Archives for category: North Carolina

A few days back, I wrote a post about a freshman Democrat in North Carolina, Graig Meyer. Representative Meyer had written a column that seemed to accept the reality (finality?) of vouchers and that called for setting accountability standards for schools receiving voucher money. He noted that many such schools do not have certified teachers and do not take state tests.

Rep. Meyer contacted me and said the purpose of his article was to begin a dialogue about setting accountability standards for the voucher schools, so that children were protected, as well as taxpayer dollars. He emphasized that it was critical to run strong campaigns against legislators who passed the voucher law. I agreed with him.

He wrote:

“My goal in offering the column was to start building some groundwork for adding accountability and measurement standards to the voucher law. I believe that if a private entity takes public funds for education, it must accept public scrutiny in the use of those funds….

“I appreciate you and my other friends who have challenged me this week. I assure you that I have lost no energy for the fight to maintain strong public schools and policies that strengthen families and communities.”

I wrongly accused a good man of “throwing in the towel.” I apologize.

I invited Rep. Meyer to join the Network for Public Education’s third annual conference next April in Raleigh, and he graciously accepted. He will meet hundreds of activists fighting for public education across the nation.

You should join us too. April 15-17, 2016. Raleigh, North Carolina. Save the date.

Graig Meyer is a Democrat and a freshman representative in the North Carolina General Assembly. His wife is a teacher in a low-performing, high-poverty school. In this post, he concludes that the state court’s 4-3 decision to permit public funding of vouchers is decisive. He is throwing in the towel even though he knows that most of the students who use vouchers will attend schools that have unaccredited teachers and zero accountability. He knows that the voucher program will harm public education.

“Among my Democratic colleagues, there is broad agreement there are many problems with the current voucher program. There’s little to no accountability for the schools where vouchers are spent. The majority of voucher schools are unaccredited. Many use a curriculum that teaches that dinosaurs lived beside humans and that slaves were treated well. Some are home schools that were never before eligible to receive taxpayer funds. None of them have to participate in any type of testing or assessment that will tell us whether the voucher program is actually leading to better educational outcomes than the public schools.”

Despite all this, he seems ready to throw in the towel. After all, it is now “settled law,” by 4-3. Racial segregation was once settled law. But Graig has no fight in him.

Come on, Graig, stand up to the privatizers. Fight for the public good. Take back the towel. Don’t be a quitter.

This is a debate about the state of public education in North Carolina.

First James D. Hogan, a former high school English teacher, wrote a scathing article about the war against public education in North Carolina, waged by the Governor and the Legislature against teachers, students, and public schools.

Then came a rebuttal by Brenda Berg, a spokesperson for business, saying that Hogan was wrong.

Now comes an article by North Carolina high school teacher Stuart Egan, refuting Brenda Berg, point by point.


Ms. Berg,

I read with great interest your essay, entitled “The real war on education in North Carolina.” It was a carefully crafted response to James Hogan’s widely circulated op-ed piece, entitled “The war on North Carolina’s public schools,” in which he explained actions taken in the last few years by a GOP-led General Assembly that have seriously handcuffed the public school system in our state.

You are certainly right in many respects: There is a war on public education and much of the rhetoric surrounding this war is “built on half-truths” and masterfully spun double-speak.

You responded to Hogan’s arguments in a very professional and matter-of-fact manner, taking each of his supporting points and rebutting them with your own information. Yet, I would be remiss in not offering some clarification and insights as a veteran North Carolinian educator who has seen much in these last few years. In many instances, you have not only misinterpreted the data, you have also not explained the whole picture.

The first item you “debunked” from Mr. Hogan’s article was his assertion that “Among their first targets: … cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers… The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions.”
You countered with numbers from the Department of Public Instruction about how the number of teachers in the state has actually increased since 2008. You said:

“We don’t know where Mr. Hogan finds evidence for the layoff of thousands of teachers. The North Carolina Statistical Profile from the Department of Public Instruction shows that in 2008, North Carolina had 97,676 teachers. Since 2008, the largest decline in the number of teachers employed in North Carolina was between 2011 and 2012, when the state employed 641 fewer teachers. There is no evidence that teachers were laid off; rather, it is more likely that vacant positions remained unfilled. In 2012, the state hired an additional 1,357 teachers and since then, the number of teachers has grown to 98,988 in 2014.”

With this use of numbers, you appear correct, but you are actually ignoring one very important item: growth of population. North Carolina has grown tremendously in the last few years. In fact, the number of teachers in 2014 should have been much higher to keep the same student to teacher ratio we had in 2008. Instead, high school class size caps have been removed statewide, and teachers are teaching more students per day.

Add to that your observation that vacant positions were unfilled. That in and of itself tells one there is no longer a teacher employed to “fill” that position. The duties remain, but now others have to assume them along with already growing responsibilities. Two teachers now are doing the work of what three teachers did in 2008. Attrition rates, early retirement, and reduction in force (RIF) are all real forces in schools today, and the effect is akin to layoffs.

Furthermore, do the numbers you refer to include all of the teacher assistants, media assistants, administrators, and other classified personnel who are no longer employed?

