Commentary

Lawmakers will trot out these talking points at tomorrow’s teacher rally — here are the facts

As educators and advocates from across the state meet with lawmakers during tomorrow’s Rally for Respect, they will undoubtedly face several planned talking points meant to deflect from the General Assembly’s poor track record on public education. The responses below will hopefully assist public school advocates in overcoming the most common General Assembly excuses for its failure to adequately fund our public schools and its failure to provide competitive pay for teachers.

1. The claim: “Per-student funding has increased every year”

The facts: Nominal funding increases have not kept pace with increased enrollment and inflation. Per-student funding remains 7% below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for inflation.

Of the 24 biggest funding allotments prior to the recession, 19 remain below their pre-Recession levels. That means:

  • Less funding for teachers;
  • Less funding for support staff like counselors, school psychologists, nurses and librarians;
  • 7,500 fewer state-funded teacher assistants;
  • A 51%reduction in per-student funding for textbooks, supplies, and technology; and
  • The elimination of state funding for professional development and mentoring.

Over the same time period, our students are facing greater challenges, with an increasing share of public school students coming from low-income families, from homes where English is not the primary language, and from households that have experienced early childhood trauma.

Other states continue to pull away from North Carolina. Prior to the Recession, North Carolina’s per-student school funding trailed the national average by 18%. Today, North Carolina trails the national average by 25 percent. We’re even 25% below South Carolina!

2. The claim: “We’ve given five straight years of pay increases / How much teacher pay is enough?”

The facts: We still aren’t close to where we need to be to attract and retain the state’s best talent into the teaching profession. North Carolina has failed to close the gap on the national average since control of the General Assembly flipped in 2011. North Carolina’s average teacher salary trailed the national average by 16% in FY 10-11, and continues to trail the national average by 16% today. We actually would have lost ground against the national average had local districts not increased their local teacher salary supplements over this period.

Finally, our most experienced teachers have had their salaries frozen in recent years. Approximately 3,742 teachers (those on steps 31 and higher) have seen their state-supported salaries fall in inflation-adjusted terms.

North Carolina’s teacher pay will be enough when we offer teachers pay packages that are competitive with other college-degree-requiring professions in the state. Countries with successful education systems provide their educators with salaries comparable to the salaries of other college-degree-requiring professions. By this measure, North Carolina ranked 48th for teacher salary competitiveness from 2011 to 2015. Providing competitive pay will require raising North Carolina teacher salaries above the national average – a mark we still trail by 16%.

3. The claim: “When adjusted for cost-of-living, North Carolina ranks 29th for teacher pay”

The facts: Cost-of-living adjustments are an inappropriate way to make cross-state comparisons of teacher pay. The higher cost-of-living in North Carolina’s cities largely reflects the relative attractiveness of life in places like Raleigh and Charlotte, which bids down wages in those areas. The more appropriate measure is looking at how teacher pay compares to other college-degree-requiring professions in each state. By this measure, North Carolina offers some of the least competitive teacher pay in the nation. Contrary to what the uninformed folks at right-wing think tanks would tell you, North Carolina’s teacher pay is actually worse – not better – than what simple national rankings would indicate.

4. The claim: “We already dedicate 57% of the budget to education / ranks 14th in terms of share of school funding from state sources”

The facts: The share of the budget going to education tells us nothing about whether educators have the resources necessary to educate to every North Carolina student. The actual share going to our public schools is 39%, a share that has remained relatively consistent over the past 10 years.

Similarly, North Carolina’s share of funding from state sources is necessarily high due to constitutional and statutory requirements. Few states constitutions’ place as much responsibility for funding public schools on the state as does North Carolina’s. In North Carolina, state laws place all of the responsibility for school operating expenses on the state. Other states place much more funding responsibility on local governments.

These statistics, however, tell us nothing about whether educators are receiving the resources necessary to educate every North Carolina student. Our stagnating test scores and widening achievement gaps would indicate that our schools require more investment.

5. The claim: “We rank 1st in teacher wage growth in 2017, and 2nd in teacher wage growth in 2018.”

The facts: Speaker Moore has attributed these figures to data from the NEA, but the data from the NEA tell a different story. According to data from the NEA, North Carolina ranked 40th in 2016, 2nd in 2017, and 17th in 2018. It is unclear where Speaker Moore’s figures are coming from, but his figures are not consistent with the data he claims he’s using.

Regardless, these statistics are not sufficient to make up for the first five post-Recession budgets when North Carolina’s year-over-year changes to average teacher pay ranked 50th (09-10), 43rd (10-11), 47th (11-12), 45th (12-13), and 49th (13-14). Read more

Commentary

Legislature’s school funding task force is no force; not up to task

Task Force co-chairs, Sen. Michael Lee & Rep. Craig Horn

After seven meetings during this legislative interim, the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform has proven itself incapable of seriously rethinking how North Carolina funds its public schools. Careful examination of a state’s school funding system is tough work. It requires strategic thinking, and good information; neither of which have been hallmarks of the Task Force’s work.

