NC Budget and Tax Center

TABOR would guarantee a permanent place at the bottom for North Carolina

State lawmakers would like to amend North Carolina’s state constitution in ways that would undermine our ability to adequately meet the needs of a growing and changing state and impede our ability to build today for a strong economy for the future. These amendments would reduce annual state revenue by nearly $2 billion if implemented in 2015, meaning state funding cuts to important public investments that drive the state forward – our public schools, affordable higher education, safe and healthy communities, and modern infrastructure.

Colorado, which enacted TABOR in 1992, serves as a cautionary tale regarding the perils of taking such a path. The state suspended the law for five years in 2005 in response to a sharp decline in public services. As a result of TABOR, Colorado went from the middle of the pack to the bottom among states in regards to state support for public education and initiatives that serve children. Regarding Colorado, an updated 2015 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights:

  • Colorado fell from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th in the nation to 48th.
  • Colorado fell to near the bottom of national rankings in providing children with full, on-time vaccinations.
  • The share of low-income children in the state who lacked health insurance doubled, making Colorado the worst in the nation by this measure

North Carolina has ALREADY experienced erosion in state support for public schools, higher education and early childhood programs in recent years and currently ranks near the bottom among states in many areas. The implementation of these constitutional amendments would all but guarantee a last place finish in every race, every year.

  • North Carolina already ranks 43rd in average pay for our teachers.
  • North Carolina had the largest decline among states in average teacher salaries from 2003-04 to 2013-14.
  • North Carolina ranks 41st in change in state spending per student at 4-yr public universities since 2008

TABOR would make sure that we are unable to boost investments in early childhood initiatives, public schools, and public colleges and universities at a time when doing so is important to North Carolina becoming a more competitive and attractive state.

Contrary to the saying that if you’re at the bottom the only way to go is up, if TABOR comes to North Carolina, the only fate for the Tar Heel State is a permanent place at the bottom in regards to our commitment to public education.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Six trends that highlight waning state support for public education

Amid major differences between the House and Senate respective budgets, public schools across the state wait to see what level of state support will be provided for public education. The final decision doesn’t just matter for the education of our children but the attractiveness of our communities and the long-term potential of our economy to grow together.

Funding may not solve every challenge in public education, but it certainly can make a difference in ensuring that a quality education for every child can be provided. As I’ve previously highlighted, smart allocation of public dollars can ensure that regardless of where they live in the state, every child receives a quality education, and in so doing an opportunity for them and in turn the economy to do well in the future.

Here are six trends that highlight the impact of state-level budget decisions on public education in North Carolina.

  1. Total state funding for public schools remains below pre-recession level

State funding for public schools has not yet reached its peak level for FY 2008 prior to the Great Recession. For FY 2015, total state funding for public education was $8.04 billion compared to $8.6 billion for FY 2008 when adjusted for inflation. This decline in state funding equates to $578 million in less funding for public schools.

Total Pub Ed Spending

Note: For this blog post, state funding for teacher pay increases are included in total spending for public education. BTC normally backs this particular funding out of the public education budget, as it has historically been included in the Reserves section of the state budget. Accordingly, figures in this blog post may differ from BTC’s other analyses of the state budget.

Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

NC’s opportunity to build upon good start fighting child hunger

For the 2015-16 school year, the NC Department of Public Instruction reports that around 1,200 public schools are eligible to participate in an initiative that aims to fight hunger in high-poverty schools. Referred to as Community Eligibility, this initiative allows eligible high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge.

When children arrive at school hungry, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and do well in the classroom. Accordingly, community eligibility helps ensure that all children in high-poverty schools arrive to class each day fed and ready to learn. Last year, North Carolina got off to a good start with nearly 650 schools (around half of eligible schools) adopting community eligibility to feed more than 310,000 kids. Participating schools note that more NC children are eating school meals because of community eligibility, with a particular increase in the number of children eating breakfast.

The second year of this initiative provides an opportunity for additional eligible schools to join this initiative. With 1,200 public schools eligible for the upcoming school year, this means that hundreds of schools are not currently participating. Eligible schools that are not currently participating in Community Eligibility have until August 31, 2015 to confirm that they will join the initiative.

The impact of Community Eligibility extends beyond ensuring that children arrive to class fed and ready to learn. By eliminating the need to collect school meal applications, schools are able to use their staff more effectively and reduce administrative costs. These cost savings are likely welcomed by local schools amid limited financial resources and tight budgets.

This is not to say that the transition is easy. For example, a key feature of community eligibility is that schools no longer have to collect school meal applications; however, this paperwork has long been key to determining school funding mechanisms and poverty estimates, among other things. However, the USDA and US Dept. of Education have issued a variety of rules intended to address this issue and viable solutions exist for other particular challenges.

