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IMG_2341Lt. Governor Dan Forest kicked off a statewide media tour today in Raleigh to promote his “I Support Teachers” license plates — one part of his newly minted North Carolina Education Endowment fund that is aimed at increasing the salaries of the state’s highest performing public school teachers.

“We need to have the best teachers in the world here in North Carolina,” said Forest. “And one of the things that often happens is that we play this game with teachers about how do we fund … teacher compensation for the long term.”

“So every couple years you get the Governor and the legislature to try to find money to help support teacher compensation, generally whatever is leftover in the budget,” continued Forest. “The purpose of the North Carolina Education Endowment fund is to provide a long term solution…to support teacher compensation so we can break the ebbs and flows of the economy.”

Lawmakers passed what they characterize as an average 7 percent raise for teachers during the 2014 legislative session, after several years of no pay raises for teachers. Those raises, however, have in large part gone to newer teachers, with veteran teachers left with little to show for their years-long wait for a pay raise.

Calling it a “lock box fund,” Forest said contributions will sit in the endowment for a period of time in order to grow, then be used to pay the state’s highest performing teachers at a greater rate. The metrics for determining who would qualify as one of the state’s highest performing teachers was not made clear.

There are several ways the NC Education Endowment can be funded, according to Forest:

  • Through the purchase of an “I Support Teachers” specialty license plate;
  • By individual or corporate donations through state income tax forms;
  • Corporations and individuals making stand-alone donations;
  • By appropriations form the general fund by the General Assembly; and
  • Through other methods to be determined in later legislation.

In the law passed this summer that enacted the endowment fund, Forest modified language from the existing law that established a specialty license plate option with the words “I Support Public Schools.” That license plate never ended up being created thanks to a lack of public interest. Forest decided to take that language and cross out “Public Schools” on the license plate and replace it with “I Support Teachers.”

While WRAL reported in May 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, Forest told reporters at the time that he hoped the endowment will generate billions of dollars in revenue over the long term.

During the bill’s debate, Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) 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.

Forest will continue to promote his endowment by highlighting the “I Support Teachers” license plates at DMVs in Greensboro and Charlotte today.

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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.

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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.”