Commentary

More “Unraveling”: The General Assembly’s inability to craft performance pay plans for educators

Tomorrow, January 30, NC Policy Watch is presenting a Crucial Conversation with myself, Kris Nordstrom, and State Senator Jay Chaudhuri. We will be discussing the current class-size crisis, and how North Carolina has lost its way when it comes to public school policymaking. Tickets for the event, which is co-sponsored by Public Schools First NC and Save our Schools NC, can be found here.

Last month, the Justice Center published The Unraveling, a report detailing how seven years of inept policymaking has hurt North Carolina’s public schools. The report takes a detailed look at the General Assembly’s major education initiatives in each of the past seven years. As the report shows, this period has been dominated by a series of not just bad policies, but bad policies that are incredibly poorly crafted. In nearly every case, the major education initiatives of the past seven years have been both:

  1. Based on very questionable evidence; and
  2. Crafted haphazardly, ignoring best practices or lessons learned from other states.

These problems stem from the General Assembly’s approach to policymaking. Over the past seven years, almost all major education initiatives were moved through the legislature in a way to avoid debate and outside input. At the same time, the General Assembly has abandoned its oversight responsibilities and avoided public input from education stakeholders. The net result has been stagnant student performance and increased achievement gaps for students of color and low-income students.

One topic not included in The Unraveling was the General Assembly’s shambolic efforts to create performance pay plans that link educator pay to how their students perform on state tests. These efforts – while not confined to a given budget year – reinforce the findings of the report. In other words, the General Assembly’s efforts on performance pay have been based on questionable evidence and further hampered by an inability or unwillingness to govern effectively. Below, please read about the history of these efforts, which further highlight the General Assembly’s seven years of failed education policy. Read more

Commentary

Rest assured, Senator, we know where our teachers are

General Assembly members are inventing increasingly desperate stories to avoid facing the basic facts of the state’s ongoing class-size chaos. Rather than acknowledging the fact that next year’s class-size requirements remain a $300-million-plus-untold-capital-costs unfunded mandate, and that districts continue to spend all of their classroom teacher money on teachers, General Assembly members are pretending the mandate is fully funded, and sending out inaccuracy-filled emails to constituents.

The newest class size fable comes courtesy of Senator Joyce Krawiec (pictured at left), who is claiming in an email passed to me by one of her constituents that North Carolina is “missing” 600 teachers – which would be big, if true.

This is from Krawiec’s email:

“So what’s the big deal with the Senate?  Why all this confusion?  The General Assembly believes reducing class size in K-3 will increase positive outcomes for our young people.  We have dedicated approximately $70 million of your tax dollars annually for this goal.  Any good steward of other people’s money should be expected to ask, ‘How it was spent?’

How many K-3 teachers should $70 million buy?   The average state cost of a classroom teacher, including benefits, is about $63,000, (salary x 1.26).  That works out to approximately 1,100 new K-3 teachers for our children.  Simple enough.

What does DPI report in their Highlights of the NC Public School Budget? (Summary attached)  Before additional funding began in 2013 there were 26,158 allotted K-3 teachers.  This year 2017-18 DPI reports funding 26,671.5 positions.  A net change of 513.5 new K-3 teachers and this includes any funded through growth in ADM (Average Dailey Membership).   Our children are missing about 600 K-3 teachers for which you payed.   That is a problem.”

Krawiec is confused along multiple fronts. But the main issue is that Krawiec is comparing the change in allotted teaching positions since FY 2012-13, while comparing the change in teacher dollars since FY 2013-14. This mistake apparently has her convinced that 600 teachers have gone missing. Read more

Commentary

New study calculates charter schools’ negative financial impact on North Carolina school districts

A new report from Duke University’s Helen “Sunny” Ladd and University of Rochester’s John D. Singleton uses North Carolina data to conclusively show the negative impact charter schools have on the finances of traditional, inclusive public schools.

The report confirms what traditional, inclusive public school advocates have been saying for years: charter schools drain resources from our public school system. School districts face a number of fixed costs such as utility costs and central office administration. When a student leaves the traditional public school system for a charter school, the school district loses the average funding for a student. But the district still incurs these fixed costs.

For schools, even many variable costs are rather fixed in the short term. A district losing funding on account of a student’s departure can’t fire 1/20th of a teacher; the school bus may still have to run the same bus route.

Importantly, the researchers are able to use detailed balance sheet data to put a dollar figure on that drain. The report estimates that increasing charter enrollment in Durham has reduced per-student funding by $500 to $700. These costs have become more pronounced as the share of charter students in Durham now approaches 16 percent.