In its first year, Task Force has failed to complete even the first step towards considering alternatives to North Carolina’s school funding system – neglecting to identify which aspect(s) of our current school funding system they find problematic. In fact, they have expressly vowed to avoid examining the adequacy of school funding, even though most experts would agree that the inadequacy of state funding is a much bigger barrier to student success than the inefficient distribution of existing funds.

The Task Force’s inability to identify what problem(s) they hope to solve has also prevented they from taking other necessary steps such as defining consensus goals for the qualities they want to see in any new school finance system. The Task Force has yet to define terms like “equity” or “efficiency,” let alone establish a consensus, prioritized list of which aspects of school finance (i.e. equity, stability, transparency) lawmakers most value. Without taking these steps, the Task Force will never be able to methodically assess alternative funding proposals.

The Task Force’s work has been hindered further by a stream of presenters who have done more to misinform than inform. Read more

Commentary

2017 NAEP results present mixed bag for North Carolina students

Today, the US Department of Education published results from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP). Known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” NAEP is administered every two years to a representative sample of students in each state. NAEP results are help policymakers identify trends in student performance and offer the ability to make comparisons of school performance across states.

While very useful, one must be extremely careful before using NAEP test results to draw broad policy conclusions. A few things to keep in mind:

  • NAEP assesses a different cohort of students each year, so the 4th grade cohort in 2003 might differ from the 4th grade cohort tested in 2017. Even though both cohorts were representative of the student body at that time, the share of students from low-income families or for whom English is not their first language might have changed.
  • Related to the point above, changes in trends for all students can mask trends for different student cohorts. In many states, overall performance has plateaued even though performance of white students and students of color has improved. Seems paradoxical. But if the share of lower-performing subgroups is becoming a greater share of the total student population, total performance may look flat even though achievement levels of all subgroups are improving.
  • Remember that correlation is not causation. Just because some policy happened (or didn’t happen) during the time that NAEP scores increased (or decreased) does not necessarily mean that policy is good (or bad).
  • Beware those who claim that low proficiency levels on NAEP are evidence that our schools are “broken.” Scoring “proficient” on NAEP is not synonymous with performing “at grade level” – it is a much higher standard.
  • Cross-state comparisons of student achievement levels should take into account demographic differences. While North Carolina should aspire to Massachusetts-levels of student performance, North Carolina’s higher share of students of color, English language learners, and students from low-income families make it more difficult for North Carolina to reach the same level of achievement.

With those caveats in place, below are a few observations from the 2017 results: Read more

Commentary

General Assembly’s class-size “fix” a mixed bag

This afternoon, the General Assembly has finally revealed its plan for addressing the unfunded class-size mandate. As a reminder, under current law, General Assembly members are requiring school districts dramatically reduce class sizes in grades K-3 in the next school year, but have failed to provide the necessary funding. To meet the unfunded mandate, districts would have to expand class sizes in higher grades or reduce offerings of “enhancement” courses such as art, physical education, music, and technology.

The General Assembly’s proposed solution is a significant improvement over the status quo, but doesn’t appear to fully address the concerns of public school districts. Additionally, the bill has been paired with several non-education provisions related to the use of Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) mitigation funds and the composition of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

For public schools, the bill does the following: Read more

Commentary

Class-size “fixes” likely to come up short

According to a recent report, members of the General Assembly are “in serious negotiations to work out a deal” to address the self-inflicted class-size fiasco. As a refresher, under current law, General Assembly members are requiring school districts dramatically reduce class sizes in grades K-3, but have failed to provide the necessary funding. To meet the unfunded mandate, districts are having to expand class sizes in higher grades, and reduce offerings of “enhancement” courses such as art, physical education, music, and technology. Supposedly, the lawmakers will soon be presenting a plan to address the problems they have created.

Fixing this problem is incredibly easy and can be done with no additional state funds. Lawmakers simply need to repeal the unfunded mandate and re-align class-size requirements with actual funding levels. Such a bill would preserve funding for enhancement courses. Districts like New Hanover could continue their practice of using class-size flexibility to direct smaller classes to its most at-risk students, and districts like Warren County could continue to offer incredibly effective Pre-K courses in its school building.

Luckily, such a bill exists. SB 703 aligns class-size requirements with current funding levels, preserves funding for enhancement classes, and costs nothing. Around this time last year, the effectively same bill passed the House unanimously.

Unfortunately, Senate leadership opposes this plan. As a result, General Assembly members are negotiating to “work out a deal.” What they won’t say is whether they will actually fix the problem they created.

As a result, speculation abounds as to what legislation might emerge from these negotiations. Rumors around Raleigh have largely centered on three general approaches: Read more