The next item you attempted to debunk involved state funding for schools. Mr. Hogan said, “Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature provided roughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.”
You countered with the PolitiFact claim that “In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession.” Then you further explained:

“North Carolina is spending more today on public education than it did before the economic recession, even when adjusted for inflation. The public education appropriation for the 2014-15 school year is $11,013,800,000—a significantly higher number than the $9,406,300,000 allocated in 2007, just before the Great Recession. When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina is also spending more per pupil now than in any of the ten previous years, with the exception of 2009, a peak budget year.”

Again, you simplified the numbers. There is more there and much of it has to do with population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1,000 students in its school system and spent $10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a $10,000 per-pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1,500 students and the school system is spending $11.5 million to educate them. According to your analysis, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down, significantly by over $2,300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

A WRAL report from this past school year stated, “In terms of per-pupil spending, an NEA report ranks North Carolina 46th in the United States in 2014-15, up from 47th in 2013-14. But spending actually drops from $8,632 to $8,620 per student from last year to this year.” According to Governing magazine, even the Census Bureau confirms that we are spending less per student than in years past.

Mr. Hogan stated next, “And when Republicans finally acted to increase teacher pay, they claimed to make the biggest pay hike in state history–but in reality only bumped up paychecks by an average of $270 per year.”
Your rebuttal was:

“We find no evidence that supports Mr. Hogan’s claim that the teachers received on average a $270 increase in salary. The average salary for a North Carolina teacher in 2013, the year before the raise was added, was $44,990. If you multiply this number by the average percent raise, 6.9 percent (according to calculations from Fiscal Research), teachers received on average an additional $3,104 dollars on their annual paycheck, plus benefits….

In 2014, the General Assembly passed an average 6.9 percent raise for teachers. This year, both the House and the Senate have proposed additional teacher raises averaging 4 percent. Combined, this nearly 11 percent average raise makes significant progress toward addressing the 17.4 percent decline (adjusted for inflation) in salaries teachers experienced between 2003 and 2013.”

The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of more than 10 percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Mr. Hogan’s claim that there was only an average salary increase of $270 comes when one takes the actual money allocated in the budget for the increase and dividing that evenly across the board.

That raise you refer to was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Like an annual bonus, all state employees receive it—except, now, for teachers—as a reward for continued service. Yet the budget you mentioned simply rolled that longevity money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise.

In the point about out-of-state teacher recruitment, Mr. Hogan said, “Meanwhile, Texas and Virginia started actively recruiting North Carolina teachers to go work in their states. It didn’t take much to convince Tarheel teachers to flee…”

You responded:

“Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and fewer are leaving now than before the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that only 455 left for this reason in 2014—just three percent of the 13,616 teachers who left their jobs last year. The percentage of teachers “fleeing” to other states was actually higher before the recession, as 3.5 percent of teachers in 2008 left to teach in other states.”

Editor’s Note: This paragraph in Berg’s original article has been corrected. It now states:

Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and rates have been relatively consistent since the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that the percentage of teachers leaving for other states rose slightly in 2014 (734, or 5.4 percent) with fewer leaving (341, or 3.5 percent) in 2012, consistent with the rate in 2008 (467, or 3.5 percent).

Teachers are not simply leaving North Carolina to teach in other states; many are leaving the profession altogether. The 2014 Teacher Turnover Report only states the information given to DPI. Not all teachers who leave teaching jobs take the survey, but from what I have witnessed, many teachers leave the profession because they cannot simply afford to raise a family on a North Carolina teacher’s salary. Younger mothers cannot afford day care, and teachers in border counties are easily lured to other states. They do not have to be recruited.

Furthermore, other states like Texas have had recruitment fairs in the state, and highly publicized ones at that. Most notably were a couple done by the Houston Public Schools, who are now led by Terry Grier, the former Guilford County superintendent. He knows the conditions in North Carolina and took advantage of the situation. While he may not have taken entire faculties with him, the fact that he was actively recruiting in North Carolina shows how conditions have deteriorated in this state.

So many teachers left the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System this past year (some estimate that it was more than 1,000), that the school system participated in over 50 job fairs, according to a May 25th WBTV report. As of two weeks ago, over 300 positions were still posted. And the CMS system is in a border county. Just look in York County, SC and see how many of their teachers were formerly employed by our state.

There is more. If you want to see a brilliant teacher, with no research assistant, doing a demolition job, keep reading.

You be the judge.

Lindsay Wagner of the NC Policy Watch reports that an Oregon multi-millionaire is behind a secret plan to create an all-charter “achievement school district” for low-performing schools in North Carolina.

Wagner writes:

“Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) may be the face of a plan to allow charter school operators to take over North Carolina’s worst performing schools, but he’s not the only Bryan with fingerprints on the proposal.

“Enter John D. Bryan, an Oregon-based retired business executive—and multimillionaire—who has long standing ties to the school privatization movement developing in the Tar Heel state and is a backer of conservative causes and political campaigns across the country.

“John Bryan has underwritten the creation of ten charter schools across North Carolina, and now thanks to his political efforts, he’s also behind a secret plan modeled after similar controversial initiatives in Tennessee, New Orleans and elsewhere to allow charter operators to fire an entire school’s staff and start from scratch in an attempt to catapult a public school into the top 25 percent of the state.

“The proposal to create an ‘achievement school district’ that wrests control of low-performing schools away from local school boards and into the hands of charter operators is being developed behind closed doors as the legislative session marches on, with numerous lawmakers and advocates working in tandem on successive drafts of the legislation.

