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Gov. Pat McCrory unveils his recommended 2015-17 state budget

Governor Pat McCrory unveiled his recommended $21.5 billion budget Thursday, which continues his promise to boost beginning teacher salaries up to a minimum $35,000 a year but does not provide significant increases for veteran teachers and makes yet another cut to the state’s university system.

“We’re changing the basic paradigm of how we evaluate and distribute our limited tax dollars,” McCrory told reporters Thursday. “The new paradigm is directing our monies toward where we’re having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is and based upon the market performance…we’re really speaking in a different paradigm that’s more market-oriented than civil service oriented.”

More than half of McCrory’s 2015-17 recommended state budget is devoted to education. An additional $200+ million is spent on fully funding student enrollment growth in K-12 education over the next two years, and around $84,000 is tagged for increasing beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 (which the General Assembly approved last year) to $35,000 beginning this fall.

While veteran teachers did not receive significant pay bumps in spite of the fact that many say they were cheated out of raises during last year’s much touted teacher pay raise, McCrory’s new budget director, Lee Roberts, emphasized that eligible teachers would still move along the newly-enacted state salary schedule if McCrory’s budget passes.

The old salary schedule for teachers had previously been frozen, Roberts said. The state’s new system provides teachers with pay bumps every five years.

McCrory’s budget hits the University of North Carolina system with a 2 percent funding decrease, also known as “allowing flexibility to achieve efficiencies.”

That cut comes on top of years of budget cuts to the state’s strapped universities. In addition, universities would also be capped at $1 million with regard to how many state dollars they can spend toward private fundraising efforts.

McCrory told reporters that he’s consulted with UNC leaders.

“We’ve talked to the university leaders about this and what they like is the flexibility we’re giving them, said McCrory. “Instead of the politicians out of Raleigh telling them how to find savings, we’re giving them the flexibility to do that.”

The word flexibility was a commonly used one in today’s budget reveal.

“In the past, they’ve [UNC] gotten the directive of what to reduce or increase out of Raleigh. Those days are ending. We want to give that flexibility to our universities and our community colleges and, by the way, our superintendents,” McCrory said.

Other education-related takeaways from the Governor’s budget: Read More

News

After a slow start thanks to snow and ice wreaking havoc on legislative meeting schedules for the past two weeks, members of the House K-12 Education committee finally gathered this morning to get acquainted and begin moving legislation.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), co-chair of the committee, introduced House Bill 18, “Planning Year for CIHS,” which would provide institutions seeking Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) status (also known as early college high schools) with a planning year prior to opening.

Members of the committee approved the bill, but stripped its $750,000 appropriation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Education Innovation.

Also up for debate was HB35, “Education Innovation Task Force,” which Rep. Elmore said would offer a more permanent solution for the work of the Education Innovation study committee by establishing a permanent entity to examine innovative practices happening in schools across the state of North Carolina.

The task force would comprise 19 politically appointed members that would include teachers, parents, administrators and lawmakers.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin, Wayne) stressed the importance of choosing for the task force teachers and school officials who are near the end of their careers. “I have found in my district a tremendous hesitancy for school teachers and school personnel to speak up out of various concerns that they have from the administrative level,” said Dixon.

“There’s great wisdom to be gained once teachers who have been in the trenches for a long time understand where the problems are and are unencumbered by the fear of retaliation if they speak up,” said Dixon.

Members approved HB35.

Earlier this morning, the joint education appropriations committee met to continue the orientation process before getting down to work on the state education budget. For a thorough look at how the state funds North Carolina’s schools, check out this presentation by the Fiscal Research Division’s Brian Matteson.

News

K12, Inc.A report released Thursday blasts K-12, Inc.-backed California Virtual Academies (CAVA), that state’s largest provider of online education, for producing few graduates and directing large amounts of revenue toward advertising, executive salaries and profit — while paying its teachers less than half the average wage traditional public school teachers earn.

“It is too easy for kids to fall through the cracks in CAVA’s current online schooling system,” said Donald Cohen, executive director for In the Public Interest, the Washington-based think tank that penned the report. “We are calling on California to immediately increase oversight of online education to ensure students are receiving a quality education.”

Notable findings of the report include:

  • In every year since it began graduating students, except 2013, CAVA has had less than a 50 percent graduation rate, while California’s traditional public school graduation rate has hovered around 80 percent;
  • Some CAVA students log into their virtual classroom for as little as one minute a day, which is enough to give the charter its daily attendance revenue from the state;
  • While K12 Inc. paid almost $11 million total to its top six executives in 2011-12, the average CAVA teacher salary was $36,150 that same year — close to half of average teacher pay in California; and
  • In December 2011, the California Charter Schools Association called for the closure of CAVA in Kern County because the school did not meet its renewal standards.

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News

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated the much-lauded NC Teaching Fellows program, which prepares and provides for students eager to enter into a teaching career in their home state. As the last of the Teaching Fellows are set to graduate this spring, the program’s sponsor has released a retrospective report on the program’s impact since its inception in 1986.

“With declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs at our state’s colleges and universities and increasing numbers of teachers retiring, moving to other states or leaving the classroom altogether, the loss of this highly effective teacher recruitment effort will certainly be felt across North Carolina” said Keith Poston, President and Executive Director, Public School Forum of North Carolina.

Since it began, the [North Carolina Teaching Fellows] has graduated 8,523 Teaching Fellows, 79 percent of whom were employed in the public school system at least one year after completing their initial four-year teaching service requirement and 64 percent still in the public school system six or more years after completing the scholarship program’s service requirement.

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Jerry Tillman

Sen. Jerry Tillman

As the debate over school vouchers rages on before the state Supreme Court today, Senate education committee chair Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) told N.C. Policy Watch he’s not for sending taxpayer dollars to private schools.

“They [private schools] are not regulated and we don’t know what they teach there, do we? Do you know?” said Tillman at the conclusion of Tuesday’s joint education appropriations meeting. A proponent of “school choice,” Tillman said he prefers the charter school model over private school vouchers.

“And do you know who’s the biggest recipient of school vouchers? A Muslim school,” said Tillman. “The Muslim schools are leading the pack. I’m not in favor of that.”

As of last fall, the Greensboro Islamic Academy was the leading recipient of school voucher funds, although recent records provided by the NC State Education Assistance Authority show that the top recipient is now Raleigh’s Word of God Christian Academy, with Greensboro Islamic in second place having received $142,800 in taxpayer funds this year.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the “Opportunity Scholarships” beginning last fall. The vouchers, worth $4,200 per student annually, funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the state’s new school voucher program to be unconstitutional last year, but the program has been allowed to proceed while a court battle over the program’s legality continues.

Tune into WRAL this morning to watch oral arguments in the school voucher case taking place before the state Supreme Court.

Tomorrow, N.C. Policy Watch’s Sharon McCloskey will have a recap of today’s hearing.