As mentioned in our Right to Education post, the state legislature is bound by our constitution and state law to offer a sound, free, and equitable public education to all NC children. However, as we saw in May 2018, the voices of 20,000 educators, parents and students were effectively ignored when the NCGOP majority passed a budget which circumvented normal procedures, did not allow debate or amendments, and failed to respond to the needs of our public schools. 

There are a number of steps that can be taken now to address some of the urgent issues facing our schools. Please contact your legislators and ask them to address these critical concerns in our public school system. 

School bonds

Promises of a school bond were made last year but never made it to the ballot. Using 2016 data there is an estimated $8B needed to fund construction and repair needs (before Hurricanes Matthew and Florence), and a $2B bond would cover just a portion of that, with payments guaranteed for 10 years. There has been a bond on the ballot approximately once every decade since the 1950’s, until 1996, when the last school bond was approved. A bond would also help build new classrooms for the unfunded class size mandate that was passed 2 years ago, but delayed until the 2019/20 school year due to public pressure. Bond funds would be additional money over and above the existing state budget funding, which could continue to go towards salaries, resources and other educational needs.

However, despite Speaker Tim Moore’s support of a bond this year, SB5, Building NC’s Future was just passed by the Senate last week which would replace the option of a bond with a bill that takes money from the operating budget to use for school infrastructure needs. This is a bad idea according to Senator Jay Chaudhuri, as it does not guarantee funding for an extended period, it takes money away from other purposes like pay raises and early childhood programs, and it bypasses the traditional budget process which covers a whole host of needs. There was mixed Democratic support for the bill, with some saying it’s important for some funding to be available immediately, and Republicans are supporting the idea of not taking on new debt (even though $3B was borrowed last year to fix roads and bridges).

More information is available here: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article226534995.html

    Educator salaries

    It is critical that we provide educators a respectful salary package. The teacher pipeline is drying up, and is a significant problem that has to be addressed now. Paying a respectable and living wage with benefits based on the value of their work is critical to retaining and attracting new teachers. NC should not be ranked near the bottom of the nation here.

    Understanding the pay averages being discussed, and how they relate to past years, is important when looking at the numbers. Some elected officials like to tout that NC teachers have the second highest rate of pay increases in the country, when in fact there is some catch up being played just to bring the salary close to pre-recession levels. In addition, the averages include teachers who have had their Master’s pay grandfathered in (as of 2013 it is no longer offered) and many veteran teachers at the higher end of the scale. Thankfully, we have recently seen bi-partisan support for SB28, which would restore master’s pay, so please contact your legislators to voice support for that bill.

    The last budget amendments in 2018 ceased all raises for teachers when they hit 15 years of experience, and added just $200 a month from year 25, in addition to eliminating veteran teacher bonuses. On top of that, allocations for classroom materials are now half of the pre-recession levels, the number of teaching assistants has decreased by 7,000 since 2008, and premiums for health care have risen. And to top it off, all new teachers hired after June 2018 will no longer receive state health insurance on retirement, and no pension plan, which was converted to a 401k option which has no guaranteed long term funding unlike a pension. Supporters of eliminating the retirement benefits claim new teachers aren’t as interested in staying in the career until retirement, so those funds should be used elsewhere.

    Read more from Public Schools First NC’s Fact Sheet here: https://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/resources/fact-sheets/the-facts-on-teacher-salaries/

    Support Staff

    North Carolina needs to increase support staff to recommended levels. Not only will this free up teachers to actually teach, but it will benefit every child in the school, whether they are in need of additional services or not. More school counselors, school nurses and teacher assistants are desperately needed.

    Public Schools First NC offers these recommendations:

    “North Carolina’s schools are ill-equipped to deal with consequences of kids’ ACEs (adverse childhood experiences).  School resource officers are not always trauma-informed and may act to push children out of school through various short-and-long-term disciplinary measures. Not serving our children while they are in school creates generations of adults who are unprepared for successful lives. All of this has taken place – or failed to take place – amidst a backdrop of the many other ongoing public health emergencies impacting children like foster care needs. In May 2017, the number of children in the state’s foster system passed 11,000, a 28% increase over the previous five years.

    Our schools need more support personnel; nurses, social workers, counselors and child psychologists to help kids and teachers cope with ACEs in order to lead healthier, more productive lives. Currently, our public schools are woefully understaffed to meet the needs of our trauma-impacted children. Further, NC needs a Social Work Director position at the Department of Public Instruction to help coordinate and provide support to efforts across all school districts (recommended by the NCGA’s Child Fatality Task Force).”

