Archives for category: North Carolina

Stuart Egan, a teacher of English at West Forsyth High School in North Carolina, here reviews the Republicans’ desperate attempt to portray themselves as friends of public education after four years of attacking teachers and public schools. The Republican legislature has enacted charters and vouchers and done whatever they could think up to demoralize teachers and privatize public dollars. The crucial race in the state is between U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and State Rep. Thom Tillis, one of the architects of the new budget that strangles public education. Will teachers, parents, and friends of public education remember in November?

 

 

Egan writes:

“The current General Assembly is very scared of public school teachers and their supporters. And they should be: What had originally looked like an election year centering on economic growth has morphed into a debate about how our state government should better serve citizens. This GOP-controlled General Assembly has unintentionally but successfully turned the focus of November’s elections to the vitality of communities and the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the N.C. constitution).

 

“North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a public school system, in addition to several city systems. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of the counties — and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system. And they are strong in numbers.

 

“Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that two years ago; they just didn’t seem to care. They knew it when they attempted to buy teachers’ rights to due process for $500 million after their attempt to eliminate it was declared unconstitutional. They knew it when they froze pay scales more than six years ago. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools — which, by the way, also was declared unconstitutional.

 

“That is why the GOP powers passed a secretly crafted budget that included a “7 percent average raise for teachers.” But this budget is a pure political farce. It was really just a reallocation of money and a calculated way to give the public the illusion that the General Assembly is a champion for public education.”

 

‘N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said, “Now by providing the largest teacher pay raise in state history, we’ll be able to recruit and retain the best educators to prepare our children for the future.” He’s wrong. N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is airing a campaign ad about his leadership in strengthening public education. He’s misleading you. That historic raise is funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.
‘Also, the bulk of the pay raise comes in the lower rungs of the pay scale. The more experience a teacher has, the less of a raise he or she sees, down to less than one percent for many teachers with more than 30 years’ experience and advanced certification. And new teachers who start graduate work will never be rewarded for becoming better at what they do. In fact, this current budget ensures that no teacher who begins a career in North Carolina will actually finish that career here. No matter the qualifications or experience a teacher possesses, he or she will never receive a competitive salary like other states offer.
If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight. Do some homework and see which candidates for school board supported vouchers or which state legislatures voted to eliminate teacher assistants in public schools.

 

“Under this legislature, teachers and public education in North Carolina have been under siege.

 

“If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly has done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight. Do some homework and see which candidates for school board supported vouchers or which state legislatures voted to eliminate teacher assistants in public schools.

 

“If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop. Educate yourself, then please vote.”

Lindsay Wagner writes in NC Policy Watch that 90% of the students using the state’s new vouchers are attending religious schools. The institution receiving the largest number of vouchers is the Greensboro Islamic Academy.

The vouchers are given the euphemism “opportunity scholarships,” in an effort to disguise the fact that they are vouchers, which voters never approved.

North Carolina legislators are proving that our Founders were far wiser than legislators today. The Founders wanted no establishment of religion, and they did not foresee the subsidy of religious schools by the state. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote about separation of church and state in 1802, aware of centuries of religious strife in Europe. For years, the U.S. Supreme Court tried to maintain such a wall, allowing some subsidy for religious schools to perform state-required activities, subsidizing textbooks and testing, even transportation, but not tuition in religious schools.

Wagner writes:

“Religious private schools account for 90 percent of those receiving the state’s new taxpayer-funded school vouchers—a disproportionately high amount given that only 66.4 percent of the state’s 715 private schools are religious institutions.

“According to data released by the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority, 98 out of the 109 private schools that have received vouchers (formally known as Opportunity Scholarships) from the state so far are religious institutions. Ninety-four of those schools identify as Christian, and four other schools identify as Islamic. To date, the state has disbursed just over $1 million to the religious schools.