And the final proposal, if it ever makes it to the House and Senate floors, will be the fruit of lobbying efforts commissioned by millionaire John Bryan….

“John Bryan, who is reportedly a retired chemical company executive, is founder of an organization called TeamCFA, an offshoot of his family’s foundation that is devoted to developing a network of charter schools around the country — most of which exist in North Carolina….

“Rep. Rob Bryan, who is the lead lawmaker pushing the bill that would create an ‘Achievement School District,’ has received $10,000 in campaign contributions since 2013 from John Bryan.

“According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, since 2010 John Bryan has given well over $100,000 to candidates who have a record of pushing school privatization efforts, including House Speaker Tim Moore, Rep. Jason Saine, former Guilford Rep. Marcus Brandon, Rep. Paul Stam, and Sen. Ralph Hise. And that list is likely not comprehensive, either, since many lawmakers don’t submit digitized campaign finance records, making it more difficult to search online for contributions.”

The sad irony is that the “achievement school district” in Tennessee, the model for this proposal, has been a dismal failure. it promised to move the state’s lowest performing schools to the top 20% in the state. Of the original six schools that were taken over because they were among the state’s bottom 5%, all are in the bottom 6% or lower. None has met the goal of dramatic–or even modest–test score gains.

– See more at: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/08/13/out-of-state-money-behind-secret-plan-to-fund-charter-takeover-of-ncs-worst-performing-schools/#sthash.ypL4X986.dpuf

In a recent post, North Carolinian James D. Hogan charged that the Governor and Legislature of North Carolina are waging war on public education. The state has rapidly expanded charters and vouchers, killed the North Carolina Teaching Frllows program and transferred millions to Teach for America, adopted Jeb Bush’s A-F school grading system (which identifies schools with high levels of poverty), and deferred salary increases for teachers so that North Carolina teacher salaries are among the lowest in the nation.

The North Carolina business organization BEST says Hogan is wrong. I received the following response to Hogan’s article:

Editorial: The Real War on Education in North Carolina

by Brenda Berg, President & CEO of BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina)

Former teacher James Hogan caught the attention of national media outlets last week with his inflammatory proclamation that North Carolina is waging a step-by-step war on public education. As education advocates who believe our state has the potential to have the best education system in the nation, we were dismayed.

There is no disagreement that education in our state faces many challenges and we undoubtedly have a long way to go to provide every student with an outstanding education that helps them reach their full potential. But opinion articles that oversimplify this complex issue are the real war on North Carolina’s education system, demoralizing dedicated educators and communities that have endured tough economic times and are working hard to deliver a high quality education for all students.

North Carolina’s flatlining academic performance did not begin in 2012 and cannot be placed on the shoulders of one party, one administration or one set of state policies. Today’s education system has been decades in the making and is a product of the changing dynamics of economies and populations. It is imperative that we understand these complexities if we are to work together to find effective solutions that will make our education system the best in the nation. We cannot do this with over-simplification built on half-truths and which incites a polarized dialogue.

As Hogan points out, North Carolina is facing declining interest in the teaching profession, and has been for several years, but so is nearly every other state in the nation. The implication that North Carolina’s decline is the direct result of eliminating the Teaching Fellows program deliberately ignores the fact that the program only prepared about three percent of the 10,000 teachers North Carolina hires every year.

More blatantly false, Hogan claims that the Fellows program “produced droves of quality teachers who filled hard-up school classrooms.” In fact, the program’s own sponsoring organization transparently reported, “Teaching Fellows taught in schools and classrooms with greater concentrations of higher-performing, lower-poverty students… Fellows today tend to be clustered in the larger metropolitan areas where teacher recruitment overall has historically been less problematic.” Building on this knowledge, the current NC House budget includes funding for an updated teacher scholarship program that would graduate up to 1,000 teachers each year—specifically for the state’s hardest-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Perpetuating more myths, Mr. Hogan mentions the oft-cited anecdotes of public school teachers fleeing North Carolina for higher paying jobs in other states, implying—without evidence—a direct link to policy changes made in the past few years. In fact, the state’s own data show that only three percent of teachers who left their classrooms in 2014 moved to another state. That is half a percent lower than the number of teachers who found work in other states in 2008.

On teacher salaries, we agree that more work is needed. North Carolina educators went as much as five years—many of those under previous administrations—without any pay raises. This has left teacher pay in a decades-long hole that will take several years to reverse. But the current leadership took a big step forward with last year’s pay increase that averaged seven percent (not the $270, claimed in the blog) and this year, both current House and Senate budgets recommend an additional pay increase averaging four percent. This is real progress. We encourage our elected officials to continue this progress toward getting teacher pay to where it needs to be.

Not mentioned in the blog, but at least as important as teacher salaries, is the quality of North Carolina’s school leadership. Survey after survey shows that teachers care about pay, but they care even more about the quality and preparation of the leader they work for, just like other professionals. After years of scant attention to principal leadership, the General Assembly this year has proposed a $10M investment in principal preparation that would significantly raise the bar on what we expect of and provide for school leaders. If approved, the program would prepare potentially hundreds of principals for North Carolina public schools every year.

Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Hogan marginalizes the importance of student achievement by mocking school letter grades and not once mentioning academic achievement. In truth, there are schools in North Carolina that have as few as 5% of students meeting proficiency—a fact that is far more profound and worthy of media attention than a purported war on education based on half-truths. These academic disparities have existed for far longer than one political cycle. North Carolinians need to know this fact and use it as a call to action in support of public education.

