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lw-1-21Standards and assessment, teacher pay and school vouchers were some of the hottest  education issues that key stakeholders predicted would dominate this year’s legislative session at a breakfast hosted Wednesday by the Public School Forum in Raleigh.

Tom Campbell, host of the weekly talk show NC SPIN, held a special taping of his program at the breakfast, during which he quizzed Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) and others about what lawmakers plan to do this year for education.

“I do think we need to look at expanding it [the school voucher program],” said Horn. “The number of applications alone for these vouchers show the demand by the public.”

“We need to watch it very carefully,” Horn added. “I’m not at all suggesting that we fling the doors open, but we have got to allow parents to take control of the education of their children.” Read More

News

Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore

Asked if he planned to change his approach to paying North Carolina’s veteran teachers by offering them better pay raises during this legislative session than what he had originally sketched out for them in 2014, Senate leader Phil Berger stuck with his game plan on the opening day of the 2015 General Assembly on Wednesday.

“We passed last session one of the largest pay raises teachers have seen in North Carolina,” Sen. Berger (R-Guilford, Rockingham) said during a press conference he held jointly with newly minted Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)

After much political wrangling, lawmakers passed an average 7 percent pay raise for teachers in 2014–but those at the beginning of their careers were the ones who saw the largest bumps in pay. Many veteran teachers saw very small salary raises after coping with several years of frozen salaries, and should expect more of the same for 2015 based on salary plans presented last year.

“I think we’ve made a commitment, and I think it’s one of the things the Senate is intending to do and I think the House is and the Governor as well, is to get the beginning pay up to $35,000,” Berger said, not directly addressing the question of veteran teachers, some who had as much as 30 years of experience only receiving a 0.3 percent pay bump last year. Read More

Commentary

Education 1If you care at all about the actions of the  North Carolina General Assembly, your “must read” for this morning on the first day of the 2015 legislative session should be this excellent overview of what’s on the table and at stake in the world of public education by NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner.

Wagner’s report summarizes the situation when it comes to funding, teacher pay, testing, vouchers, charters, grading, textbooks and multiple other key issues. Here’s the intro:

“As members of the North Carolina General Assembly make their way back to Raleigh this week for the 2015 legislative session, many have education at the top of their agendas—which is no surprise given that the lion’s share of the state budget is devoted to public schools.

After years of frozen salaries, the busy 2014 session saw large pay bumps for beginning teachers and relatively small raises for veteran teachers—but those raises came at the expense of teacher assistants and classroom supplies as well as cuts to other critical areas of education spending.

The salary increases also came with a promise of even more raises to come in 2015.

But as North Carolina faces a year in which some predict tax cuts will lead to inadequate state revenues that leave lawmakers with little choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul, what can we expect for our public schools?”

Click here to find out.

Commentary

In an opinion piece published this morning by the News and Observer, Hendersonville high school English teacher Chris Gilbert acknowledges the recent pay raise bestowed upon teachers by state lawmakers (significant for some and minuscule for others), but says he believes it is not demonstrative of politicians’ renewed commitment to public education.

Now, certain politicians can claim [the teacher pay raise of 2014] represents a renewed commitment to public education, and they secretly hope the pay increase will distract us from recent events that challenge this false narrative and reveal their true intentions.

We, however, have not forgotten the recent past.

We remember the recent plan to “reward” the top 25 percent of a district’s educators with small raises in exchange for relinquishing due process rights.

We remember that North Carolina’s teachers were recently among the lowest paid in the country.

We remember the passing of a state budget that led various districts to cut teacher assistants.

We remember a damaging bill passed last year that eliminated class size caps in early grades.

We remember the reduction of textbook funding from over $111 million in 2009 to $23.3 million in 2014.

We remember the implementation of the unconstitutional voucher program that siphons funds from public education to private schools.

We remember changes to the tax structure that have decreased revenue and threatened sustainable funding for teacher pay, our education system and other essential services.

This list could certainly continue, but the point should be clear: Recent state history reveals serious intent, and multiple attempts, to dismantle public education in order to justify privatization and create profit opportunities in the public sector.
Commentary

It’s been about a month since North Carolina’s legislature wrapped up the short summer session and headed home to begin campaigning ahead of November’s election.

Former Governor Jim Hunt writes in a must-read editorial that lawmakers need to stop boasting about the modest pay raise afforded to teachers this year, and worry about whether North Carolina will be able to attract and keep high-quality teachers in the future.

The four-term governor notes in Saturday’s News & Observer:

Jim_HuntIt’s not just poor pay, but working conditions for teachers have deteriorated with rising class sizes, fewer textbooks and supplies, cuts in teaching assistants and political leadership that too often disparages teachers.

While both political parties deserve to share some of the blame, the fact is that as our economy improves, the current state leadership continues to keep our public schools on a bare subsistence diet and makes education policies that are an affront to teachers, especially experienced ones.

Teachers are a smart bunch. The recent pay raises have been sold as 7 percent – but that’s not what many teachers are seeing in their paychecks. Young teachers are getting a modest raise, but those veteran teachers who have worked and sacrificed to give our children a good education have seen the longevity pay they counted on abolished. And the new salary schedule treats them very unfairly. A teacher in Clayton wrote that she got a raise of only $47.60 per month. One Wake County teacher told WRAL-TV that when she saw her increase was only 1.39 percent she “sat down and cried.”

Not surprisingly, many North Carolina teachers are voting against education cuts with their feet. States like Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas are actively recruiting them. (The Houston School District just hired 28.) Other teachers are retiring early, and many top teachers are going into better paying jobs in business and science.

I think we should be especially alarmed by the message current policies and low teacher pay is sending to the young people of North Carolina who should be our “future teachers.”

Enrollment in Schools of Education on our University of North Carolina campuses has dropped precipitously. I received my undergraduate degree in the School of Education at North Carolina State University. Over the last several years new enrollment in my alma mater’s program has gone down every single year – a drop of 52 percent in four years.

At UNC-Greensboro (my teacher mother’s alma mater) total undergraduate enrollment in the School of Education has gone down 44 percent in the last six years.

Where will our future teachers come from? Will we even have enough to teach our kids?

Once North Carolina had a Teaching Fellows Program that attracted “the best and brightest” of our students with four-year scholarships if they promised to teach for four years or more. Now the legislature has abolished it.

I believe the status of our public schools and teachers is the No. 1 concern of North Carolina’s resident today. Some say we don’t have the resources and can’t do any better. I know that we can.

Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser believed we could when he supported the establishment of public kindergarten in 1973 and raised teacher pay to 27th in the nation.

In 1996 I campaigned for governor on a platform of raising teacher pay to the national average. In 1997 we built a bipartisan coalition with support from Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, education advocates and teachers to support the Excellent Schools Act. And over the next four years we increased teacher pay by almost 33 percent, raising pay to the national average and 20th in the country.

It is my hope that when the General Assembly convenes in 2015, there will be a new sense of cooperation and a firm commitment to do three things:

First, respect veteran teachers by restoring longevity pay and giving them the minimum 5.5 percent raise they were sold.

Second, increase salaries for all teachers, moving North Carolina to the national average in the next four years.

Third, improve working conditions for our teachers and send the message that North Carolina values its teachers.

That will show the real respect that North Carolina teachers deserve.

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