“The largest recipient of school voucher dollars thus far is Greensboro Islamic Academy. The school has received more than $90,000 from taxpayers while information has surfaced indicating that the school is in financial trouble and has inflated its tuition rates to reap as many publicly-funded vouchers as possible to stay afloat.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program, which lawmakers enacted last year, siphons approximately $10.8 million dollars out of the public school system to allow students to attend private and religious schools instead. Each voucher is worth a maximum of $4,200 per student, per year.

“Proponents of the program say the voucher program is a way to give low-income students better choices when it comes to their education; critics say it siphons badly needed funds away from public education and funnels them into unaccountable, religious private schools that are not obligated to hold themselves to high quality teaching standards.

“In August, a Superior Court judge found that the program violates the state’s constitutional mandate to use public funds only for public schools – but thanks to a Court of Appeals ruling last month, the state must disburse school vouchers that have already been awarded while the case winds its way through the state appellate courts.”

- See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/10/09/ninety-percent-of-private-schools-receiving-taxpayer-funded-vouchers-are-religious-institutions/#sthash.N9RY1dr4.dpuf

Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch reports that the school that received the largest number of vouchers in North Carolina—the Greensboro Islamic Academy–is in financial trouble.

She writes:

A private religious school receiving by far the largest payout from the state’s new school voucher program was in financial trouble during the last school year, pleading for help from the public online to fund its $150,000 shortfall so the school could complete the 2013-14 school year.

“The Greensboro Islamic Academy is suffering from a scarcity of funds,” said Eesaa Wood, a leader at the school’s parent organization, the Islamic Center of Greensboro, in a YouTube video posted online last January. The school has run a deficit of $150,000 every year, according to the fundraising pitch.

“For over a decade, the Muslim community of Greensboro has paid for this shortfall,” said Wood. “For that we are grateful to Allah…but we can no longer rely exclusively on this system.”

The school is the biggest recipient of all those participating in the state’s new Opportunity Scholarship Program, having already received 43 school vouchers totaling more than $90,000 dollars in public funds.

But as taxpayer money flows into Greensboro Islamic Academy’s coffers, questions arise: will the school be able to sustain itself going forward given the financial difficulties it faces? And if not, what happens to funds that taxpayers have already spent on private, religious education?

Lawmakers enacted a school voucher program last year that pulls approximately $10.8 million dollars away from the public school system to allow students to attend private and religious schools instead.

Proponents of the program say the voucher program is a way to give students better choices when it comes to their education; critics say it siphons badly needed funds away from public education and funnels them into unaccountable, religious private schools that are not obligated to hold themselves to high quality teaching standards.

The state received 170 applications earlier this year from students wishing to attend Greensboro Islamic Academy (GIA) this fall with a school voucher – by far the most popular school chosen among voucher applicants and a very large number considering that the school only accommodated 130 students the previous year.

Since then, a high-profile court battle ensued, resulting in a Superior Court judge finding that the program violates the state’s constitutional mandate to use public funds only for public schools – but thanks to a Court of Appeals ruling last month, the state must disburse school vouchers that have already been awarded while the case winds its way through the state appellate courts.

In September, the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority awarded 43 vouchers to students attending Greensboro Islamic Academy, totaling more than $90,000 tax dollars– nearly 8 percent of the $1 million+ in school vouchers that were disbursed to 109 private schools so far across the state. The next largest recipient of school voucher funds was Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, which received 26 vouchers totaling $54,600, followed by Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, which received 18 vouchers totaling $37,800.

More voucher funds will be disbursed in the coming weeks, although it’s not clear how much more money, if any, GIA will receive.

According to its fundraising video, Greensboro Islamic Academy is the only full-time Pre-K through 8th grade Islamic private school in the Triad area – and it has struggled with financial obstacles since its inception in 2003.

“Because GIA never turns down any student because of financial need, this has resulted in a $150,000 deficit ever year,” said Islamic Center of Greensboro leader Eesaa Wood in his fundraising plea.