North Carolina has an opportunity to build upon its initial success with fighting child hunger through community eligibility. The overall health and prospects for the state will largely depend on the care and attention given to one of our most valuable assets – our youth. Supporting participating schools and getting more eligible schools to join community eligibility helps promote opportunity for all children.

NC Budget and Tax Center

1,200 NC public schools eligible to participate in initiative to reduce hunger in the classroom

A powerful new initiative aimed at reducing childhood hunger will be available to around 1,200 high-poverty schools in North Carolina this upcoming school year. This initiative, known as community eligibility, allows qualifying schools to serve meals free of charge to all students, ensuring that children whose families are struggling to put food on the table have access to healthy meals at school.

Last year, North Carolina got off to a good start with nearly 650 schools using community eligibility to feed more than 310,000 kids. This upcoming school year, hundreds more schools are eligible to participate.

Results show that more NC children are eating school meals because of community eligibility, with a particular increase in the number of children eating breakfast. This means that more children are fueled up and ready to learn at school each day.

When children arrive at school hungry, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and do well in the classroom. By providing schools meals to all of our children free of charge, we are both reducing hunger and increasing their chances of student success. Read more

News

Private Christian school receiving $100,000+ in publicly funded school vouchers accused of knowingly hiring registered sex offender

A private Christian school in Fayetteville that has received more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded school vouchers is now the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that the head of school knowingly allowed a registered sex offender to work on campus. No criminal charges have been filed in relation to the case.

The offender, whose wife was also a teacher at Freedom Christian Academy, was on that school’s campus doing handyman work during the 2011-12 school year, occasionally coming into contact with students, according to a report filed by the Fayetteville Observer.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s office executed a search warrant Wednesday to determine if the head of school, Joan Dayton, knowingly allowed the sex offender, Paul Conner, to work at the school.

Conner was found guilty in 2001 of taking indecent liberties and committing a sexual offense with an 8-year-old child. The offense occurred in 1994, when Conner was 30, and he served two years in state prisons from 2001-2003, according to the N.C. Department of Corrections.

“Yes, it’s a long story they obviously don’t want out,” said Dayton in a February 2012 email response contained in the search warrant that was addressed to another teacher who pointed out that Conner was a registered sex offender. “I have had many talks with him and he like lin [sic] were falsely accused. Do you want to hear the story from me?”

The sheriff’s office also investigated complaints that school officials changed grades for athletes and other favored students.

In a statement emailed to parents Wednesday evening and reported on WRAL.com, Dayton said Conner was simply helping his wife with her classroom after school hours and building some shelving for the school.

Ronnie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office, says the complainants in the investigation—a parent, teacher and former administrator—say otherwise, noting Conner was on the campus multiple times. Search warrant records also indicate Conner was paid for his work.

Based on the findings of the investigation to date and the affidavit in the search warrant, Mitchell said Dayton did conduct a criminal background check on Conner and knew that he was a registered sex offender, but employed him anyway. Once it was revealed to others that he was a sex offender, she terminated his employment, according to the search warrant.

State law says that registered sex offenders cannot come onto school grounds, regardless of whether they would or would not have arranged contact with students in the form of instruction or caregiving.

Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till said this would never happen at the district’s public schools.

“It wouldn’t be allowed. We screen all of our people and the principal does not have discretion,” said Till, with regard to hiring registered sex offenders.

Some with criminal backgrounds of lesser offenses are considered for school-based positions, like those who may have shoplifted in the past, said Till.

“But once you abuse a child, there’s no second chance. You’re finished,” Till said, adding that if Freedom Christian’s head of school somehow made it past the elaborate screening process the public schools use, he’d fire her.

Freedom Christian Academy is one of the top five private schools that have received taxpayer-funded school vouchers, formally known as Opportunity Scholarships.

The private religious school has received $108,254 in public dollars to date—the state’s fifth largest voucher recipient. Twenty-six of its 500+ students have each been able to use up to $4,200 in public funds to pay for tuition at the school.

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. Teachers at private schools do not have to be licensed, and, as noted before, do not have to undergo criminal background checks.

The private voucher schools are also free to pick and choose who can attend their schools, in spite of the fact that they receive tax dollars. Freedom Christian Academy requires its applicants to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord, have at least one parent be a follower of Christ and provide a pastoral reference as part of the admissions process.

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.

The state Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision on the constitutionality of school vouchers within weeks, as the House debates a budget bill that could expand the program significantly, adding nearly $7 million to its coffers.

*Investigative reporter Sarah Ovaska contributed to this report.