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NCGA folliesThe follies of the North Carolina General Assembly and its shortsighted attitudes toward public education (and public service in general) are neatly illustrated by two stories in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal.

In “Who’s a teacher? The legislature wrongly decides,” reporter Scott Sexton tells the story of  veteran teacher named Patti Morrison who, because of the absurd, complex and bureaucratic new teacher pay plan and teacher redefinition laws adopted this year by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory, is now considered “a person who is employed to fill a full-time, permanent position.”

As Sexton reports:

“So for someone such as Morrison, who is teaching reading to elementary school kids on a part-time basis, or a certified teacher who is filling a temporary classroom position, that means they’re technically no longer considered teachers.

Instead, they’re lumped into a more disposable employment category. They’re now considered ‘at-will employees,’ those ‘not entitled to the employment protections provided a career employee or probationary teacher,’ according to House Bill 719.

That might seem like an exercise in semantics to you or me, but to Morrison it amounts to a body blow. To her, the state stripped her of a key part of her identity. She chose to become a teacher because she could see the profound impact she could have on young lives.”

Story two is this editorial entitled “Paying more than twice as much, thanks to legislature.”  In it, the Journal tells the ridiculous story of the Forsyth County school system which used to make use of a Department of Transportation crew to fix parking lots. Now, thanks to the General Assembly and the Governor and their never-ending commitment to the “genius of the free market,” the school system is paying twice as much to private contractors to do the same job:

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Commentary

In case you missed it, the Education Writers Association blog has an interesting story about teacher attitudes toward Common Core. Here is the opening:

In a new survey, teachers say they’re feeling more confident about using the Common Core State Standards in their classrooms — an optimistic finding that comes even as recent polls suggest dwindling public support for the initiative. Read More

News

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.

Commentary

The following essay was submitted to NC Policy Watch this week by a concerned public school teacher.

North Carolina teachers and the Common Core: Now what?
By Rod Powell

It’s already here—a new school year.

Despite a turbulent summer for North Carolina schools—in which legislators repealed the Common Core, slashed teacher assistant funding, and implemented a controversial teacher pay schedule—educators are back in the classroom, preparing students for a year of rigorous and engaging learning.

But as teachers begin their classes, many are asking the question, “What exactly should we be teaching our students?”

For the past three years, the answer was the Common Core. But now, thanks to the General Assembly, the work teachers have done to hone the standards is for naught.

Governor Pat McCrory has called for a review of the Common Core, with a commission to put new standards in place for the 2015-2016 school year. (Members of the commission have yet to be appointed, even though the September 1 deadline looms.)

But teachers can’t wait till 2015. We have students in our classrooms now. So what should we do? Do we spend countless hours planning our instruction and lesson plans for this year’s classes, only to have to overhaul them for entirely new standards just one year from now?

State superintendent Dr. June Atkinson assures educators that North Carolina will still operate under the Common Core for this school year. I hope teachers can take her at her word. But that doesn’t change the millions of dollars that have gone into developing Common Core materials and professional development—not to mention the thousands of hours that hardworking North Carolina teachers have dedicated to refining their craft and implementing the standards.

All that money and effort—what a waste.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with my teaching colleagues about this murky situation as we prepare for the school year. Read More

Uncategorized

Education-budgetLate last night, lawmakers released a final budget deal brokered between the House and Senate that provides pay raises for teachers and a number of other education funding adjustments.

There’s a lot to process in the mammoth document, so let’s just get started with the basics on education, and I promise you — there will be more to come.

Teacher Pay

Lawmakers say they’ve provided an average 7 percent pay increase for teachers in this budget, but there’s widespread dispute over that figure since longevity pay has been wrapped up into the pay raises.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the old and new teacher pay schedules, click here.

Senator Phil Berger called the teacher pay raise the largest in North Carolina’s history, although the folks at ProgressNC fact-checked that claim and found it to be false.

Teacher Assistants

Lawmakers say TAs are “preserved” this year in the budget, but there are a few catches.

Lottery revenues will pay for a share of the funding for teacher assistants, and a portion of TAs will also be funded with non-recurring funds – meaning there will be another fight to keep them next year.

Also mentioned at Tuesday’s press conference– $65 million that was supposed to pay for TAs was moved back into funding for teacher positions. But local superintendents have the “flexibility” to move that money back over and save more TAs.

*However, that figure is not apparent in the budget’s money report. What we do know, however, is that in the certified 2014-15 budget, TAs were slated to cost $477,433,254 — but this latest budget spends $368.3 million.

Finally, while most state employees will get a $1,000 raise, TAs only get a $500 raise, along with public school custodial workers, cafeteria workers and other non-certified and central office personnel.

Higher Education

While lawmakers said on Tuesday they were able to preserve current funding levels for the university system, what actually is in place is a now slightly increased $76 million dollar cut that was in the original two-year budget passed in July 2013, but not in the most recent budget proposals.

This cut comes on top of years of cuts to the university system that have resulted in thousands of lost jobs and eliminated courses.

In 2011, the state’s universities had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated, 3,000 jobs were cut and another 1,500 vacant jobs were eliminated. In the four years prior to 2011, state funding to the university system was slashed by $1.2 billion. Read More