TeachersIn case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in the Fayetteville Observer did a fine job of summing up the continuing war on public school teachers being waged by the state’s political leadership:

After decrying the large teacher shortages that plague school systems across the state and some recent national surveys that put the state at the bottom of the pack for its treatment of teachers (and which also describe a decade-long spiral in North Carolina) , the editorial says this:

“Add to that the legislative dismantling of the state’s teacher-assistant program, lawmakers’ assault on the association that is a weak version of a teachers union, and an attempt to end teachers’ also-flimsy tenure rights, and it’s easy to see why they’re wearing out the exit door.

A pay raise for new teachers, hiking their starting salary to $35,000, may help attract talent to North Carolina schools, but it won’t keep them here for long, because more experienced teachers have made little or no salary headway.

That 10-year trend should be a reminder, too, that the decline in teacher salaries – from around the national median to something approaching the bottom of the barrel – is a bipartisan exercise. It started while Democrats controlled the legislative and executive branches, then was pushed along by the Republicans when they took over.

Our lawmakers can pursue all the educational reform in the world, but it won’t work until we can attract and keep good teachers. We’ll do that when we boost salaries back to the national median.

Let’s be clear: Without a great K-12 education system, most of our other goals are out of reach. And without good, well-paid teachers in our classrooms, our education initiatives will fail.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.


school suppliesIn case you missed yesterday’s Fitzsimon File, be sure to check out the fascinating and damning find from the recent state budget that Chris highlights.

It turns out that conservative state lawmakers have been bragging in the aftermath of the 2015 session about how they revived a tax break for teachers that they previously put on the books in 2011 and then allowed to expire in 2013. The tax break provides a small deduction for teachers (at least, those well off enough to itemize deductions) for their out-of-pocket costs for purchasing classroom supplies up to $250. This means that if a teacher takes the full deduction — meaning they spent $250 or more on supplies — they would save a whopping $14.75 on their state tax bill!

You really can’t make this stuff up. As Chris noted yesterday:

“It [the tax deduction] reimburses teachers for [a tiny portion] of their purchases but also reminds them that the folks currently running things in Raleigh have no intention of properly funding the schools. And they are counting on teachers themselves to pick up the slack.

Thanks to cuts in recent sessions, there are now 7,500 fewer teacher assistants in the classroom before the recession.

Taking the philosophy of the tax credit for supplies to its logical conclusion, teachers who don’t like it and need the extra help in the classroom should stop complaining and hire the TAs themselves and pay them personally. Maybe lawmakers will reward them with another tax break worth a few dollars.

That’s what it has come to in our public schools. Adequately funding the classrooms is apparently no longer on the table.”

The bottom line: It’s hard to know what’s more laughably outrageous — the notion that lawmakers would underfund schools and toss this minuscule crumb in the first place or that they would then go on to brag about it as some kind of real achievement. Whichever the case, it’s clear that: a) state leaders continue to treat North Carolina school teachers as so many disposable units and b) the cynicism surrounding their miserly and shortsighted policy decisions knows few bounds.


Today is the first day of the 2015-16 school year in lots of places throughout North Carolina and editorial pages across the state this past weekend welcomed back the return of teachers and students with some harsh words for the political powers that be.

The Winston-Salem Journal minced no words in an editorial entitled “Teacher shortage: Legislature must end the brain drain”:

“North Carolina once concentrated on providing the best public education it could. But in the first years of the 21st century, Democratic leaders lagged in funding for education. The Republicans have been harder on it.

Some Republicans seem to have made a point of bad-mouthing teachers and the teaching profession. That doesn’t create an atmosphere in which they feel appreciated.

And the legislature has taken more concrete steps to diminish the teaching profession by eliminating the teaching fellows program and stipends for advanced degrees. Right now, as the legislature fumbles around with its budget, teacher assistants hang in limbo, not knowing if they’ll have jobs once the dust settles. Teachers had to take the state to court earlier this year just to retain tenure status.

And despite some movement toward raising salaries, our teachers continue to be underpaid for the important work they do.

Texas and other states have come to North Carolina to recruit new teachers, knowing they can offer better deals. And many teachers have accepted.

Who pays for this backward motion? The students, initially, and then our communities, which wind up with less-educated members and a less-educated workforce that fails to attract the jobs of the future.

Education is the best predictor of future success. If the legislature really wants to bring in new companies and jobs, it would recognize that instead of shortchanging our teachers, our students and our future.”

