On July 22nd Governor McCrory signed legislation to create an eleven member commission to review Math and English Common Core Standards. Those who have worked hard to educate policymakers and the public about the problems with Common Core standards are happy to see this progress and to realize that machinery is now in place to review, revise and replace the standards. I want nothing more than North Carolina to adopt, rigorous, appropriate and understandable standards. That said, we all know the only way that will become a reality is if knowledgeable, qualified people are appointed to serve on the commission tasked with reviewing Common Core Math and English Standards. If you feel likewise, sign our petition and send an important message to House Speaker Tom Tillis, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Governor Pat McCrory. Tell them we need people on this commission who will respect parents and teachers and will work to preserve North Carolina's authority to determine what is taught in the public schools.
Yes, state board member, Maja Kricker, really did rule at the State Board of Elections (SBOE) meeting today. Her opinion was the only opinion that counted when it came to the five member SBOE voting on one-stop variance requests made by county board of elections.
Here is the background to today's story. One of the provisions in VIVA (the Voter Identification Verification Act/HB 589) shortened the early voting period from 17 days to 10 days. At the same time, the number of early voting hours made available by the county boards of elections were to remain the same as in the most recent comparable election. This means the local boards must look back to the General Election of 2010 to determine how many hours they need to provide for this November's election. In addition, there is also a provision in the law that allows a local board to seek a reduction in hours, provided that the request is passed unanimously. In general, counties ask for a reduction when they have determined that the total number of hours required would exceed the number that was needed to accommodate voters. For example, one county reported that one of their early voting sites in 2010, on average, voted two people per hour. When a county board (made up of two Republicans and one Democrat) unanimously passes a plan they must then send it to the SBOE and the SBOE must approve it with a unanimous vote.
This is where the Kricker criteria 'kicks' in. Kricker, one of the two Democratic board members, devised rules that counties seeking to reduce their early voting hours must comply with in order for her to vote in favor of their plans. And, since the SBOE vote must be unanimous she is ultimately making the decision for the five member board. The Kricker rules are:
- On at least four weekdays, at least one site is open until 8:00 p.m.; OR alternately, on at least four weekdays, at least one site is open for at least 12 hours; AND
- On Saturday, 10/25/14, at least one site is open for at least 3 hours
In the end Kricker approved 15 county's plans:
One county's plans was conditionally approved:
And, 17 counties had their plans denied because they didn't comply with the "Kricker Criteria"
According to Howard, these counties will have a chance to rework their plans to comply with the Kricker rules.
A press release put out by House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger provides some details regarding their tentative budget agreement. Below is the text of the release:
Raleigh, N.C. – House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) held a joint press conference Tuesday to announce details of the $21.25 billion budget agreement reached between Senate and House conferees this past weekend.
The budget will provide public school educators an average seven percent raise – averaging $3,500 per teacher. The $282 million investment will be largest teacher pay raise in state history – moving North Carolina from 46th to 32nd in national teacher pay rankings.
It will also preserve teacher assistant positions, protect classroom funding and continue to give superintendents broad flexibility to tailor classroom spending to their districts’ needs.
“Making positive and historic changes to the status quo isn’t easy – and we commend our Senate and House colleagues for their hard work, patience and perseverance in crafting a plan that provides the largest teacher pay raise in state history without raising taxes,” said Senate Leader Berger and Speaker Tillis. “Investing $282 million in pay raises will make North Carolina competitive nationally and encourage the best and brightest teachers to make a long-term commitment to their profession, our students and our state.”
In addition to the teacher pay raise and preservation of classroom funds, the budget agreement will:
- Reform and replace an archaic 37-step teacher pay system with a six-step schedule and a transparent compensation package;
- Preserve current Medicaid eligibility;
- Provide most state employees a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days;
- Increase pay for step-eligible Highway Patrol Troopers between five and six percent;
- Maintain funding at current levels for the state’s university system; and
- Fulfill the commitment to extend supplemental pay for teachers with Master’s degrees who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of August 1, 2013.
The budget will also boost early-career teacher pay by 14 percent over the next two years to $35,000 – making North Carolina a leader in the Southeast and fulfilling a promise made by state leaders in February.
I was out of the office a few days last week and I know the story has already been reported by some of our friends, but it's worth repeating. Last week Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) provided new NEA state affiliate membership numbers for 2013. Union membership has been in decline all over the US, and even more so here. EIA reported that the North Carolina NEA affiliate (North Carolina Association of Educators) experienced one of the largest membership declines in the country. From 2008-09 to 2012-13, active membership was down 38 percent trailing only Arizona and Wisconsin.
More and more teachers are finding they have a better way to spend $450 in NCAE dues.
Expressing concern over the ongoing budget negotiations and the size of pay raises NC teachers will receive, NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell had this to say:
"Strong schools are funded through a strong tax base," he said. "They gave tax breaks for millionaires and corporations. This is why we have this huge hole now. It's part of the "Hunger Games" that we keep talking about. You have all these programs that are underfunded across the state, all squabbling over the same small amount of money right now. So, it's a huge concern for us."
Jewell packs a lot of fallacies into one statement. Here are his statements juxtaposed with reality:
- "They gave tax breaks for millionaires and corporations." Yes, and for every North Carolina worker, as the income tax rates on all income levels were cut.
- "This is why we have this huge hole now." Huge hole? Is he referring to the revised revenue forecast projecting $205 million less in state income tax revenue? Out of a $21 billion General Fund budget that comes to just under 1 percent. And that doesn't take into account the full state budget, which includes federal funds. Moreover, the reason for the 'shortfall' is faulty revenue projections, as budget analysts attempted last year to forecast the amount of revenue the state's tax code will generate for this fiscal year. For the record, a 1 percent 'shortfall' will be far smaller than the average shortfall in NC's state budget over the last 20 years. Indeed, six of the last 20 budgets ended with shortfalls that averaged 6.5 percent. If anything, this year's projected 'shortfall' is miniscule by comparison.
- "You have all these programs that are underfunded across the state." Underfunded – as compared to what? How much money would it take for big government apologists to say "you know what, we've got plenty of the taxpayer's money, we just aren't getting the job done"? Of course, for the bureaucrat, no money is ever enough.
- "..squabbling over the same small amount of money right now." Underfunded, small amount of money? Please. NC's state budget has been on a decades-long massive expansion. Looking at the General Fund alone we see that state spending – even after adjusting for inflation – has risen at three times the rate of population growth. And that's just half the story. The total state budget, which includes federal dollars spent by the state, now exceeds $51 billion. It comes to around $5,300 for every man, woman and child – or more than $21,000 for each family of four. Total state spending per person – after adjusting for inflation – is more than two and a half times as high as it was 30 years ago.
The notion that NC state government is somehow "underfunded" is absurd, as demonstrated by simple facts.