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On the heels of Gov. McCrory’s newest teacher compensation proposal, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposed yesterday his own smaller-scale solution to improving the abysmal teacher pay situation in North Carolina.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposes license plates to boost teacher pay

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest proposes license plate revenue as one way to boost teacher pay

License plates.

Okay, to be fair, that’s not his entire plan – but it is the face of it.

Forest introduced draft legislation to members of the Ed Oversight committee that would create a Teacher Endowment Fund earmarked for compensating public school teachers who improve student outcomes in their classrooms.

One way Forest proposes to fund the endowment is with the sale of license plates that say “I Support Teachers.” In his bill, the Lieutenant Governor modified existing law that establishes a license plate option with the words “I Support Public Schools,” which was never created due to a lack of interest. Forest crossed out “Public Schools” and replaced it with “Teachers.”

WRAL reported that the state’s most popular specialized license plates, which are the ones that contribute to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, only generate annual revenue amounts of $500,000.

But Forest told reporters yesterday that he hopes the endowment will generate billions of dollars in revenue over the long term.

Perhaps that’s possible with some of the other options in his bill that would funnel money into the endowment. Corporations and individuals will be allowed to make tax-deductible donations to the fund, and Forest told committee members that he personally planned to embark on fundraising by approaching corporations and asking them to donate.

No matter how much is raised, Sen. Josh Stein worried that the endowment funds could ultimately just get thrown in with the big General Appropriations pot, much like what happened to the lottery funding that was originally intended to fund certain areas of education.

The bill includes the option for the General Assembly to appropriate money directly to the endowment, but Forest told reporters yesterday there would be no initial “ask” for the fund during this upcoming short session.

Attorney General Roy Cooper today filed a notice of appeal of  Senior U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox’s December 7 ruling that the state’s offering of a specialty “Choose Life” license plate to drivers, without a corresponding plate supportive of reproductive freedom, was unconstitutional.NCCHOOSE

“It’s unfortunate that the state has chosen to prolong what is really a very clear-cut First Amendment issue,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation — a plaintiff in the case.  “The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently ruled that anytime the government creates an avenue for private speech, it cannot restrict that avenue to only one side of a contentious debate. This case is ultimately about the right of North Carolinians of all political beliefs to have equal access to avenues for the free expression of ideas, and we look forward to making our arguments before the Court of Appeals.”

After the legislature approved the “Choose Life” license plate in 2011, some members proposed amendments that would authorize an additional plate stating “Trust Women. Respect Choice,” or simply “Respect Choice.” The legislature rejected all those amendments.

In the case before Judge Fox, the state argued in part that the “Choose Life” plate was protected government speech and thus constitutional. Fox, though, called that argument a “stretch,” given that the state advertised the specialty plate program as a chance for North Carolina drivers “to show off [their] special interests,” and held that “the State’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”