Rather than pointing fingers, we encourage our fellow North Carolinians to do what we do best—work proactively and collaboratively to find solutions that will elevate educators to the status they deserve. In addition to a commitment to raise teacher pay, a powerful proposal is on the table right now with House and Senate budget negotiators. The plan offers a comprehensive approach to elevate teachers and principals by recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting great educators so they can focus on what matters most to them and to us—our students. This is the antithesis of a “war” on public education and the most-likely antidote to persistently low-performing schools.

It is time to stop pointing fingers and start looking for solutions to real problems. We owe our children a public discourse that models the collaboration, respect, and optimism that we hope they will exhibit as adults. We also owe educators a vision for a productive path forward, one that values their contributions and engages them as the highly skilled professionals they are. Let’s solve these problems together and leverage the incredible potential of our state to provide our children the best education system in the nation.

Fact Check: James Hogan’s blog post, as quoted in the Washington Post
North Carolina business leaders understand that great solutions to complex problems are built on difficult, respectful conversations and diverse perspectives. We don’t shy away from constructive disagreements – but we also don’t shy away from the facts. A fact-check of a Mr. Hogan’s most concerning points is included below.

“Among their first targets: … cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers…The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions.”

• We don’t know where Mr. Hogan finds evidence for the layoff of thousands of teachers. The North Carolina Statistical Profile from the Department of Public Instruction shows that in 2008, North Carolina had 97,676 teachers. Since 2008, the largest decline in the number of teachers employed in North Carolina was between 2011 and 2012, when the state employed 641 fewer teachers. There is no evidence that teachers were laid off, rather it is more likely that vacant positions remained unfilled. In 2012, the state hired an additional 1,357 teachers and since then, the number of teachers has grown to 98,988 in 2014.

• Error of omission: while Teacher Assistants were mentioned four times in the blog, the proposed reduction in student-to-teacher ratios in Kindergarten through grade three to as low as 15 students per teacher was not mentioned once.

“Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature provided roughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.”

• Mr. Hogan’s own source, PolitiFact, rated this claim “Half-True.”

“In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession.”

• North Carolina is spending more today on public education than it did before the economic recession, even when adjusted for inflation. The public education appropriation for the 2014-15 school year is $11,013,800,000–a significantly higher number than the $9,406,300,000 allocated in 2007, just before the Great Recession. When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina is also spending more per pupil now than in any of the ten previous years, with the exception of 2009, a peak budget year.

“And when Republicans finally acted to increase teacher pay, they claimed to make the biggest pay hike in state history–but in reality only bumped up paychecks by an average of $270 per year.”

• We find no evidence that supports Mr. Hogan’s claim that the teachers received on average a $270 increase in salary. The average salary for a North Carolina teacher in 2013, the year before the raise was added, was $44,990. If you multiply this number by the average percent raise, 6.9% (according to calculations from Fiscal Research), teachers received on average an additional $3,104 dollars on their annual paycheck, plus benefits.

• In 2014, the General Assembly passed an average 6.9 percent raise for teachers. This year, both the House and the Senate have proposed additional teacher raises averaging 4 percent. Combined, this nearly 11 percent average raise makes significant progress toward addressing the 17.4 percent decline (adjusted for inflation) in salaries teachers experienced between 2003 and 2013.

“Meanwhile, Texas and Virginia started actively recruiting North Carolina teachers to go work in their states. It didn’t take much to convince Tarheel teachers to flee…”

• Relatively few North Carolina teachers are leaving to teach in other states, and fewer are leaving now than before the economic recession. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s 2014 Teacher Turnover Report reports that only 455 left for this reason in 2014—just three percent of the 13,616 teachers who left their jobs last year. The percentage of teachers “fleeing” to other states was actually higher before the recession, as 3.5 percent of teachers in 2008 left to teach in other states.

“The Teaching Fellows program produced droves of quality teachers who filled hard-up school classrooms.”

• Most Teaching Fellows did not teach in hard-to-staff areas of North Carolina. In the Public School Forum’s Teaching Fellows Report from earlier this year, the Forum reported that “Teaching Fellows taught in schools and classrooms with greater concentrations of higher-performing, lower-poverty students” and “tend to be clustered in the larger metropolitan areas where teacher recruitment overall has historically been less problematic than in the state’s poorer and rural districts.”

“The Teaching Fellows program…budget was a modest one, and yet Republicans uprooted it from the state budget and killed the entire program. The result? Enrollment in teacher prep programs in the UNC system has dropped 27 percent in the last five years.”

• The number of students in UNC system education programs reached a peak in 2010, but it has declined since. This decline started while Democrats were in office and cannot be solely attributed to the actions of a Republican-led legislature or the elimination of the Teaching Fellows program.

• Mr. Hogan implies that the decreased enrollment in teacher programs is the direct result of the elimination of the Teaching Fellows program. However, the program only prepared about three percent (3%) of the 10,000 teachers North Carolina hires every year.

“More than 700 of the state’s public schools (nearly thirty percent) received a score of D or F. Many parents struggled to understand how so many schools could so quickly fail. But instead of demonstrating the quality of a school, the state’s new grading measure much more accurately described the socio-economic status of its enrolled students–nearly every one of the state’s “failing” schools were considered high-poverty schools.”