A link on the school’s YouTube fundraising video brings the viewer to a fundraising page that says the school raised only $374 of its $150k goal. Numerous calls and emails to school officials seeking more information about the financial status of Greensboro Islamic Academy, as well as calls to the Islamic Center of Greensboro, the parent organization of GIA, have gone unanswered. Efforts to reach out to the video’s narrator, Eesaa Wood, have also been unsuccessful.

Reached by telephone, GIA school board president Dr. Hatim Mahmoud, a physician practicing in Danville, VA, said he wouldn’t talk about the school with N.C. Policy Watch, despite the fact it now receives taxpayer dollars.

“We don’t talk to reporters. We don’t wanna talk to nobody. Goodbye,” said Mahmoud.

NC Policy Watch is a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.
© 2014 NC Policy Watch | 224 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

Back to politico.com:

Instead of scapegoating teachers, politicians are competing to claim they raised salaries. How short are teachers’ memories? Vying and usually lying:

“TEACHERS’ PETS?: Forget soccer moms. This election cycle, candidates across the country are scrambling to get teachers on their side – or at least, to convince voters that they stand with educators.

- In Alaska, Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan jumped into the chalk wars first with an ad [http://bit.ly/1r6TS6n] featuring a seventh grade teacher praising him for saving her pension by standing tough against Wall Street malfeasance during the financial crisis. The National Education Association fired back with a spot [http://bit.ly/1r6TYLd ] starring a music teacher conducting a cacophony of out-of-tune instruments as he accuses Sullivan of letting Wall Street off easy in the deal. “Sullivan sold Alaska’s teachers out … letting Wall Street play Alaska like a cheap fiddle,” he says. Sullivan faces incumbent Democrat Mark Begich in the pivotal race.

- In the equally pivotal North Carolina Senate race, Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan have been playing the teacher card for months. Tillis, speaker of the state House, has been running an ad [http://bit.ly/1saxbBO] boasting of pushing through legislation to raise teacher pay 7 percent. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has countered with a spot [http://bit.ly/1qivbA3 ] warning that Tillis’ math “doesn’t add up.” Only a fraction of the most experienced teachers got that pay raise, the DSCC says, while teaching assistants lost their jobs and schools lost hundreds of millions in funding.”

Professor Helen Ladd of Duke University, internationally renowned economist of education, and her husband Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, recently wrote about a sneaky move by the North Carolina legislature to undermine the funding of children in public schools. Not content to fund charters and vouchers, the legislature is directly attacking the basic funding formula for the state public system. The overwhelming majority of children in the state attend public schools. Why do their parents elect these people who short-change public education?

Ladd and Fiske write:

“In a last-minute change that was taken with no hearings and no prior publicity, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has undermined the fundamental building block of school finance in North Carolina.

“Ever since the state took over responsibility from the local districts for funding public schools during the Great Depression, state funding in North Carolina has been based on the number of students served. When a local district’s school rolls increased or decreased, the state would adjust the funding up or down accordingly, using a variety of formulas, all of them driven by the number of students.

“Under legislation enacted last month, the legislature has scrapped this system. From now on, every spring the state will make an initial commitment of state funds to districts for the following year based on the number of students currently enrolled rather than, as in the past, on their projected enrollments. In other words, districts with growing enrollments will no longer be guaranteed an increase in per pupil funds to cover the costs of educating the additional students.

“Any additional funds will have to be negotiated as part of the legislature’s more general budgetary process later in the year.

“Local and state school finance officers describe this change, seemingly quite technical in nature, as the most fundamental, even “drastic,” change in school finance in North Carolina in nearly a century. It constitutes a direct attack on the state’s ability to carry out its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education to all children in the state.

“Here’s how the system has worked since 1933. Every February or March the Department of Public Instruction notifies local districts what their per pupil allotments will be for the coming school year. The calculation is based on the prior year’s statewide per pupil funding levels or a range of expenditures, from teachers to textbooks, multiplied by the number of students projected for the district for the following year. Districts then use this figure as they construct their budgets and make plans for hiring teachers and other spending decisions.

“Now that the legislature has struck down this system, districts with growing enrollments will no longer be guaranteed a proportionate increase in funding to cover their additional students.

