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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

K12 logoFat cat corporate execs getting rich by sucking up taxpayer dollars: It’s one of the dirtiest little secrets of the mad rush to privatize essential public services and turn them over to giant Wall Street-backed corporations. Fortunately, the good folks at the Center for Media and Democracy are doing their best to expose the phenomenon and keep track of the nation’s mushrooming cadre of publicly-funded plutocrats.

The group has released a new report entitled Exposed: America’s Highest Paid Government Workers: They’re Not Who You Think They Are. Listed first among the six magnates profiled in the report is Ron Packard, CEO of the controversial K-12, Inc., whom the report describes as “America’s highest paid ‘teacher.’”

As readers of Sarah Ovaska’s numerous stories on the subject here at NC Policy Watch will recall, Read More

ICYMI, Brunswick County Public Schools official Jessica Swencki has a great essay in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which she explains what’s really driving a large and growing segment of the charter school movement: private, for-profit companies out to milk the public coffers.

“In North Carolina, charter schools are operated by ‘nonprofit’ corporations, which are not subject to the same laws that demand public accountability for state and local tax dollars. These ‘nonprofit’ corporations can be subsidiaries of larger for-profit corporations – all the nonprofit corporation needs is a ‘board’ of purportedly earnest, well-intentioned people during the application process. Once the charter is granted, there is very little to stop the potential exploitation of our state’s limited public education resources.

In fact, one doesn’t have to look any further than the Eastern part of the state for a case study in how savvy companies use this loosely regulated system to pocket millions of taxpayer dollars.

Click here to read the rest of Swencki’s explanation of how this scam works.

BMO Capital downgraded K12, Inc.’s stock (NYSE: LRN) yesterday, on account of slowing enrollments. Shares of the stock tumbled on the news, down 25 percent at the start of trading this morning and down 35 percent as this story was posted 40 minutes after the market opened.

K12, Inc. is a Virginia-based for-profit company that runs online schools in 32 states and attributes nearly 85 percent of its income to public dollars.

The company has been trying to break into the North Carolina market by opening a virtual charter school, but their bid thus far has been unsuccessful.

K12 has run into numerous problems recently, with school districts dropping their partnerships with the company, news of teachers lacking certification, and instances of very low graduation rates.

Just last week, news surfaced of a K12 school outsourcing the grading of student essays to workers in Bangalore, India.

In a press release, K12 explained the slowed enrollment growth:

We believe the increase in Managed Public School enrollments fell short of internal expectations due to several factors, which include, among others:

–The Companys inability to convert the increased volume of student applications into enrollments at a level achieved during previous years due to performance in its enrollment centers and, to a lesser extent;

–The delayed start of the open enrollment period for certain schools.

Managed Public School first quarter enrollments were 5.7 percent over enrollment numbers this time last year, short of expectations.

Revenue is projected to come in between $905 million and $925 million, below the anticipated target of $988.5 million.

K12, Inc., the for-profit online virtual school company that made a bid to open up a statewide school in North Carolina, plans on settling claims that it misled investors.

The proposed settlement would not require the company to admitting wrongdoing, butK12a would pay investors $6.75 million, according to a preliminary settlement draft in federal court records and obtained by Education Week.

Education Week reports that the lawsuit’s claims about academics and quality would be dismissed and the settlement would stick to allegations about how the company disclosed information about student enrollment and retention.

The investor lawsuit came after a series of negative attention and press accounts questioning whether K12, Inc. (NYSE: LRN) was more focused on profits than educational quality. The lawsuit itself claimed that top officials of K12, Inc. misled the public and investors by downplaying questions about the schools’ educational quality. (Click here to read more about the lawsuit’s initial filing.)

The company has the largest share of the online schooling market, running public schools in 30 states where students from kindergarten through high schools take classes through programs on their home computers while parents act as “learning coaches.”

The company prides itself on offering alternatives to families seeking alternatives for their local school systems, but schools run by the company have low graduation rates and performance outcomes. In Tennessee, where legislators approved the virtual school in 2010 after concerned push from K12 lobbyists, state education officials have found only 16 percent of the 3,200 students in the K-8 program performed at grade level in math.

The company had made a push to open up a statewide virtual charter school in North Carolina in 2011 and 2012 by partnering with Cabarrus County Schools (which would get a kickback for agreeing to host the virtual school) but the State Board of Education, which authorizes charter schools in the state, did not consider its application. The matter is now held up in the appeals court.

Since then, the State Board of Education passed a more stringent application process for virtual charter schools, cutting back on the per-student reimbursement and requiring that graduation rates are within 10 percent of the state average (which is up to 80 percent).

N.C. Learns, non-profit organization put together by the company filed a letter of intent that it intended to apply to open for the 2014-15 school year, but did not submit an application by Friday’s deadline, according to a list of 70 prospective charter schools kept by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

(Another online company, Connections Academy, did submit an application to open up a statewide virtual school in the fall of 2014. Connections is owned by Pearson, an international education company (NYSE:PSO).)

K12 could still get a chance to educate North Carolina students (and get a slice of North Carolina public education funding). Legislation creating virtual schools could appear this year, with top state leaders like Gov. Pat McCrory expressing interest in the virtual school.