Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

New Leandro judge sets hearing to determine what’s owed state’s school children

Angus Thompson speaks during Every Child NC rally. (Photo: Greg Childress)

The judge overseeing the long running Leandro school funding lawsuit has given attorneys in the case until March 15 to file briefs on proposed funding amounts before deciding next steps in the case.

Superior Court Judge James Ammons of Cumberland County was appointed to the nearly three-decades old case by Chief Justice Paul Newby in December. A hearing has been scheduled for March 17 to discuss how much money must be transferred to pay for year three of a comprehensive school improvement plan.

At Friday’s hearing, Ammons mostly steered away from matters involving the case that are before other courts. The main issues before his court, he said, are the amount of money due schools, the transfer of that money and possible interventions.

“I have no preconceived opinions, no agenda other than to follow the mandates of the appellate bench, give all parties a fair opportunity to be heard and do my best to render appropriate rulings based on the law and the evidence before me,” Ammons said.

The judge asked attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants to calculate dollar amounts they believe are required to fund the third year of a school improvement plan that was approved by a previous trial judge.

Scott Bazyle, an attorney representing the Hoke County plaintiffs in the Leandro lawsuit, placed the amount at $677.8 million. More than $500 million would go to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the rest to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the UNC System, Bazyle said.

Matthew Tilley, a lawyer for state Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham and House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, disputed that amount, and asked for more time to come up with an appropriate number.

As Policy Watch previously reported, the N.C. Supreme Court’s Republican majority voted 5-2 last week to reinstate a lower court’s order blocking Superior Judge David Lee’s ruling in November in which he ordered the state to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the first two years of an eight-year school improvement plan. Read more

Durham school board resolution pushes back against GOP education culture war agenda

The Durham County Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution urging the General Assembly to vote ‘No’ on a controversial bill to restrict what educators can teacher about American history comes before lawmakers.

Filed by Republicans last month, House Bill 187 would prevent educators from promoting Critical Race Theory (CRT) and what many conservatives pejoratively describe as wokeness. The bill contains many of the elements in a bill filed by Republicans in 2021 that Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed.

CRT is an academic discipline that examines how racism has shaped the nation’s legal and social systems. Educators say CRT is not taught in America’s K-12 schools.

Durham activist Paul Scott said school boards across the state must adopt resolutions opposing the bill.

Scott called HB 187 a “linchpin to help hold segregation together.”

“In this case, silence is content,” Scott said. “We have to stand up against this bill not only locally but statewide and also [stand against] these attempts to crush the rights of our children nationally.”

School board Member Alexandra Valladares said the board cannot lose sight of such attacks on public education.

“There’s definitely attacks on the education of our students, things that attack the dignity of our families, things that attack the dignity of history itself and the veracity of history itself,” Valladares said.

Because HB 187 would prohibit educators from teaching that the United States was created by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race, educators couldn’t debate or considering teaching students about the Jim Crow era when laws made it illegal for African Americans to vote or hold office, the school board contends.

And because the bill would prevent educators from teaching that the United State was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing member of another race or sex, educators couldn’t debate or consider teaching students that women could not vote until 1920 after passage of the 19th Amendment.

“And even then, African American and indigenous women were still routinely denied their voting rights,” the resolution states.

Instead of restricting what students can learn, the Durham school board asked lawmakers to take action to make schools more inclusive places for students by addressing statewide equity concerns that include:

  • Funding dedicated Equity Directors for every local education authority (LEA) to develop and share best practices statewide.
  • Adopting a comprehensive, anti-racist, and inclusive curriculum for every school.
  • Funding professional development that includes diversity, equity, social emotional learning, inclusion, culturally competency, and anti-racist training.
  • Expanding the NC Teaching Fellows Program, especially at HBCUs, and increase representation of teachers of color.
  • Supporting all students, families, and staff including people of color, LGBTQIA+ students and staff, students with exceptional needs, immigrant students and families, and people experiencing homelessness and poverty.
  • Expanding Title IX protections to protect students against sexual assault.

The House Committee on Education K-12 is scheduled to discuss HB 187 when it meets next Tuesday. Read more

Senate Bill 202 would restore master pay for ‘certain educators’

A bill filed this week in the Senate would restore master’s pay for certain educators.

Senate Bill 202, titled “An Act to Reinstate Education-Based Salary Supplements For Certain Teachers and Instructional Support Personnel. was filed by Sen. Danny Earl Britt, a Republican from Robeson County.

North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly eliminated additional pay for advanced degrees in 2013, citing studies that show those degrees do not guarantee student success.  Competing studies show that teachers with advanced degrees are more effective at improving student achievement.

Since 2013, multiple have been filed to bring back master’s pay, including Senate Bill 28, a bipartisan attempt in 2019 titled “Restore Master’s Pay for Certain Teachers.”

States have traditionally offered extra pay for advanced degrees as a recruitment and retention tool and to reward teachers who further their education.

