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Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore

Asked if he planned to change his approach to paying North Carolina’s veteran teachers by offering them better pay raises during this legislative session than what he had originally sketched out for them in 2014, Senate leader Phil Berger stuck with his game plan on the opening day of the 2015 General Assembly on Wednesday.

“We passed last session one of the largest pay raises teachers have seen in North Carolina,” Sen. Berger (R-Guilford, Rockingham) said during a press conference he held jointly with newly minted Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)

After much political wrangling, lawmakers passed an average 7 percent pay raise for teachers in 2014–but those at the beginning of their careers were the ones who saw the largest bumps in pay. Many veteran teachers saw very small salary raises after coping with several years of frozen salaries, and should expect more of the same for 2015 based on salary plans presented last year.

“I think we’ve made a commitment, and I think it’s one of the things the Senate is intending to do and I think the House is and the Governor as well, is to get the beginning pay up to $35,000,” Berger said, not directly addressing the question of veteran teachers, some who had as much as 30 years of experience only receiving a 0.3 percent pay bump last year. Read More

Commentary

Education 1If you care at all about the actions of the  North Carolina General Assembly, your “must read” for this morning on the first day of the 2015 legislative session should be this excellent overview of what’s on the table and at stake in the world of public education by NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner.

Wagner’s report summarizes the situation when it comes to funding, teacher pay, testing, vouchers, charters, grading, textbooks and multiple other key issues. Here’s the intro:

“As members of the North Carolina General Assembly make their way back to Raleigh this week for the 2015 legislative session, many have education at the top of their agendas—which is no surprise given that the lion’s share of the state budget is devoted to public schools.

After years of frozen salaries, the busy 2014 session saw large pay bumps for beginning teachers and relatively small raises for veteran teachers—but those raises came at the expense of teacher assistants and classroom supplies as well as cuts to other critical areas of education spending.

The salary increases also came with a promise of even more raises to come in 2015.

But as North Carolina faces a year in which some predict tax cuts will lead to inadequate state revenues that leave lawmakers with little choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul, what can we expect for our public schools?”

Click here to find out.

Commentary

Yes, you read the headline right: Charlotte faces another crisis as its third charter school in less than a year –Entrepreneur High School — faces potential closure thanks to low enrollment and financial woes.

The Charlotte Observer’s Andrew Dunn has the run down on what’s happening at Entrepreneur. Here’s the takeaway:

  • The school has only $14 remaining in its bank account;
  • Enrollment is at 30 students, far below the anticipated 180 and statutorily required 65;
  • The school owes more than $275,000 back to the state;
  • The school’s board has removed its founder and principal, Hans Plotseneder, and is looking to a management company to take over the school; and
  • The State Board of Education will make a final decision on the school’s fate in March; however, it’s likely that the school will not be able to make their payroll liabilities between now and then.

What’s also fascinating, as Dunn points out in his story, is that the NC Charter School Advisory Board found serious inadequacies with Entrepreneur’s application, yet approved the school to open anyway. It’s a pattern I’ve observed with schools that have quickly run into problems and have had to shut down.

Looking at the scoring rubric that NCSAB members used to evaluate Entrepreneur’s application, many categories were deemed inadequate by at least one reviewer and many serious questions were posed. Below is a sampling of those questions put forth by reviewers–and it’s unclear if they were ever properly answered during the in-person interview because details of those interviews are not put in writing for the record.

  • Why just the minimum 1/2 of teachers licensed? — Jennie Adams
  • Realistically how many students will have their own laptop or tablet if from the lower income levels that they quote in the statistics? — Jennie Adams 
  • I have concerns about the proposed pay plan and would like more details. I am not sure it will attract the quality candidates needed to make this program work. –Tim Markley
  • RE: Financial Plan — There is not enough money allocated for remediation. School states that it will attract
    highly qualified staff but there are no benefits or salary that match that. There is a parttime
    financial secretary, but who is doing the day-to-day book keeping? — Summary review comments

Check out Entrepreneur’s application with comments from reviewers here.

Commentary
Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

There was once a time in the United States (and not that long ago) in which the idea of guaranteeing every American the opportunity to obtain a free public education all the way through college was a widely — even universally — shared  dream. In the mid-20th Century, states throughout the country worked hard to expand their community colleges and universities and to keep tuition and fees to a bare minimum. Republicans and Democrats were on board. Here in North Carolina, we even enshrined this important value in our state constitution.

And then, in the latter part of the century, the  anti-government, tax-cutting Right reared its backward-looking head. Fueled by millions from reactionary corporate oligarchs, these ideologues commenced a crusade against “government schools” and progressive taxation and within a few decades, thousands of once nearly-free colleges and universities were charging huge, debt-inducing sums to attend.

Now, President Obama, much to his credit, is pushing back against this destructive trend with his proposal to establish a national program — based on work in Tennessee — to make community college free to all students who meet certain requirements. It is an inspired and overdue proposal.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the ideologues are pushing back with absurd and hateful blather about “giveaways” and “freebies.” Listen to Louisiana Governor Booby Jindal as quoted in an editorial in this morning’s Wilmington Star News:

“Why stop there?” he said. “Why not have the government buy a car and a house for everyone?”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. When supposedly serious elected officials equate providing access to public education with giving people free houses and cars, the national political debate has truly sunk to a new low.

As the Star News noted with admirable restraint in response to Jindal: Read More

Commentary

There are a lots of ways that we over-think things in the world of education policy and ignore obvious, common sense solutions.

As this article by an NYU doctoral student from the website OZY.com reminds us today, many such solutions are as simple, practical and cheap as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich:

“Many big public schools are overcrowded to the point that students have to stagger their lunches. This means some kids are eating lunch at 10 a.m. and others at 2 p.m. Considering that a lot of these kids skip breakfast, many of them are going eight hours or more without anything to eat. In fact, a 2013 report by No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit working toward ending childhood hunger, found that 73 percent of teachers say they have students who come to school hungry on a regular basis. Feeding America and the USDA report that, in 2012, 15.8 million kids in the U.S. didn’t have reliable access to food. This hunger, combined with the long wait to eat or the very early lunch, has two big impacts on these kids’ lives….

Luckily, it’s a pretty simple problem to solve. When I was a holistic health counselor at a public high school…I asked the guidance counselors to send me students who would regularly either fall asleep or start fights at 10 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. — the hungriest hours. My theory was that these kids were not angry or petulant, but instead were acting out the effects of their hunger. My prescription? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. PB&Js were an easy, delicious and culturally acceptable way to get healthy energy into students who were struggling so mightily against their own biology. While my results were far from scientific, many of the students I worked with ended up with better grades and fewer trips to the counselor’s office.

PB&Js are far from a panacea. A sandwich cannot address the funding issues, crumbling infrastructure or myriad social burdens our schools and students face in their struggle to learn. However, when we don’t give our students enough food to fuel their brains, we set them up to fail. If we are serious about improving educational achievement and ending childhood obesity, we have to make sure our students have the most basic tools they need to succeed, which in many cases might involve peanut butter and jelly.”

Read the entire article by clicking here.