Education, News

After last week’s controversy, Superintendent Mark Johnson calls teacher pay a top priority in 2018

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

For N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, last week was one to forget.

His comments at a Raleigh conference, in which he reportedly argued that a $35,000 salary is “good money” for some beginning teachers, earned him a sharp rebuke from many of his toughest critics.

And while the superintendent’s office clarified that Johnson meant to refer to teachers living in certain locales with relatively low household incomes, the controversy prompted the leadership of the N.C. Association of Educators, the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, to break longstanding tradition by declaring that Johnson would not be invited to their annual conference this March. 

That controversy looms over Johnson’s monthly video message this week, during which the superintendent says raising teacher pay is one of his top legislative priorities in 2018.

“This year, my team and I will be working with the General Assembly to invest even more in K-12,” Johnson said. “Some of our top priorities are continuing to increase educator pay, expanding personalized learning and expanding early childhood education to make sure students are ready when they start school. And yes, we are working with the General Assembly on the current class size legislation.”

Johnson asks for teachers to share their perspectives on General Assembly goals through the state’s Educators Perspectives Survey, which focuses on post-secondary and career options in February.

In recent years, lawmakers approved raises after the state’s teacher pay ranking fell near the bottom of the nation. Today, it sits at a modest 35th, according to one national estimate, although lawmakers are expected to consider raises again during this year’s legislative session.

However, the state’s per-pupil spending remains mired at 43rd in the nation, with K-12 advocates pressing lawmakers to boost spending on a range of classroom needs, including textbooks and materials, support for poor and rural school districts and the state’s top school agency, the Department of Public Instruction.

Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, has been criticized for remaining relatively quiet on these issues, although he’s suggested that he prefers to negotiate behind the scenes with the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Watch Johnson’s full monthly message below:

Education, News

UNC-Charlotte, UCLA Report: Charter schools driving segregation in Charlotte

A charter boom in the Charlotte area is spurring segregation in the city’s public school system, a new report from researchers at UNC-Charlotte and UCLA finds.

The report, released Tuesday by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project and professors from several UNC-Charlotte departments, concludes that rapid growth in the charter sector is having a deleterious effect on the state’s second-largest school district, exacerbating a trend of racially isolated schools.

Policy Watch reported on the district’s racial divisions back in 2016.

“Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were once the nation’s bellwether for successful desegregation,” said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, a UNC-Charlotte sociology professor who co-authored this week’s report. “Today, the district exemplifies how charter schools can impede districts’ efforts to resist re-segregation. This research has important implications not only for schools and communities in the Charlotte Mecklenburg region, but for the national debate over the growth and role of charter schools in our nation’s education system.”

The study comes amid a swift expansion of North Carolina charters since state lawmakers nixed a 100-school cap in 2011. Today, the state has more than 170 charters and Charlotte, in particular, has been a hotbed for school choice proponents. The city counts 36 charters in the region. And, according to this week’s report, area charters serve a disproportionately large share of white students.

The report says 16 charters are deemed “racially isolated white” and enroll more than 60 percent white students. Another six schools were considered “hyper segregated” and serve student populations that are less than 2 percent white.

Studies of K-12 education often connect segregated schools to disparities in education opportunities and performance.

From the report’s conclusions:

While market theories of choice anticipate that charters will positively influence public education, thwarting efforts to increase diversity surely is not amongst these expectations. Our case study of Charlotte illustrates how charter schools directly and indirectly undermine the capacities of CMS leaders to desegregate the public schools. When charters siphon off middle-class Asian, black, Hispanic, and white students and their funding, they directly make the task of (socioeconomic status) and racial desegregation mechanically more difficult.

Read more

Education, NC Budget and Tax Center

Does the state superintendent even know any teachers?

On Thursday last week Mark Johnson, N.C. Superintendent, commented that $35,000 is “good money” for young teachers.

According to the Living Income Standard, a measure that calculates the minimum amount a family needs to make ends meet, an adult with one child needs just over $35,710 a year to scrape by. That means no vacation, no extracurriculars, no eating out — only the basics. Add the potential responsibilities of an aging parent or a broken down car and it’s quite possible that many teachers may not be able to make ends meet on their teaching salaries alone.

Another major oversight on Johnson’s behalf?

The more than $3.1 trillion in crippling students debt today’s graduates bear. From 2004 to 2014, the average debt held by college graduates in North Carolina rose from $16,863 to more than $25,000. While college tuition and student debt rose, the North Carolina General Assembly ended the popular NC Teaching Fellows Program in 2011, which incentivized good teachers to remain in NC by forgiving student loans for those who committed to teach in the state. Although the state will bring back the program in the next school year, the program will only be available at five schools, none of which are Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU), an issue which has been highlighted by those concerned with the diversity of North Carolina’s teaching pool.

While Johnson’s comments about “good money” were likely accurate for whom he envisioned as a “young” recent college graduate, it is far from reality for many.

This former teacher and husband of an educator knows just how hard teachers in North Carolina work. Going in early, staying late, talking students through homework help over the weekend, attending schools events in the evening, and paying for school supplies out of their own pocket is all something they commit to but are not paid for.

North Carolinian teachers — who work hard and are care takers, who have debt — deserve jobs that pay a real, living wage and a state superintendent who understands what that means.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Environment, Higher Ed, News

The week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Over widespread opposition, DEQ approves key water quality permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

For more than a  year, environmental and citizens’ groups have battled against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. But today, the NC Department of Environmental Quality granted a key permit that will allow the project to begin its 160-mile route through the state.