• Using ‘growth’ as an alternative measure, which is not based on socio-economic status, there are 591 schools across the state that are failing to meet growth. These schools did not ‘so quickly fail’—these schools were failing for a very long time, but remained virtually ignored. While the current letter grades are an imperfect measure (there are 86 D and F schools that exceeded growth, for example), we hope these grades will compel North Carolina to take a positive, comprehensive approach to improving public schools.

“We’re five weeks overdue on the budget, and some legislators are saying the budget might not be settled until Labor Day.”

• In the past 15 years, North Carolina has passed a budget on-time just four times, and two of those were on the final day of the fiscal year. We still haven’t approached the 88 extra days it took in 2001 or the 92 days it took in 2002. We agree with Mr. Hogan that passing a budget after the beginning of the school year does not benefit schools or students. But what matters more is whether the final approved budget results in a better budget for education.

Peter Greene puts together all the recent policies enacted in North Carolina and predicts the future. The triumph of reform in North Carolina!

Greene writes:

“Political leaders gathered to celebrate today as Department of Education bulldozers upgraded the last NC public school, replacing it with a picturesque park.

“It has been a long road,” said State Education Biggifier Harlen McDimbulb, overseeing the work as the dozer knocked down the last chart-encrusted data wall. “But our big breakthrough came with the court ruling that certified our voucher system back there a few years. That finally allowed us to get money and support to outstanding schools like God Loves White Guys High and Aryan Academy. Great private schools were being denied public tax dollars just because they wouldn’t teach state-approved so-called ‘fact’ and ‘science.'”

“Vouchers opened the door,” said Assistant Secretary of Money Laundering Chauncey Gotbux. “But with the court’s blessing, we were finally able to use public education tax dollars as they were meant to be used– as a source of profit for people who deserve it.”

“Asked about the looseness of oversight and accountability for the tax dollars, Gotbux replied, “When you give the money to the right people, you can trust that they do the right thing with it.”

“There were some serious problems,” admitted Golly Mugbungle of the Greater North Carolina School Choice Initiative Authority. “We quickly streamlined the process so that non-public schools could get their money just by asking for it and completing a simple yet rigorous form. But since the form only asked ‘Are you a school’ and we had no follow-up investigation to look at those claims, we discovered that we were mistakenly sending tax dollars to public schools.” He chuckled nostalgically. “Yeah, we had to shut that down pretty quickly.”

James D. Hogan, a former high school AP English teacher who now works for a liberal arts college in North Carolina, spells out the dramatic changes in his state over the past few years. He reaches a considered and dire conclusion: “North Carolina is waging war against public education.”

He describes in horrifying detail how the state legislature and Governor has systematically attacked the teaching profession, literally driving experienced teachers out of the state, and opened every possible avenue for privatization and profiteering.

At a time when public education is under attack in many states (often with the silent assent or the active approval of the Obama administration), North Carolina may well be the worst and meanest state in the nation.

In this brilliant article, Hogan writes:


Let me begin by saying that I am often no fan of hyperbole. We live in an era in which blog titles like this one are used as click bait, lures to entice–and, really, to enrage–readers and provide as little meat on the figurative bone as possible.

But I really mean it when I say this: North Carolina is waging war against public education.

From the rise of mega-testing companies and the policies that mandate them, to the widespread adoption of common curriculum, to the years of economic struggle following the Great Recession, public schools have endured substantial stress, and they may very well look substantially altered by the end of this decade. The biggest change? Public education is wholly political, evenly divided and polarized by factions on the left and right. What I call war, others may call a revolution.

Make no mistake, however. Our state is dismantling its public education system. And it didn’t have to be this way–the pathway that brought us here was paved with underfunded budgets, tactical strikes against public school teachers, fundamental changes in how charter schools operate and how tax dollars can go to private or religious schools, and the erosion of our hallowed University of North Carolina. In other words, not the failure of public education.

Why? That’s the question I most often found myself asking. Why would our state government work so hard to threaten public education? Who could have the audacity, or the political capital, to take on such an assault?….

When North Carolina Republicans took control of the state government in 2012, they quickly set into motion a sweeping agenda to enact conservative social reforms and, more importantly, vastly change how the state spends its money. It was the first time in more than a century that Republicans enjoyed such political dominance in our state.

What brought them all to town? A good reason: in the 2011-12 budget year, North Carolina projected a multi-billion dollar deficit, enough to rank the state among the worst budget offenders in the country and bring a new slate of elected legislators to Raleigh. So Republicans, with a clear mandate to clean up the fiscal mess in November 2012, set to work righting the ship.

What does a state like ours spend money on? Public education, including higher education, consumes about a third of North Carolina’s budget. Health and Human Services, including the state’s Medicaid and unemployment programs, composes an even larger slice, about 37.5 percent.

Other state programs make up little bits and pieces: nearly 8 percent on transportation and highways, 5.5 percent on public safety, 9 percent on natural and economic resources.

In other words, if you want to make big cuts, public education is one of two really big targets.

After that landslide election in 2012, legislators began sharpening their knives.

A Fury of Budget Cuts

Among their first targets: reductions in unemployment benefits, cuts to public schools, including laying off thousands of teachers, and a massive, nearly half-billion dollar slash from the University of North Carolina.