“The legislature will still have the option, through its budgetary process, to provide additional funding, but it will have no obligation to do so. Funding to cover growing enrollments will have to be negotiated and compete with other state priorities.

“The practical implications of policy change are huge for two reasons. First, it undercuts the basic pupil-based structure for distributing state funds to local districts that has served the state well for many decades. Second, it undermines the ability of district officials to do responsible financial planning. Whereas districts normally hire teachers for the coming year in the spring, they will now have to wait until the legislature gets around to adopting a new budget, which this year was August, before they can make firm commitments.

“Perhaps the most far-reaching aspect of the new policy is that it undermines the state’s constitutionally mandated commitment to provide sound basic education to all young people in North Carolina. While politicians in the past have debated about what constitutes adequate per pupil funding, now, for the first time, they will also be debating whether to appropriate any additional funding simply to cover the costs of additional students. Such funding will now be a matter of political give and take.

“The new policy will clearly have the most obvious effect on districts with growing student populations. Although a majority of North Carolina school districts, especially those in rural areas, are currently experiencing population declines, the overall number of students in the state continues to increase, and six of the eight largest districts are dealing with a growing number of students. Wake County schools are projected to see an increase of more than 8,000 students over the next three years, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg is facing growth of more than 9,000 during the same period. Even districts with declining school populations will be hurt because available state funds will have to be spread among a larger total student population….

“So why would Republican leaders adopt a policy that weakens the state’s ability to provide quality education for all students and makes it more difficult for district officials to engage in responsible planning? Perhaps one answer is that, since the large tax cuts Republicans implemented last year have reduced the revenue available for major state expenditure items such as education, they are now scrambling to find new ways of reducing support for education without seeming to be doing so. A related answer lies in the overall thrust of their education policies.

“Since taking power in 2012 Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican leaders have enacted a series of efforts aimed at weakening the state’s commitment to public education. They have, among other things, reduced the number of classroom teachers, teacher assistants, assistant principals, guidance counselors and nurses in North Carolina schools They have cut funding for textbooks and other learning materials and eviscerated teacher professional development – all the while giving favored treatment to charters and adopting a voucher program that diverts funds from public schools and puts them in the hands of religious and other private schools immune from public accountability…..

“The sleight of hand continues.”

Helen F. Ladd is professor of Public Policy and Economics at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Edward B. Fiske, formerly Education Editor of The New York Times, edits the Fiske Guide to Colleges.

Read more here:

The North Carolina Policy Watch reports on the latest turn in the battle over vouchers, which were declared unconstitutional in August by a Supreme Court judge.

“The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled today that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the fate of the program is decided.

“Students enrolled at private schools this fall expecting to have the vouchers, worth $4,200 annually, in hand – but an August ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher law to be unconstitutional, halting a program that, as Judge Hobgood said, “appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.

“As a result, voucher recipients either returned to public schools or paid the full cost of attendance at private schools. Some private schools also indicated they would temporarily subsidize voucher students with the hope that the final court ruling would turn out in their favor.

“While the Court of Appeals’ ruling obligates the state to disburse taxpayer funds to the private schools of those students who were awarded vouchers no later than August 21, 2014, it also blocks the state from awarding any additional vouchers until the final merits of the case are decided.

“State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the school vouchers, or “Opportunity Scholarships,” beginning this fall. The vouchers funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions…..”

Judge Robert Hobgood, who ruled against vouchers in August, said at that time:

““The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

This farce, which transfers public money from public schools to mostly religious schools, has nothing to do with education reform, and everything to do with extremist ideology and the ALEC agenda. It is a betrayal of the state’s obligation to its children.

Shortly after posting that the school board of Durham, North Carolina, voted not to renew its contract with Teach for America, I recalled that another major city had done the same, reversing the previous board’s decision to bring in 30 TFA recruits.

