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This morning’s Greensboro News & Record gets it just about right with an editorial entitled “Just the essentials.”

“The legislature’s ‘short’ session convenes today with one essential purpose: to make adjustments to the second year of the biennial state budget.

There’s other work that needs to be done, and some things that should not be done.

In the first category:

* Pay raises for teachers.

Gov. Pat McCrory outlined his proposal last week. It includes substantial raises in starting salaries and for teachers in the first few years of their careers. More experienced teachers also would see increases. The legislature should flesh out and approve a plan to improve teacher compensation and simultaneously revoke its ill-conceived directive for school systems to designate one-fourth of eligible teachers to receive bonuses if they surrender their tenure rights.

* Stricter coal ash regulation.

The massive spill of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden in February alarmed politicians of both parties who had ignored the issue of safe storage for years. Now is the time to set Duke Energy on a course of corrective action and put in place new regulations to protect water.

* Medicaid expansion.

Last year’s decision to reject federal funding to broaden eligibility left an estimated 300,000 or more residents without health care coverage. The legislature should correct this mistake.

* Preschool enrollment.

The legislature last year directed stronger efforts for schools to make sure children can read by the end of third grade but didn’t grant additional resources to get the job done. One way is to pay for more at-risk 4-year-olds to attend prekindergarten programs.

Now, what the legislature should not do…

Click here to read the rest of the editorial.

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At a Tuesday morning roundtable sponsored by Dell, Intel and the N.C. Business Committee for Education, Gov. Pat McCrory spoke to educators and business leaders who were gathered at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to strategize about ways to improve teacher effectiveness and next generation learning.

Using the opportunity to reiterate his education goals for the upcoming legislative session, which include paying all teachers more, McCrory hammered home his idea to create a “career pathway plan.”

“We want to ensure teachers have a career…and not a temporary stopover,” said McCrory, explaining that currently teachers have no way to move up in their profession unless they move into higher-paying administrative roles – a career move that not all practitioners are interested in making.

In addition to proposing a two percent average pay increase for all teachers and paying beginning teachers even more, McCrory proposed last week to create a long-term plan that would entice more teachers to stay in the profession by seeing salary increases that are linked to their work as teachers.

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WUNC’s Dave DeWitt posted last night a reply sent by Sen. David Curtis (R-Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln) to teacher Sarah Wiles, who emailed the General Assembly about her frustrations with the state of the teaching profession and the unwillingness on the part of lawmakers to pay teachers a decent salary.

Sen. Curtis wasn’t having what she had to tell him.

From: Sen. David Curtis

Date: May 12, 2014 at 9:46:57

Dear Sarah,

I have given your e-mail titled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” some thought, and these are my ideas.  A teacher has an incredible influence on students–for good or for bad. My teachers, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders had a great influence on my decision to go to college which was not a family tradition. My concern is that your students are picking up on your attitude toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer:

1.    You expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are.

2.    You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher

3.    You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.  If he objects, explain to him that a judge has ruled that the taxpayers of North Carolina must provide this benefit to every public school teacher. Surely your new employer wants to give better benefits than the benefits you received as a poorly compensated teacher.

4.    Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average.  Tell him that may be true, but to keep that confidential because the teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay.

I support the teacher pay raise but am very concerned that the teachers union has successfully presented to the public a deceptive view of total teacher compensation that is simply not consistent with the facts.

Sincerely,

Senator David Curtis

Head over to WUNC to read Sarah’s letter.

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State Rep. Nelson Dollar said he anticipates the state will be able to patch the $445 million shortfall for next year and use money from budget cuts for modest teacher and state employee salary raises.

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

“The question is will we be able to pay teachers and state employees or have increase, modest though they might be, and… keep on track with raising beginning teacher pay,” Dollar said. “The answer is yes.”

Dollar, a Wake County Republican and chief House budget writer, made his comments Monday at a reporters’ roundtable held in downtown Raleigh.

The N.C. General Assembly short session begins on Wednesday, when lawmakers arrive to begin making revisions to the upcoming budget year and deal with proposals for coal-ash cleanup, teacher and state employee raises and more.

Dollar, who said there will be cuts, or “budget reductions,”  coming, but didn’t say from where with lawmakers still waiting to see a proposed budget from Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

‘There will be budget reductions, yes. There will be budget reductions in the various agencies,” Dollar said. “That will flow right back into raises.”

He said he did not anticipate an across-the-board percentage cut, but expected cuts to be “much more thoughtful than that.”

Dollar also said:

  • The Medicaid shortfall may be lower than the estimated $130 million shortfall currently projected, though Dollar did say that the continuing problems with the NC TRACKS Medicaid billing system makes it difficult to project accurately.
  • No major changes to Medicaid system this year. Any reforms to the $13 billion system will come with significant legislative input, Dollar said. “We need to keep momentum moving forward on Medicaid reform,” Dollar said. “It’s going to take a while to get the system that we want.”
  • Less babysitting of the UNC system? Dollar, in mentioning that the UNC Board of Governors now consists completely of appointments by Republican legislative leaders, said he expects the General Assembly will dictate less about how the UNC should make cuts. “There’s a lot of interest in letting them do their work,” he said. He added, “A lot of what they’re doing is evaluating the whole system.”
  • No independent redistricting process  any time soon. Dollar said he doesn’t see much desire at all in the Republican-led legislature to hand over redistricting responsibilities to a non-partisan group. “I get asked that sometimes by my colleagues in the other party and I always remind them that we introduced bills and they refused to take them up or consider them,” he said. “So, it’s sort of, it is what it is. I don’t see that moving anywhere anytime soon.”
  • Interested in the Speaker job? “I would certainly be willing to serve in any capacity that the caucus would choose,” Dollar said. “But my focus right now is solely on the budget.”
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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.