    Here is what experts recommend schools have:

    • school counselor for every 250 kids. The state pays for 1 for every 413 students. NC, on average, has one school counselor for every 350 students. (Note: Some school districts use local funds to supplemental state dollars.)
    • 1 social worker for every 250 children. The state pays for 1 per 1,922 students. NC, on average, has one school social worker for every 1,427 students.1 school psychologist for every 700 kids.
    • The state pays for 1 per 2,483 students. NC, on average, has one school psychologist for every 1,857 students.
    • 1 school nurse for every 750 kids or at least one per school. NC, on average, has one school nurse for every 2,315 students.
    Access to Community Colleges

    North Carolina can improve access to community colleges through Governor Cooper’s NC Grow program, which would use the lottery to pay for tuition for HS students in good standing, after other financial aid options had been used. This has been implemented successfully in other states and gives students an opportunity to take advantage of one of the top community college systems in the country. Increased technical training and workforce development are key factors in our continued economic development, and this program opens more opportunities for students who choose not to attend a 4 year college.

    NC has the third largest community college system in the country, and every resident lives within a 30 minute drive of a campus. Learn more here, contact your legislator and ask for their support: Fact Sheet on NC Grow

    School Choice

    School Choice has been pushed hard by the conservative majority over the past decade. While there is a place for a genuine public charter school program to fill the gaps traditional public schools can’t meet, the rapid expansion of charters managed by for-profit companies has proliferated since the cap on the number of schools allowed (100) was lifted in 2011, the year the GOP took control of the General Assembly. Read here to learn how charters differ from public schools in accountability, requirements and more. As of last year, 6.5% of the total education budget, or over $580M, was diverted to charters. There are close to 200 charter schools in NC now.

    Failing private schools can also be converted to charter schools, with all of the funding that goes along with it. The latest case is Hobgood Academy, founded in 1969 but struggling for years. It has been receiving around $69k per year in vouchers for some of its students to attend, and has applied 3 times to become a charter. It’s membership is currently 88% white, but the local school district has just 4% white students. It will now receive close to $2M in taxpayer funds. While opening it up as a charter should help its racial balance, it’s worth reading this twitter thread by NC educator Rodney Pierce (@MrRDPierce), providing some of the historical context of the Halifax Co. school district in the 1960’s at the time Hobgood was founded. Attempts then by legislators to create a separate, wealthier school district relying on additional property taxes sounds a lot like what happened in Charlotte in June 2018 (see Centering racial equity below).

    In addition to allowing accelerated charter expansion, this General Assembly continues to divert millions of dollars of funds to voucher programs for private schools, even though there aren’t enough takers for the money that has previously been allocated.

    Racial and economic segregation has deepened with the increase in numbers of charters. According to NC veteran teacher Justin Parmenter, “Trends of racial and economic segregation that were already worrisome in public schools before the cap was lifted have deepened in our charter schools. Now more than two-thirds of our charter schools are either 80 percent+ white or 80 percent+ students of color.”  

    We can not afford to turn our public education system into a segregated, competitive, profit minded enterprise which drains the taxpayer funded general education fund. Public schools are still required under the state constitution to provide a sound and equitable education, and when private management companies sweep in and take funding away, without returning it when they fold, or a student returns to public school, it creates a long term problem for those communities, and our state overall.

    We would like to see a moratorium on new charter schools until a full analysis can be done to identify fair regulations and opportunities for collaboration with public schools, so they can complement one another instead of competing on an unfair playing field.

    Centering Racial Equity

    Centering racial equity in legislative decisions will go a long way towards reducing the economic and educational achievement gaps that are continuing to worsen. One specific example where this has not occurred was last June, when the NCGA passed HB514 allowing four wealthy, majority white suburbs of Charlotte to secede from the public school district and create mini school systems of their own, using their elevated property tax income to supplement the public funds they would still receive from the public school district.

    Notwithstanding Charlotte’s long history of racial segregation, the primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bill Brawley, and Senator Bill Cook, dismissed the overwhelming evidence that race played a factor in the decision. Kimberly Quick, Sr. Policy Associate at The Century Foundation, presents three reasons why that is problematic:

    1. “First, this move emerges against a compelling backdrop of Charlotte’s long struggle to maintain stable integration and its recently announced intentions to address those wrongs.
    2. Second, the evidence clearly demonstrates that, notwithstanding the intent, the effect of such a move would be to encourage academic opportunity-hoarding within wealthy, white suburbs.
    3. And third, as former North Carolina Teacher of the Year James Ford explains, racism is about the systems, not necessarily the personalities, that marginalize communities of color. The effects of this new law will be systemic racism, so “supporters of HB 514 do so either because, or in spite of, this fact.”

    A recent report shows that two of the larger NC school districts in the Asheville and Chapel Hill areas have the fifth and second largest racial achievement gaps in the nation, while Wake County leads the way in NC with a fully staffed Office of Equity Affairs which has strong working relationships with community partners. Sharing and implementing some of the appropriate successful programs statewide rather than leaving school districts to develop them on their own could be beneficial.

    You can look up the Racial Equity Report Card for your school district, which has a wealth of information put together by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

      These are just a small fraction of the issues within the public education arena that can be addressed by our legislature this session. For a more involved look at these and other needs, you can browse this list of organizations with educational legislative priorities and find links to what they’re looking for from the 2019 long session.

      NCAE

      Public School Forum of North Carolina

      North Carolina School Boards Association

      North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association

      North Carolina Association of School Administrators

      Think Babies NC

      NC Child