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Shifting more of the responsibility for funding schools to localities, as some North Carolina lawmakers are advocating, would trap many children in underfunded schools and force up property taxes.
 
Our K-12 public schools are already suffering from significant cuts in state funding made by the legislature in recent years. For the current school year, state funding per student is 11 percent lower ($653 less) compared to six years ago, taking account of inflation. This has meant fewer teachers and teaching assistants in classrooms, larger class sizes, less money for textbooks and other instructional material, and an average salary for North Carolina teachers that ranks 46th among states.
 
Further reducing the state’s commitment to our school children would make these troubling trends even worse, particularly in poorer school districts, and turn our education system into one of haves and have-nots. That’s because state money helps schools in areas with few local resources fill in the gaps, allowing children who live in those communities to have some of the same opportunities as children who live in wealthier communities. Read More

Increase base teacher pay by 4 percent, increase starting teacher pay to $36,000 by 2016, and reward “excellent” teachers, according to a report released today by CarolinaCAN, a member of a national school choice advocacy group known as 50CAN.

The Gates, Walton and hedge-fund* supported CarolinaCAN released a slick strategy document just a short time before the education community expects Gov. Pat McCrory to put forth his own proposal for increasing teacher compensation.

CarolinaCAN’s Executive Director, Julie Kowal, told NC Policy Watch that her group did not develop the plan in concert with lawmakers–but she has met with them. “I’ve been meeting with legislators and the Governor’s education team over the past several months to preview the pillars of what we’d like to see,” she said in an email.

Anecdotal reports point to North Carolina’s teachers leaving the state in droves after more than five years of a pay freeze and a legislative agenda enacted last year that many say hurt teachers and disincentivize the teaching profession.

A 4 percent pay increase would move North Carolina from 46th in the nation to 38th, just above South Carolina, based on 2012 rankings. That also presumes that other states don’t put into effect their own salary increases for educators.

The report also calls for reforming the salary schedule’s structure so that heftier pay increases come during a teacher’s first five years of service. The report cites research that points to teachers having a greater impact on student learning early on in their careers.

CarolinaCAN calls for reinstating the salary supplement for advanced degrees — but only for those who hold discipline-specific master’s degrees or PhDs. General education degrees don’t positively impact student learning enough to warrant financial compensation.

CarolinaCAN was launched last summer. Among 50CAN’s 2013 goals, the pro-privatization group pledged to run campaigns seeking education policy changes across seven states: Rhode Island, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey & North Carolina.

*While hedge-fund managers have been linked to parent organization 50CAN as well as other state-level CANs, CarolinaCAN rep Julie Kowal asserts that no hedge fund managers directly support the NC spin off, nor are they school privatization advocates.

Fifty-four school boards in North Carolina have now signed on to be plaintiffs in the NC School Board Association’s school voucher lawsuit, which calls into question the constitutionality of providing families with $4,200 annual taxpayer-funded scholarships to use at private schools. (See the end of this post for the full list.)

The North Carolina Association of Educators along with the North Carolina Justice Center also filed a lawsuit late last year seeking to block the school voucher legislation.

On February 1, the NC State Education Assistance Authority began accepting applications for school vouchers. Award notification will begin in March, unless an injunction filed by the NCAE is successful at halting the implementation of the program.

The NCAE has also filed a complaint against the new teacher contract system, which eliminates tenure in exchange for temporary contracts.

With this new system that was put into law last summer, local school districts will award the top 25 percent of teachers with 4-year contracts that may come with $500 bonuses for each of those four years—as long as those teachers give up their tenure prior to 2018, when all teachers will lose it.

According to NCAE President Rodney Ellis, nine school districts have adopted resolutions rejecting the teacher contract system, including Durham, Caswell, Pitt, New Hanover, Cleveland, Alexander, Surry, Mt. Airy, and Iredell/Statesville.