Two years later, in the last budget cycle, 2014-15, the legislature provided roughly $500 million less for education than schools needed.

Later in the 2013 session, though, the most radical changes in state financing fell into place. Republicans reconstructed the state’s tax code, relieving the burden on corporations and wealthy residents. They continued to take aim at other parts of the education budget, cutting More at Four program dollars and decreasing accessibility for poor families. The state lost thousands more teacher and teacher assistant positions. The bloodletting was fierce. More on that in a minute.

Across the state, local education districts were faced with budget deficits of considerable proportion after legislators hacked away their funding. School systems raided fund balances, rainy day funds set aside for things like natural disasters, not political ones. Elsewhere, employees were furloughed, teachers were laid off, teacher assistants were forced to take other jobs or lose their classroom positions, and so forth. Non-personnel funding disappeared. Textbooks stayed in circulation another year. Buildings were patched together instead of replaced. Education Week called ours “The Most Backward Legislature in America.”

Republicans defended these austerity measures by saying that lower taxes would eventually yield fiscal growth. And they were right. This year, the government is enjoying a $445 million surplus–a clear victory in light of those multi-billion dollar deficits of yore–but still a statistically small number in light of the state’s $21 billion budget (about two percent), especially after considering that our state budget is still smaller than it was in 2011.

In fact, by 2014-15, North Carolina was still spending $100 million less on public education than it had before the economic recession. And over the past ten years, public schools added more than 150,000 additional students. No Republican legislator can honestly say that per pupil expenditures across the state have increased in the last six years.

Taking Aim at Teachers

Curiously, the Republican-held capital didn’t stop at defunding education. They also took aim at teachers.

NC teachers are prohibited by law from unionizing, but they did have a common advocacy group in the North Carolina Association of Educators. In 2011, the legislature passed a law targeting how the group collects dues from member teachers. Then-Governor Bev Purdue vetoed it. In 2012, the law made its way back to Purdue, who vetoed again–but the House overrode it during a sneaky, late-night vote. (The law was later found to be discriminatory, retaliatory, and a violation of free speech and thrown out by state courts.)

But with teacher’s main advocacy group effectively muzzled, the legislature was free to run rampant, and teachers quickly came under fire.

Teacher salaries fell to 46th in the nation and worst in the south after five years with zero pay increases. And when Republicans finally acted to increase teacher pay, they claimed to make the biggest pay hike in state history–but in reality only bumped up paychecks by an average of $270 per year. When you factored inflation into the mix, teachers were losing money.

Meanwhile, Texas and Virginia started actively recruiting North Carolina teachers to go work in their states. It didn’t take much to convince Tarheel teachers to flee–especially after some teachers discovered they earned substantially less money than when they started thanks to inflation.

In case pitiful paychecks weren’t enough to deter teachers from returning to work, the legislature next took aim at teacher tenure. The Republican-led proposal initially was to eliminate tenure altogether, but eventually they came up with a plan that would grant teachers pay raises for giving up their career status. It was, as I wrote then, a clever way of getting rid of veteran teachers.

Eventually, that compromise became law, and teachers state-wide began the effort of figuring out if their career status or their retirement pension was more important–and once again, the court stepped in and overturned the law. Another legislative overreach corrected by the courts.

(This year, just for kicks, the NC Senate is proposing an end to teacher healthcare coverage in retirement. “That’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” state Rep. Gary Pendleton said.)

The assault didn’t stop with the assaults on new and tenured teachers. It continued on teacher preparation programs, including the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.

The Teaching Fellows program was arguably one of the best teacher prep scholarships in the nation; it celebrated a better retention rate than its federal cousin, Teach For America, and it produced droves of quality teachers who filled hard-up school classrooms. Its budget was a modest one, and yet Republicans uprooted it from the state budget and killed the entire program.

This year, with its final class of scholars graduating college, the program officially flat-lined. State Teacher of the Year Keana Triplett called the legislature’s shuttering of the Teaching Fellows “the single biggest mistake in public education.”

The result? Enrollment in teacher prep programs in the UNC system has dropped 27 percent in the last five years. A teacher shortage is just around the corner.

First, weaken schools. Then print parents a ticket out–and into for-profit schools….

Let’s review. With an unassailable, veto-proof majority, North Carolina Republicans seized control of this state and unleashed a devastating blow to public schools.

They have systematically pared budgets to the bone. They have insulted, antagonized, and demoralized teachers through stingy salary offerings–and they’ve muted the organization that had for many years protected them.

Make no mistake: this is a war against public education. Teachers are losing. I have been reading and writing about education in North Carolina for several years now, and while it might not always appear obvious, our state has formed a cohesive and coordinated attack against public schools.

Public education is at risk. And with every measure–every budget cut, every insult, every weakening–our school house slides toward complete devastation.

– See more at: http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2015/08/the-war-on-north-carolinas-public.html#sthash.hU8suCTK.dpuf

Stuart Egan is a high school teacher in Clemmons, North Carolina. This letter is addressed to a key Republican who is leading the charge to shift more public funds to privately managed charter schools.

This is an open letter to Sen. Jerry Tillman, R- Randolph County and the Majority Whip in the NC State Senate. This letter concerns his amendment to House Bill 334 to remove oversight of charter schools from DPI and his primary sponsorship of Senate Bill 456, a bill to forward more public money to charter schools.
Sen. Tillman,

Your crusade to create a lucrative charter school industry at the hands of public schools again has reached new heights of irrationality and hubris, and it is indicative of an exclusionary attitude when it comes to serving the people of North Carolina.

