ TAs in order to reduce classroom sizes in the early grades. The Senate wants to cut TAs, while the House wants to keep them funded at last year’s levels.

Teacher assistants gathered in Raleigh Thursday morning to decry the possible cuts, according to WRAL.

With school starting in many areas within the next week or two, many local districts have begun laying off TAs or avoiding making new hires while lawmakers delay making final budget decisions.

Lawmakers have passed two temporary spending measures to keep government operations going while they negotiate a final budget, but the measures lack $25 million in teacher assistant funds that existed during the prior year, forcing some districts to make calls on staffing TAs before a final budget has even passed.

McCrory said Thursday that every school has different needs, and it should be up to the local superintendents and principals to decide whether or not they need teacher assistants.

“I want to give you [local districts] as much flexibility as possible,” said McCrory. “I want to provide enough money where if teacher assistants are needed, they can hire teacher assistants. If they don’t want the teacher assistants, then they can hire more teachers.”

News

Voucher-mailer-front and backThe push to get folks to sign up for North Carolina’s controversial school voucher program — now ruled constitutional by the state’s highest court — is back on with new mailers and a video encouraging parents to get a private school education for their child at the taxpayer’s expense as lawmakers consider expanding the program nearly two-fold for the upcoming year.

“NC Supreme Court rules YES! for OPPORTUNITY!” headlines a mailer sent out by school voucher proponent Parents for Educational Freedom NC (PEFNC), an organization dedicated to pushing school privatization efforts and bankrolled largely by the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart).

Directing parents to a website with their own name in the URL, families can use the mailers to look up whether or not they are eligible to receive $4,200 taxpayer-funded vouchers to use for private school tuition. The website includes a video of former NBA All Star and Tar Heel basketball player Antawn Jamison endorsing the program.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled last month to uphold the Opportunity Scholarship program, in spite of the fact that private schools have virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

The move reversed a 2014 ruling finding the program to be unconstitutional. “The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood wrote at the time.

Those private schools, the majority of which are religious but can also include home schools that have just one student, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.

Now, parents are free to use state funds to send their children to private schools — and the school voucher program is likely to expand.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million in taxpayer dollars to be used for the Opportunity Scholarships beginning in 2014. The House’s 2015-17 budget proposal passed earlier this summer proposes expanding the school voucher program from $10 million to $17.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Senate’s proposal does the same as the House, but with recurring funds instead and for both years of the biennium.

With House and Senate lawmakers still hammering away behind closed doors at a 2015-17 final budget, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the program could be expanded even further — stay tuned.