The report also looks at the fiscal impact of charter schools on five rural districts where the charter enrollment figures range from 3 percent to 14 percent. For Iredell and Orange Counties, the report estimates a negative impact of between $200 and $500 per student. Estimates are slightly smaller for Buncombe, Cabarrus, and Union Counties.

The research is particularly important given the rapid growth of the charter sector since the state lifted the charter school cap in 2011. Since then, the number of charter schools has increased from 99 to 173, and the number of students attending charter schools has risen about 150 percent. This new report indicates that traditional, inclusive schools will continue to face added budget pressures if the charter sector grows further.

The report highlights the need for additional state funding to ease the fiscal burden charters place on inclusive public schools. One recommendation is for the state to provide “transitional aid” to mitigate the fiscal impact of charter school openings or expansions.

Of course, charter schools aren’t the only school choice policy creating fiscal pressures for public schools. Vouchers and voucher-like “education savings accounts” similarly reduce per-student funding for public school systems without providing relief on fixed costs.

Hopefully, this report, data on the weak performance of recently-opened charter schools, and further evidence that North Carolina’s charter schools are increasingly contributing to racial segregation will cause General Assembly leaders to reconsider their current appetite for additional charter school expansion.

Commentary

See for yourself: The math clearly shows that 2018-19 class size requirements remain unfunded

Somehow, legislative leaders remain under the false notion that they have fully funded the 2018-19 K-3 class-size requirements. Recently, Sen. Phil Berger has claimed that since 2014, local school districts have received roughly $222 million to lower class sizes, and that this additional investment is sufficient to meet next year’s smaller class sizes.

Image:Adobe Stock

Senator Berger is very wrong.

Additional funding from the legislature has allowed North Carolina school districts to hire an additional 1,966.5 teachers, as compared to the 2013-14 school year. However, as compared to the 2013-14 school year, the new class-size requirements necessitate the hiring of 6,678.5 additional teachers. There remains an unfunded gap of 4,712 teachers, or approximately $304 million.

The funds mentioned by Sen. Berger have nothing to do with meeting next year’s change in class sizes. The citation of these figures is a poor attempt to distract from the fact that next year’s class-size mandate remains unfunded. The resources below allow anyone (even a General Assembly member) to do the math themselves to see the extent to which the FY 2018-19 class-size mandate remains unfunded. Read more

Commentary

Legislator sends inaccuracy-riddled email to Charlotte school parents

Yesterday, Rep. Scott Stone sent a email concerning education issues to parents with students in Charlotte’s Polo Ridge Elementary School that includes several glaring inaccuracies. The email purports to separate “facts” from “fiction” – yet nearly every one of the statements in the email is demonstrably wrong.

Let’s debunk his points, one by one:

“In 2013, the NC General Assembly passed Read to Achieve, with the goal of smaller classroom sizes.”

Senator Phil Berger initially introduced 2012’s (not 2013) Read to Achieve plan as a standalone bill, which can be found here. The bill was subsequently rolled into the 2012 budget bill, S.L. 2012-142. The Read to Achieve language can be found on pages 38 through 45 (Section 7A.1). Astute readers will note that there is no mention of smaller classroom sizes being a goal of the program.

“At the time this legislation passed there was funding allocated to hire additional teachers to meet this requirement of smaller classrooms.”

In the 2013 budget, the General Assembly modified the classroom teacher allotment to actually provide fewer teachers, not more (see Item 8 on page F 3). The General Assembly did not begin providing additional teachers to lower class sizes until the 2014-15 school year. Based on the number of students in grades K-3, it requires nearly 6,600 additional teachers to bring class sizes down to the levels required in FY 2018-19. In the 2014 and 2016 budget bills, the General Assembly cumulatively increased teacher funding by approximately $120 million per year, the equivalent of about 1,850 teachers. In order to be able to meet the FY 2018-19 class size requirement, districts still need nearly 4,750 additional teachers, at a cost of about $300 million.

“At the time, flexibility was given to local school districts so that money could be used where they had the greatest immediate need, but the legislative intent was clear that North Carolina wanted to have smaller class sizes for K-3.”

The legislation gave districts the flexibility to deploy these additional teachers at any grade level. The General Assembly never stated that these few additional positions were to be used only in grades K-3. In fact, the 2015 budget contained language explicitly stating that – despite the additional funding – that “class size requirements in kindergarten through third grade shall remain unchanged” for the 2015-17 biennium. It was not until the 2016 budget that the General Assembly explicitly stated that class sizes in grades K-3 would need to be reduced effective the 2017-18 school year.

“As a result, some school districts used state money dedicated to lower classroom sizes to fund other initiatives. It is very difficult to track dollars once is leaves the state level as to how each dollar is spent in individual schools.” Read more