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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.

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

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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

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On the heels of its Raleigh job fair in May, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is once again looking to poach North Carolina’s school teachers to come work in Texas for much higher pay. The Texas school district will be holding job fairs this week in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.Houston

The available jobs in Houston, according to Greensboro’s News & Record, are in “critical shortage” areas including bilingual education, secondary math and science, special education and career and technical education.

HISD, which is headed by former Guilford County Schools superintendent Terry Grier, advertises a starting salary for teachers of $49,100. In North Carolina, the starting salary for teachers is currently $30,800. The advertisement says the Houston school district is “prepared to make job offers on the spot.”

North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and there has been no shortage of attention to the fact that teachers, who haven’t seen a significant pay increase in six years, are leaving the state in large numbers.

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in a budget battle over how much more to pay teachers, proposing anywhere from a 6 to 11 percent pay raise and bringing the starting salary for teachers up to $35,000.

But those salary increases may come at the expense of teacher assistants, who could be laid off in large numbers this fall to pay for the pay bumps.

See HISD’s job fair advertisements here, here and here.

Uncategorized

North Carolina educator and blogger James Hogan has an interesting take on the Senate’s proposed 21-step salary schedule for teachers, which would raise average salaries by 11.2 percent next year, provided that teachers relinquish their tenure.

Hogan wonders: is the salary schedule, which provides teachers with no raises between years 20-29, cleverly designed to disincentivize teachers from retiring from the profession, with their pensions, by denying them a raise for a decade?

Teachers earn the same $50,000 wage from years 20-29. That’s a decade of service without a pay raise. In year 30, teachers earn just $42 more. Then, wages rise again, topping out at $56,129 at 36 years of service.

That means 16 years of teaching service–almost half the pay chart–is rewarded with only a cumulative 12 percent salary increase. The same working span, when measured from a teacher’s fourth through twentieth year of service, sees a cumulative salary increase of 47 percent.

So the plan clearly benefits teachers in the middle of the pack. And it provides a clear disincentive for teachers who seek to retire from teaching by denying them a raise for a decade. Why would the Senate structure salaries like that?

This is where the decision to give up career status becomes very important. Make no mistake–the Senate pay scale rewards young teachers and pushes older teachers out in the last third of their career.

And why would the state government be interested in teachers leaving the classroom in their last ten years of teaching? The answer, I’m afraid, rests in some of what Senator David Curtis said in his now-infamous response to Charlotte teacher Sarah Wiles [who wrote a letter to legislators complaining about teachers' pay in the state]:

“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.”

What he’s saying is the state retirement pension program is the last golden egg for teachers. Here’s why. Say you’re a teacher who began your career the year after college at age 22. You taught for thirty-three years in North Carolina and retired at age 55. Based on today’s standards, you’re set to earn about $28,000 per year in retirement income every year until you die.

If you live another 33 years and die at age 88, that means you stand to collect $924,000 in retirement income. And the reason Senator Curtis was so ardent in pointing out the pension system to Ms. Wiles is that pensions cost the state a lot of money, and my guess is the fiscal conservatives in Raleigh are interesting in doing whatever they can to change that.

It’s an interesting theory. Read Hogan’s full piece over at The Washington Post.