North Carolina senator talks loans to fund teacher training for teaching assistants

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bAt Policy Watch, we’ve reported extensively on the struggle to recruit and hold onto teachers in North Carolina, particularly given the ongoing back-and-forth over lagging teacher pay in the state.

And as many school leaders have testified, it’s a major problem in the state’s low-performing schools. 

Now, here is some interesting news over the weekend, courtesy of the Salisbury Post, which reported on one freshman GOP senator’s proposal to speed teacher certifications for the state’s teaching assistants. 

From the Post:

Many of North Carolina’s rural counties struggle to attract and retain quality teachers, but State Sen. Tom McInnis believes he has a solution.

During a chamber breakfast event on Friday, McInnis, R-25, described details of a proposal that would provide teachers assistants a loan to take classes at night or during weekends. At the conclusion of the program, participants would receive a degree and be able to teach. Loans would be forgiven if the program participant teaches at a low-performing school for four years, McInnis said.

“I didn’t have enough horsepower up there, being a freshman, but I’m going to get enough horsepower and we’re going to work on this program,” said McInnis, who is nearing the end of his first term in the N.C. Senate.

As McInnis himself notes in the report, it’s worth asking how likely the one-term senator—who represents a rural district that includes Anson, Stanly, Rowan, Richmond and Scotland counties—is to get support for the legislation, but it’s something to follow.

The Post reported that McInnis was responding to a local school administrator’s complaints that the system, like many in North Carolina, continues to struggle retaining teachers or even filling long-posted vacancies.

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News & Observer editorial calls for “big raise” for teachers

EducationN.C. Policy Watch reported this week on the humdrum response to Gov. Pat McCrory’s big teacher pay announcement, an announcement that coupled one-time bonuses for teachers with an average 5 percent pay raise.

Now, like many education advocates who spoke out this week, The News & Observer‘s editorial board has joined a chorus criticizing McCrory and his GOP colleagues in the N.C. General Assembly for failing to do more when it comes to teacher pay.

The editorial wrote that the state’s public school teachers have developed a “strong sense of skepticism about Republican plans to help them.”

As we reported Wednesday, the announcement did not offer specifics on who would receive the raises, a key point here because most advocates point out some of the state’s most experienced teachers have been neglected in recent GOP-led teacher raises or bonuses.

Currently, North Carolina’s average public school teacher pay is mired at 42nd in the nation, exceeding about $47,000. McCrory’s plan would bring average teacher pay to about $50,000, still trailing the leaders in the southeast: Georgia, which pays its teachers an average of about $53,000.

From the N&O:

McCrory’s proposal has some appealing aspects and any increase in base pay is welcome, but at its heart his proposal is an attempt to get past November without having teachers in a full uproar.

Teachers will take the salary increase estimated to cost $250 million. But they don’t really want one-time bonuses estimated to cost $165 million. What they want are fair, predictable state salaries that increase with their experience and aren’t capped at $50,000. What McCrory proposes is giving cash to teachers in an election year when tax revenues are strong. When circumstances are otherwise, teachers will go without.

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North Carolina has spent $12 million on private school vouchers this year

Vouchers14The Citizen-Times of Asheville is reporting this week that North Carolina has spent about $12 million this academic year, out of a budgeted $17.6 million, on the state’s controversial private school voucher program.

The vouchers, provided by the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, offer $4,200 scholarships for low-income children to attend the state’s private schools, which are mostly religious schools. 

From The Citizen-Times:

Statewide, officials received 8,675 new applications for the current school year. Of that number around 6,100 students were deemed eligible.

“I do think that the uncertainly around the court case had to have contributed to some families’ hesitation (to accept scholarships),” said Kathryn Marker, associate director for K-12 programs for the State Education Assistance Authority.

Conservative lawmakers in Raleigh have been ramping up support for the scholarship program in recent years, despite objections to the use of public money on private schools. Critics have also pointed out that private schools lack the same accountability standards as public schools. 

Opponents have also noted that the program could be used to funnel public cash toward schools with arguably discriminatory admissions policies.

As Policy Watch reported in January, one such voucher-eligible school in Lee County was requiring students and parents sign a pledge that denounced homosexuality as “immoral and sinful.” 

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State Board of Education approves limits on out-of-state charter leaders

604-chartMembers of the State Board of Education on Thursday approved a new policy limiting out-of-state membership and officers on charter school boards.

The new policy will require that a majority of the board members and at least 50 percent of board officers for charter schools be North Carolina residents. 

The board’s unanimous vote comes after N.C. Policy Watch reported in February that some state education leaders believed an earlier draft of the policy, which said nothing of board officers, did not go far enough.

“These are taxpayer funds. I believe they should be safeguarded,” board Chairman Bill Cobey told Policy Watch.

Although state staff do not keep data on the number of out-of-state leaders in North Carolina’s growing roster of charters, multiple officials acknowledged that some of the state’s largest charter schools operate with board members and officers who are not living in North Carolina.

Critics questioned how out-of-state residents could lead education in a community in which they did not live. However, the policy approved this week may be a disappointment to some who argued that the state should bar any out-of-state officers for North Carolina charters.

“Think about how local school boards operate,” Yevonne Brannon, of the nonprofit advocacy group Public Schools First N.C. , told Policy Watch.

“They’re from the community. They represent the district. They have an understanding of the community and the kids. There are layers and layers of accountability here for how we fund the schools. If we’re going to have a charter school that’s set up by parents to serve a need in the community, that control should rest with the people who care about the community.”

Last year, lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly approved legislation mandating conflict of interest and nepotism policies for charter school leadership, but the bill left the door open to out-of-state board members and officers.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Providing meaningful teacher pay raise clashes with appetite for tax cuts

Gov. McCrory and state leaders have signaled intentions to include a pay raise for North Carolina teachers in their respective proposed budgets for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016. The specifics of what a pay raise will entail remains unclear. However, what is clear is that providing educators a meaningful raise conflicts with tax policy decisions in recent years.  The priority placed on cutting income taxes for the wealthy and profitable corporations mean that movement to the national average for North Carolina’s teachers will be next to impossible and that progress on teacher pay could come at the cost of other classroom investments critical to students’ success.

The Governor’s proposed teacher pay raise will cost around $250 million but would not get average teacher pay to the national average and would fall short of even leading the southeast region. In addition, because of other priorities highlighted by the Governor – additional funding for broadband connection for schools and more funding to support students with disabilities, among other initiatives – a sustainable way to fund all of these critical investments in classrooms is unlikely. Accordingly, the Governor providing a way to pay for these proposals is critical to ensuring that they can be sustained. And that means revisiting the planned phase-in of reductions to the personal and corporate income tax rates in future years.

Tax cuts enacted since 2013 that largely benefit the well off and profitable corporations will reduce annual revenue by more than $2 billion once all tax changes are fully phased in. These are dollars that otherwise would be available to get average teacher pay for North Carolina teachers to the national average, boost investments in the state’s education pipeline (e.g. eliminate Pre-K waitlists, funding for classroom textbooks, etc.) and other public services. The constrained revenue picture as a result of costly tax cuts in recent years makes such opportunities merely wishful desires. And despite recent news of expected better-than-projected revenue for this current fiscal year, this does not mean we have adequate revenue to meet the needs and priorities of a growing state.

State leaders have expressed a desire to pursue more tax cuts that will further reduce available revenue and that will further make providing teachers a meaningful pay raise impossible – unless significant funding cuts are made to other areas of the state budget. The reality is that tax policy decisions in recent years and a desire to continue this tax-cut approach makes providing North Carolina teachers a meaningful pay raise fiscally unsustainable and unlikely to happen.