News

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.

News

New study shows growing gap in school funding between wealthy and poor counties

EducationA new study shows the gap in school funding between North Carolina’s wealthiest and poorest counties continues to grow.

The report, published Tuesday by the Public School Forum of N.C., an education policy group in Raleigh, shows that in 2013-2014 (the  most recent data available in the report) the state’s ten highest spending counties doled out an average of $57,497 more per classroom than the ten lowest-spending counties.

Download a copy of the report here. 

That number marks an increase of $739 over the previous year, and it’s 36 percent higher than the gap reported ten years ago in the state. The Public School Forum also points out the startling fact that Orange County alone spends about the same amount of the bottom six counties combined.

From the Forum’s statement:

“The trend lines are clear – our poorest counties continue to fall further behind our wealthier counties in terms of resources available to their local schools,” said Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston. “Even though the ten poorest counties taxed themselves at nearly double the rate of the ten wealthiest counties, the revenue they could generate was substantially lower.”

The large spending gap exists primarily because of the variation in property wealth across the state, which in large part determines how much local revenue can be generated to support public schools.

The report also includes one startling graph that shows how, in 2013-2014, school systems in affluent Orange County dished out more than $4,000 per student, the most of any school system in North Carolina. Compare that to places like Swain County, a relatively low-wealth county in western North Carolina that spent just $383 per student.

The average local spending per student was about $1,500, the report said.

Many education advocates have pointed out that, with state lawmakers passing budgets that slashed millions from school officials’ budget requests, local governments have been forced to pick up the slack. Counties with greater wealth, and greater taxable resources, are clearly more suited for the task, they say.

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News

New report points to segregation in private schools

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bLast month, we reported on the widening racial and economic divisions in North Carolina’s two largest school systems, despite ample evidence that high concentrations of impoverished children in any school can be harmful to students’ performance.

Now, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a Georgia-based advocate for school equity, has issued a new report on virtual segregation in private schools across the country despite programs in 19 states, including North Carolina, tasked with funneling public cash toward increasing the population of low-income children in private schools.

Three years ago, North Carolina did just that with the Opportunity Scholarship Program, despite an outcry from many public education activists. And while the SEF’s report relies on 2012 demographic data (before the creation of this state’s voucher program), the numbers show segregation in private schools, particularly in southern states like North Carolina, is a very real problem.

From the report:

[W]hite students across most of the 50 states are significantly over-represented in private schools, often attending virtually segregated private schools, and usually attending private schools in which under-represented students of color — African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — are virtually excluded. These overall racial patterns among America’s private schools are more severe in the South and especially extreme in the six Deep South states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina) that in the early 1960s both financed private schools and were foremost in blocking governmental mandates for significant public school desegregation. These “freedom of choice” states currently are among the nine Southern states providing public funding to private schools.

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News

WRAL questions the claim that NC’s anti-LGBT law would threaten schools’ federal funding

HB2As we reported this week, numerous education activists, as well as ACLU of N.C. Legal Director Chris Brook, have publicly questioned whether North Carolina’s share of federal Title IX funding—about $4.5 billion—has been put in jeopardy by the legislature’s controversial House Bill 2. 

The decision will likely hinge on an ongoing Virginia court case, but the administration of President Obama and his federal Department of Education has made it clear that it believes the anti-discrimination component of federal education law protects against transgender discrimination too. 

However, chalk WRAL up as skeptics. The network’s Mark Binker ran a “fact check” on the claim Thursday. Using a traffic signal, WRAL handed the claim a yellow light, calling it “overstated.”

From WRAL:

When we examined McCrory’s claims in defense of the law, your fact checkers pointed out he was trying “to confer a degree of certainty about the law that doesn’t appear to exist.” We have the same problem here, although not to the same degree.

The idea that HB2 posses a certain or immediate threat to funding is specious. Any move to withdraw funding from the state would be part of what is typically a lengthy process and could be derailed by what the Fourth Circuit, or eventually the Supreme Court, says with regard to Title IX policy.

However, there is certainly room to make the argument that HB2 eventually could have an impact on federal funding. The Obama administration’s actions with regard to Title IX and transgender policy in other states save the claims related to HB2 and Title IX from running a red, but they do get a yellow light on our fact checking scale.

Of course, in Binker’s article, multiple opponents of the bill, including Brook, point out that there is ample evidence that the legislation’s stance on transgender-friendly policies could eventually pose problems for the state.

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