Under SB 202, certified nurses and instructional support personnel in roles in which a master’s degree is required for receive a salary supplement.

SB 202 would also restore master’s pay for teachers and instructional support personnel who were paid for advanced degrees or received the supplement before the 2014-15 school year.

Teachers and instructional support personnel who complete an advanced degree for which they completed at lease one course before August 1, 2013 would also be eligible for the supplement.

And teachers who spend at least 70% of their “work time in classroom instruction related to their graduate academic preparation in their field or within their subject area of licensure” would also be eligible for the salary supplement.

The current budget provides $6.8 million in recurring funds to provide education-based salary supplements for certain teachers and instructional support personnel as authorized by this act. The supplement would begin with the 2023-2024 school year.

N.C. Supreme Court blocks transfers of Leandro money in partisan vote

Last week ended on a sour note for the plaintiffs in the state’s long running Leandro school funding lawsuit and their supporters.

On Friday, the N.C. Supreme Court’s Republican majority voted 5-2 to reinstate a lower court’s order blocking Superior Judge David Lee’s ruling in November in which he ordered the state to spend millions of dollars to implement the first two years of an eight-year school improvement plan.

The plan was developed by an outside consultant and backed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education.

“Disappointed is an understatement to hear about this decision by 5 on the State Supreme Court to willfully ignore the NC Constitution for our students have their right to funded public schools,” N.C. Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly tweeted after the ruling was made public later Friday. “Prime example of why elections matter.”

A Democratically-controlled state Supreme Court voted 4-3 in November to back Lee’s order just days before the mid-term election. But Republicans picked up two seats in the election to give the GOP a 5-2 majority.

Lee was removed from the Leandro case last March after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72. He died in October.

At the heart of Friday’s ruling is a fundamental disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about whether the state’s highest court has the authority to order the transfer of money from state coffers to pay for the school improvement plan. The plan is intended to ensure that all schools have high quality teachers and principals.

The state’s Republican leadership has long held that the court does not have the authority to order the legislature to pay for the plan.

“The people of North Carolina through their elected legislators, not an unelected county-level trial judge, decide how to spend tax dollars,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in 2021. “Rather than accepting responsibility for lagging achievement and outright failure, the Leandro parties insist that the pathway to student improvement is always the simple application of more money.”

Former State Controller Linda Combs had appealed Lee’s order, contending that it would be illegal to transfer money without the General Assembly’s approval. Her successor Nels Roseland has also argued against the transfer of money without lawmakers’ approval.

Roseland argues that “it would be fundamentally unfair for a court to subject him, his staff, and the recipient agency staff to criminal and civil liability before the basic elements of procedural due process were met including notice, an opportunity to respond, counsel, and the right to an appeal including a hearing on these issues.”

Writing for the two Democrats, Associate Justice Anita Earls said the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure doesn’t allow for such maneuvering and “gamesmanship.”

Justice Anita Earls

The Controller cannot legitimately request a “do over” with a newly constituted Court in order to obtain a different result,” Earls wrote. “And even more importantly, this Court cannot legitimately allow such a procedure.The court majority reinstated the writ of prohibition until “this Court has an opportunity to address the remaining issues in his case.”

The Leandro case began nearly three decades ago when school districts in five low-wealth counties sued the state, claiming that children were not receiving the same level of educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties. School districts in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, and Vance counties joined Halifax County in the lawsuit.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

State Board of Education approves pilot program for teacher pay and licensure proposal

A controversial pilot program to evaluate a plan to reform teacher licensure and pay was approved by the State Board of Education (SBE) this week. It will be sent to the General Assembly for its approval. 

The six-year pilot would begin with the 2023-24 school year if approved by lawmakers. Districts of “varying size and geographic diversity” chosen to participate would use next year as a planning year.

Supporters of the proposed “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals”  say it will help to attract more candidates to the teaching profession, increase teacher pay, and retain veteran teachers with the promise of advancement and higher pay.

North Carolina’s teachers are currently paid based on their years of experience.

“Part of the problem with teacher pay is that we are paying teachers according to two metrics that don’t correlate to student outcomes,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said on Wednesday. “One of those is years of experience and the other is degrees held.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Truitt said that across-the-board teacher pay increases are needed so that districts can compete with neighboring states that awarded teachers hefty pay raises during the pandemic. Teachers also need “pathways” to advancement so that they can be paid for those responsibilities that many of them already take on without additional pay, the superintendent said.

The state board also agreed to ask lawmakers for a 10% pay raise for all teachers next year and “investments in beginning teacher pay to make North Carolina the leader in the Southeastern United States.” 

As Policy Watch reported previously, the proposed licensure and pay model under consideration would create a system of entry-level certifications to bring more people into the profession. One certification would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate’s degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree. Teachers working under that license would receive a base salary of $30,000. Read more