This past weekend, Guilford County came close to adopting a resolution to opt out of the teacher contract system, but tabled that vote for Feb 11, at which time all members of the local school board would be present for a full vote.

It’s unclear what consequences local school districts face if they fail to comply with state law and participate in the teacher contract system.

Plaintiffs that have signed on to join NCSBA’s school voucher lawsuit:

  1. Alamance-Burlington Board of Education
  2. Alexander County Board of Education
  3. Asheboro City Board of Education
  4. Camden County Board of Education
  5. Catawba County Board of Education
  6. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Board of Education
  7. Chatham County Board of Education
  8. Cleveland County Board of Education
  9. Columbus County Board of Education
  10. Craven County Board of Education
  11. Currituck County Board of Education
  12. Davidson County Board of Education
  13. Durham Public Schools Board of Education
  14. Edenton-Chowan Board of Education
  15. Edgecombe County Board of Education
  16. Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education
  17. Gates County Board of Education
  18. Graham County Board of Education
  19. Halifax County Board of Education
  20. Harnett County Board of Education
  21. Hertford County Board of Education
  22. Hoke County Board of Education
  23. Hyde County Board of Education
  24. Jackson County Board of Education
  25. Jones County Board of Education
  26. Kannapolis City Board of Education
  27. Lee County Board of Education
  28. Lenoir County Board of Education
  29. Lexington City Board of Education
  30. Macon County Board of Education
  31. Martin County Board of Education
  32. Moore County Board of Education
  33. Mount Airy City Board of Education
  34. Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education
  35. Newton-Conover City Board of Education
  36. Northampton County Board of Education
  37. Onslow County Board of Education
  38. Orange County Board of Education
  39. Pamlico County Board of Education
  40. Person County Board of Education
  41. Pitt County Board of Education
  42. Polk County Board of Education
  43. Roanoke Rapids Board of Education
  44. Rockingham County Board of Education
  45. Rutherford County Board of Education
  46. Scotland County Board of Education
  47. Stanly County Board of Education
  48. Surry County Board of Education
  49. Transylvania County Board of Education
  50. Vance County Board of Education
  51. Warren County Board of Education
  52. Washington County Board of Education
  53. Whiteville City Board of Education
  54. Yancey County Board of Education

A for-profit online education company will be at the legislature tomorrow to give a pitch to lawmakers about the virtual public charter schools it runs, and profits from, in more than 30 other states.

An executive from K12, Inc., a Wall Street-traded company that gets the bulk of its revenue from running online public schools, is slated to make a presentation Tueaday at the Joint Legislative Education Oversight committee. The hearing begins at 10 am. Tuesday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Buildling.

(Steaming audio of the meeting will be available here, and a copy of the commitee’s agenda is here.)

Mary Gifford, the company’s senior vice-president for education policy scheduled to speak to lawmakers, also spoke last week in front of a virtual charter school study group assembled to craft recommendations for the State Board of Education of how the online-only schools should operate in North Carolina.

At that meeting, Gifford acknowledged low graduation and performance rates K12,Inc.-run schools have had in other states, saying that the company’s schools tend to attract low performing students and the home-based system of education can do little to help those high-school students.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group last Tuesday. Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

Read More

Another “must read” from over the weekend is this essay by Duke University Divinity School professor, Amy Laura Hall in the Durham Herald-Sun. In it, she make the forceful and on-the-money argument that all the talk of a “broken” education system is akin to the scare tactics employed by the evil Mr. Potter in the the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life:

“’Broken?’  Think about it.  Is that the right word for the man who mopped up vomit when a second-grader overindulged in Halloween candy?  Or the woman who remembered my daughter’s cafeteria account number when her little fourth grade mind was otherwise engaged, busy wiggling her newly loose tooth?  Or the cop at the high school who has to deal with one more confounded fender-bender resulting from teens ‘checking one another out’ rather than carefully backing out? To borrow from a cute pop song, the public school system’s ‘not broken, just bent.’  The question we ought to ask is this: Who bent it? Read More