Last December, the newly elected majority on the Pittsburgh school board voted 6-2 not to renew its contract with TFA. The issue was how to fill positions at hard-to-staff schools. One of the board members who voted not to renew TFA said, “Board members said they’re concerned resignations from teachers in those schools stem from a lack of support for the educators. “People will come to hard-to-staff buildings if they know they will have support there.”

The Durham public school board voted 6-1 to finish its current contract with Teach for America and then sever the relationship.

“The Durham school district will honor its current contract with Teach For America, but the national teacher training program’s future with Durham Public Schools is up in the air.

“The school board voted 6-1 last week to honor its commitment to TFA teachers, including five hired to work for DPS this school year, but to not pursue any new relationships with the program beyond the 2015-16 school year.

“That’s when the five TFA teachers hired for this school year will complete their service obligation with the program.

“Seven other TFA teachers have begun their second years with DPS and will complete their two-year obligation with the program at the end of this school year.

“Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.

“Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.

“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.

“School board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was the only member to vote in favor of the district’s continuing its relationship with TFA.

“She agreed that school districts need teachers who are willing to make long-term commitments, but only if they are doing a good job in the classroom.

“Having tenure, just being there because you’re there and not dong what you should be doing, committed to every child, every day, having high expectations for every child, every day, if you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter if you’ve become a veteran in the classroom,” said Forte-Brown. “I need a veteran, qualified teacher in every classroom.”

Some teachers asked the board to use the funds to try to replicate the highly successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows, a five-year training program for career teachers that was defunded by the Legislature. But the executive director of TFA for Eastern North Carolina defended the program, saying that it was “North Carolina’s source for our state’s most effective beginning teachers.”

The district was expected to pay TFA $3,000 for each beginning teacher. But the board decided not to continue the relationship.

Patty Williams has been an active advocate for good public schools in Wake County. The second of her two children just graduated and is off to college. Does this mean she will abandon the public schools? No way! In this article, she and her husband David Zonderman explain why good public schools are important for our society, our communities, and our economy. Whether you have children in the public schools or not, you benefit by making sure that all children get a good education and that all public schools provide one.

They write:

“Better schools produce better-educated students who get better-paying jobs that allow people to make a better life for their families and pay taxes for more investments in our schools and roads and parks – there is that virtuous cycle again.

“This fall, we have elections for our state legislature. Most candidates will go to great lengths to tell you how they support public education. But we all need to look beyond the rhetoric to the decisions they made. Ask those running for office whether they supported budgets that froze teacher salaries and cut money for classroom assistants and textbooks and supplies. Ask whether they endorsed the nearly complete deregulation of charter schools and vouchers that give our tax dollars to private and religious schools that can discriminate against children. Ask them whether they have a long-term vision for protecting and enhancing public education in our state. Actions speak louder than words in supporting strong public schools for all children in North Carolina.

“We all have a stake in making North Carolina’s public schools the best they can be. These schools are essential to building healthy communities, a vibrant democracy and a prosperous economy.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/08/18/4080529/all-of-nc-has-a-stake-in-strong.html?sp=/99/108/374/#storylink=cpy

A North Carolina judge ruled voucher legislation unconstitutional because it gives money intended for public schools to private and religious schools. He ordered an immediate halt to the program.

Yvonne Brannan of PublicSchools First NC sent the following response, which included a video of Judge Robert Hobgood reading his decision:

“PLEASE watch this– you will better understand why this is so critical!! Hobgood is brilliant — he clearly points out how children will be denied the promise and privilege of public education if in a private setting where they have no constitutional rights!!!! EVERYONE must get this!! Rs and Ds…please understand the common good of public education for us all must be protected!!!! THIS IS A WIN FOR all children – regardless of race, income, gender, ZIP CODE!!!

“Our forefathers gave us this gift!!! THANKS TO the Great leaders of the past and thanks to fair courts!!

PLEASE CELEBRATE by joining me on Sat at 3:30 pm at the Bicentennial Mall for Moral Week of Action EDUCATION DAY!!

“I CANNOT STOP WATCHING THIS!
http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/video/13911824/”

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