I am not surprised that you as a leader of the GOP caucus in the North Carolina General Assembly would spearhead a campaign to keep privatizing education in North Carolina, but the fact that you are a retired public school educator pushing this agenda makes me think that your commitment to provide a quality education to all of our state’s children simply vanished when you took an “oath” as a politician.

As reported on July 23rd in Lindsay Wagner’s news story entitled “Tillman’s bill impacts charter school oversight”, you championed an amendment to House Bill 334 that now places oversight of charter schools under the care of the State Board of Education and out of the Department of Public Instruction’s jurisdiction.

What this does is essentially place the responsibility of monitoring charter schools into the hands of an entity that is not prepared for that task. When pressed on the matter, you expressed that you intended to allocate funds to allow the SBE to hire personnel to monitor charter schools. Really? Spend more money on charters by creating a situation where you can protect them from checks and balances? This sounds more like a way for you to fashion a favorable situation for new charter schools to not only operate more freely, but be less transparent.

Ms. Wagner also detailed the abrupt manner in which you fielded questions from other legislators who were concerned with the surreptitious manner in which you operated. You stated that “DPI was never in love … with charter schools.” By whose standards is this true? Yours? Is it because DPI has been able to identify indiscretions with many charter schools that needed to be corrected?

When Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) confronted you for more clarification about why your amendment was actually beneficial to children of North Carolina, you hid behind a curtain of illogical clichés and glittering generalities. Sen. Stein asked in what ways DPI had inhibited charter school creation and you shot back, “I’m not going to give you the details. A good lawyer would never do that.” That’s odd. You are a lawmaker. You should produce details. In fact, good lawyers very much pay attention to details.

When further pressed to offer details as to why DPI should be divested of charter school oversight, you said, “We don’t air dirty laundry here.” Senator, if there is enough dirty laundry to create the need for your amendment, then you probably need to show everyone the stains. And where and when should this “dirty laundry” get aired? It seems like you were in the laundromat already.

You were in a meeting specifically to address House Bill 334 and you brought forth an amendment which totally changes the scope of how charter schools are managed and then you bullishly refused to explain yourself. If your reasoning is so sound, then why did you not clarify it? When people refuse to answer questions that require thoughtful answers, then it usually means that one is either hiding some secret agenda or really has no logical reasoning whatsoever, or both. I am thinking that it is both because this is just the last of a series of actions that have shown you bulldozing the public schools to create more charter schools without oversight.

A June 4th report by Laura Leslie for WRAL entitled “Senate Education Leader blasts charter chief” detailed your outburst in a meeting concerning why DPI refused to grant charters for many new charter school applications. Reading your comments makes you sound like a playground bully who did not get his way. The first few sentences of the report used phrases like “angry outburst” and “public dressing-down” to describe your tirade. Joel Medley, the State Office of Charter Schools director, actually explained to you the reasoning for the denial of some charters. He did not seem to hide behind some political agenda. He was willing to air dirty laundry for the sake of the state’s welfare. No lawyer needs to explain that.

Let’s go back a few weeks. I now refer to the April 28th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, when education writer Arika Herron reported that you proposed a bill (SB 456) which “would send more money to charter schools” by taking more from traditional public schools in next year’s budget (“NC Senate bill would send more money to charter schools”). I have to admit; at least you are consistent.

It appears that you publicly ignore that charter schools can practice exclusion and in many cases divert public funds to unregulated entities. Charter schools are not required to offer transportation or provide free/reduced lunches. They can selectively limit enrollment and hire non-certified educators. Most charter schools simply lack transparency. And a further consequence is that SB 456 targets poorer people because you introduced a bill that would exclude more poor people (who still pay taxes) from the benefits of a quality education that you perceive only charter schools can give.

Sen. Tillman, you do not seem to care if your wish to expand charter schools actually widens the income gap that so much grips our state. You made that perfectly clear on Feb. 23rd, 2011, when you were shown on a video posted by Rob Schofield on the ncpolicywatch.org website. You fielded a question that expressed concern over whether lower-income kids could have equal chances to attend charter schools. Your response was indicative of the exclusionary attitude that your proposed bill embraces.

You said, “It’s certainly okay if they don’t go there [the charter school]. They can go to their public schools. They can get their free and reduced price lunch. And they can do that. But the charter school itself and the commission must decide what they can do and when they can do it financially. And that’s where we are now and that’s where we’re gonna’ be and I’m certainly for that.”

With a response like that, how can you claim to represent all North Carolinians? The fact is that no matter the socioeconomic background of the students, traditional schools do succeed when proper resources are allotted (money, textbooks, time, respect, etc.). When teachers have the support of the public AND the legislature, any school can show student growth. However, your statement leads one to think that you are promoting exclusivity based on income levels.
And this is not the first time that you have alienated those who suffer from poverty.

You were a primary sponsor for the Voting Reform Act in the 2013-2014 sessions, leading the charge to fight non-existent voter fraud in our state by fast-tracking a voter ID law that was purposefully constructed to keep many people’s voices from being heard, especially minority and low-income citizens. If these people are silenced, then how can they democratically affect outcomes in elections that may sanction positive change for their children and grandchildren including issues surrounding public education? You seem to be denying them the very right that you have sworn to protect and uphold as an elected official.