Here’s the Fayetteville Observer reminding us that the ideological driven move to rewrite the Common Core standards will be very expensive:

“The Academic Standards Review Commission has released some of its preliminary reports on how to revise teaching standards for math and English.

In addition to its curriculum recommendations, the commission added this: Once the revisions are made, the schools will need money for new teaching materials, including textbooks, and a sufficient number of teachers and teacher assistants to carry out the job.

The budget that lawmakers are negotiating doesn’t have that money in it. The Senate, in fact, wants to get rid of at least 8,500 teacher assistants and hire about 3,300 new teachers for lower grades.

We might indeed end up with better schools if the review commission’s advice is heeded. But we need to remember that the Common Core pushback was purely political, rooted in the canard that it’s a federal takeover of education. It’s not. The standards were developed by educators. And they are widely supported by business and the military. Can we really afford this exercise in the politics of education?”

And finally, the Wilmington Star News put it this way in a piece entitled “Let’s support our teachers”:

Read More


Retiree-benefotsLegislative staff pitched a policy solution to lawmakers on Monday that could reduce the state’s $25.5 billion unfunded liability associated with the Retiree Health Benefit Fund by 11.8 percent, producing a larger cost savings than the Senate’s proposal to eliminate retiree health benefits for all teachers and state employees hired after January 1, 2016.

The fix? Shift some of the costs associated with providing fully funded retiree health plans to the federal government. Going that route would require all retirees to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans—and by doing so, retirees shouldn’t be expected to bear more out-of-pocket expenses and the state would save $64 million annually, reducing the total unfunded liability by about $3 billion.

The Senate, on the other hand, wants to address the unfunded liability by eliminating retiree health benefits for new hires beginning in 2016. Some say this option will unfairly shift more costs to the worker and could hurt recruitment efforts, while producing an estimated smaller cost savings of 10 percent as opposed to the 11.8 percent that would come with enrolling retirees into Medicare Advantage plans.

For the full story, head on over to our main site. And you can read the legislative report below.


“They’ve already taken away longevity pay, master’s degree pay, and tenure…and now they’re taking away retirement health insurance,” said North Carolina Association of Educators’ vice president Mark Jewell on Monday.

“The General Assembly is saying to educators thinking of working in North Carolina: please look somewhere else. We don’t want long-term educators in our state,” said Jewell.

Senate lawmakers buried deep in their budget proposal earlier this month a provision that would end health retirement benefits for future teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016. [Click here for the full story.]

NCAE’s Jewell is concerned about the provision’s implications when it comes to recruiting and retaining high quality teachers.

“Under this provision—if it becomes law—teachers would have to work much later, until they can receive Medicare benefits,” said Jewell. “Or they would have to take another job once they retire to get some kind of health insurance benefit until they qualify for Medicare.”

“We have a lot of teachers retiring coupled with a large decrease in participation in teacher education programs at the university system — enrollments have fallen 27 percent since 2010,” Jewell added. “So it looks like we have a big teacher shortage ahead.”

As the cost of college soars, students are reaching a tipping point when it comes to how much debt they’re willing to take on in order to enter the teaching profession, according to NC State University’s assistant dean for teacher education, Michael Maher.

“We have students who are graduating with degrees in math and engineering making $70,000,” said Maher. “So there becomes this issue of debt load—students say ‘only if I am going to make a good salary can I take on more debt.'”

Maher, who was a high school teacher during the mid-1990s, said the teaching profession was once an attractive prospect thanks to the overall benefits package that teachers were once guaranteed.

“I thought it was great,” said Maher of teaching. “I had access to the state’s retirement system and a guarantee of good health benefits upon retirement. Now out of pocket expenses are increasing, premiums are rising, and salaries are not going up, and now this…so what’s the advantage now?”

Maher noted that the Senate’s proposal to slash health retirement benefits affects UNC faculty, too, making it difficult to retain top notch professors were the provision to become law.

Tacey Miller, a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who graduated earlier this year and just secured a job as a third grade teacher in Onslow County, said she continues to be surprised by the General Assembly’s actions.

“So much has happened with the education system in North Carolina that nothing should surprise me anymore,” said Miller. “But something like [eliminating health retirement benefits] comes out in the news and I just think, why? Where are they redistributing this money, then? Even if they reduce class sizes, you still need actual classrooms to teach the kids.”

“It just seems like we’re making it harder for people to be teachers,” said Miller.

The House and Senate are expected to spend the rest of the summer—and possibly part of the fall—hammering out a final 2015-17 budget deal—stay tuned to see if the elimination of health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees makes it past the cutting room floor.