DEQ’s Division of Water Resources announced today that it is approving the 401 water quality permit after eight months’ of review. DWR had asked for additional information five times before finalizing the permit.

Duke Energy co-owns the Atlantic Coast Pipeline with Dominion Energy. The pipeline will begin at a fracking operation in West Virginia, continue through Virginia and North Carolina, and possibly extend through South Carolina.

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said in a prepared statement that the agency “left no stone unturned in our exhaustive eight-month review of every aspect of the 401 application. Our job doesn’t and with the granting of the permit but continues as we hold the company accountable to live up to its commitments.”[Read more…]

Bonus reads:

2. Class size crisis, school inequities highlight top 10 education issues for 2018

An impending class size crisis and growing inequities between rich and poor districts are the most important issues facing North Carolina public schools in 2018, according to an annual list released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public School Forum of N.C.

The list—prepared by the Raleigh-based policy and research outfit—arrives with state legislators still negotiating the terms of a potential respite for North Carolina’s 115 school districts, brought on by a 2016 order to cut K-3 class sizes that lacks sufficient funding to make it happen, critics say.

“The class size mandate is affecting every single school in North Carolina,” says Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum. “The ripple effect—up to ballooning classes in grades 4-12, to the risk of losing classes in upper grades, to the very real fact that there’s no way our schools can meet this mandate in seven months and also keep our arts and P.E. teachers and come up with several hundred classrooms that don’t exist today— it is a self-inflicted crisis.” [Read more…]

3. The “double-bunkings” continue: An analysis of the G.A.’s latest proposed judicial maps

How many maps does it take to hit the sweet spot when it comes to judicial redistricting?

Your guess is as good as anyone’s. Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) unveiled another round of judicial and prosecutorial maps this week, and, like the others, he didn’t include any substantive information about the impact on judges and the people they serve.

This is the seventh version of House Bill 717 that lawmakers have entertained as a possible plan for redistricting judges and prosecutors. It’s the third set of maps that NC Policy Watch has taken on to analyze incumbency data.

There have been three different committees formed since the first time Burr made his maps public – one in the House, one in the Senate and one joint committee.

Members from each group have asked Burr, legislative staff and other key map players multiple times for incumbency information so that they could accurately assess the effect of changing judicial boundaries. So far, no one in an official General Assembly capacity has provided lawmakers with that information. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

4. Bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake: Why work requirements for Medicaid do not represent a reasonable healthcare compromise

It’s one of the great and bitter ironies of our modern American policy debates that it is conservatives who are often the chief architects of the largest and least useful government bureaucracies.

No, this is not intended as a dig at the military or our departments of transportation.

Think about it for a minute: What is the chief function of our public bureaucracies? As anyone who has ever paid a visit to their local Social Security office or argued with a school secretary over a student’s eligibility for a reduced price lunch can attest, the answer (at least when it comes to safety net programs) is to jealously guard and carefully mete out public resources. If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid such experiences, think for a moment of your health insurance company and all of the people and bureaucratic process and jargon it takes to assess your occasional claims. Now, think of what that process would be like if you were a low-income person with limited education trying to access some basic assistance that might keep you from becoming homeless.[Read more…]

5. UNC Board of Governors squares off over new healthcare partnership

A proposed partnership between Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System and UNC Health Care is further dividing an already fractured UNC Board of Governors.

When the board meets Friday morning, it will be amid cross-accusations of illegal and unethical behavior over the proposal, which would create one of the country’s largest healthcare systems.

At issue: a potential consolidation that would create a new UNC Health Care/Carolinas HealthCare joint operation that would include more than 50 hospitals and employ more than 90,000 people.

The new venture, first proposed in August and expected to be finalized early this year, would be overseen by an independent board. But in their role overseeing UNC’s medical school, the board of governors have hotly debated the deal and whether they can block it if they find it not in the system’s best interest. [Read more…]

*** Coming-up Tuesday, a very special conversation on the unfunded class-size mandate and education policy. Register today.

Courts & the Law, Education, News

Supreme Court will hear State Board of Education, Superintendent case in February

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and State
Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey (right)

Here’s the major news of the day in North Carolina education: The N.C. Supreme Court will hear the State Board of Education’s ongoing case with Superintendent Mark Johnson and the N.C. General Assembly in February, WRAL reports.

The parties have been bickering since GOP lawmakers shifted power from the state board to the then newly-elected Republican in December 2016. The board is a panel of gubernatorial appointees that has often been at odds with the GOP-controlled legislature in recent years, although Johnson seems to have a more congenial relationship with lawmakers.

The February 7 hearing comes after a panel of judges sided with Johnson and the legislature in the power struggle last year. 

From WRAL:

State board attorney Bob Orr told WRAL News on Thursday that the board looks forward to the Supreme Court hearing the case.

“We’re confident in our position,” Orr said.

In a statement Thursday, the superintendent said he “look(s) forward to the State Supreme Court upholding the lower court’s unanimous decision that allows for a system of great accountability at the Department of Public Instruction.”

“It is time to put this issue behind us so we can concentrate completely on the education of the students here in North Carolina,” Johnson said.

At stake is greater power for the superintendent’s office over the state’s public school budget, as well as expanded hiring and firing powers and control of the state charter office.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey called the 2016 law “unconstitutional,” although Johnson has long supported the shift in powers.