As a public school teacher, I am amazed that you continue to belittle the very public schools that you yourself once served as a teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent – for over 40 years! You are drawing a pension for being a public school retiree!

But now you are a seven-term state senator and a willing participant in transforming North Carolina from what was considered the most progressive state in the Southeast into what has regressed into a stagnated commonwealth ruled by reactionary policies.

And what seems most egregious is that you are the co-chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee. Your decisions impact ALL STUDENTS! You have a direct influence in how schools are funded, what they can teach, and how they are measured. Surely you remember the Jeb Bush inspired letter-grading system you helped implement that found most “failing” schools in North Carolina resided in areas where there were concentrated pockets of poverty.

As a public official you are under oath to uphold the state’s constitution which ensures all students a quality public education. Instead you are compromising all students in traditional schools while taking more of the valuable money and resources allocated for them to give to charter schools that do not have to abide by the same regulations.

If you truly want to positively impact public education, then invest more in pre-K programs and expand Medicaid so more kids come to school healthy and prepared. Reinstitute the Teaching Fellows program to keep our bright future teachers here in North Carolina. Then give decent raises to veteran teachers so they finish their careers here instead of in other states.

Real leaders take away obstacles that impede those who are served. You are creating more.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School
Clemmons, NC

North Carolina’s high court ruled 4-3 in favor of vouchers yesterday.

 

Even those who like the idea of using public funds to send students to private and religious schools, as well as to pay for home-schooling, may have trouble stomaching this bizarre decision.

 

Sharon McCloskey writes in NC Policy Watch just how bad this decision is, how it will set back the education of large numbers of children by using public money for home schooling and for schools that have no accredited teachers, no curriculum, no standards. This cannot be the way to prepare for the 21st century. It sounds instead like a headlong rush back to the nineteenth century.

 

McCloskey writes:

 

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.”

 

Finding that the state’s “Opportunity Scholarship Program” did not clearly violate the state constitution, the court reversed Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s 2014 ruling reaching the opposite conclusion.

 

“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,” Hobgood wrote at the time.

 

The challenged law, enacted as part of the 2013 state budget, allows the state to appropriate more than $10 million in public money to award qualifying low-income families $4200 per child for use at private schools.

 

Those schools, which can range from religious schools with several students to a home school of one, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.

 

In reaching its conclusion — and despite the constitution’s language that state funds should be “appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools” — the majority held that public funds may be spent on educational initiatives outside of the uniform system of free public schools.

 

As to the lack of accountability required of the private schools receiving public voucher money, the majority said that the constitutionally required “sound basic education” for North Carolina students, set down in the landmark Leandro decision, did not apply to private schools.

 

– See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2015/07/23/states-highest-court-upholds-school-voucher-program-despite-lack-of-accountability-and-standards/#sthash.K1zyIHFX.dpuf

 

 

Bad news from North Carolina.

Contact: Yevonne Brannon/Patty Williams

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Tel: 919-244-6243/919-696-8059

Email: info@publicschoolsfirstnc.org

NC SUPREME COURT DEALS STUNNING BLOW TO PUBLIC EDUCATION

More children placed at risk by decision

Raleigh, NC—July 23, 2015— Public Schools First NC is disheartened by the NC Supreme Court ruling that will transfer tens of millions of desperately needed public education dollars to fund unaccountable private schools.

“Today is a very sad day in the history of our state,” said Yevonne Brannon, Chair, Public Schools First NC. “Our long-standing tradition of commitment to excellence in public education has made North Carolina a jewel among southern states. We cannot fathom how this decision upholds the constitutional promise that all children receive a sound, basic education within the public school system. And we are deeply concerned as strong public schools are critical for growing our economy and maintaining the vitality of our communities.”

Where voucher programs have been implemented, there is no evidence that they offer high- quality educational alternatives to children from low-income families. In Indiana, the number of vouchers awarded has grown exponentially; according to an education leader in that state, the program “now benefits middle class families who always intended to send their children to private (mostly religious) schools and taxpayers are footing the growing bill.” Today,
Indiana taxpayers pay an estimated $116 million to send 29,000 students to private/religious schools.

Public Schools First NC questions the “public purpose” of the school voucher program, when there are clear solutions—ranging from fully-funding pre-K programs, adequately funding
classroom supplies, and offering programs and compensation that encourage recruitment, preparation, support and retention of professional, experienced educators—to improve public education. Since 2008-09, funding for education essentials, including (textbooks,
transportation, teacher assistants, teachers, etc.) has been reduced by over $1 billion.

“How can sending at-risk children to schools where accreditation is not necessary, where teachers do not need a high school diploma, and where adherence to academic standards is not required be a worthy educational alternative,” noted Brannon. “All children lose when public schools are further depleted of their funds, and those funds are then used for unworthy ends.”

About Public Schools First NC:

Public Schools First NC (PSFNC) is a statewide, nonpartisan organization focused solely on public education issues. We collaborate with teachers, parents, business and civic leaders, students and communities across North Carolina in support of an effective public education system that will prepare each child for life. To learn more or to join our organization, please visit: publicschoolsfirstnc.org. Follow us on Twitter: @PS1NC. Read our 2015 legislative priorities.

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