Sep 072016
 

It has been my privilege to be involved in education for more than a half century as a teacher, chairman of the State Board of Education, vice-chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, chair of the Public School Forum, member of the Meredith College and Catawba College boards of trustees, as well as being a member of countless local, state and regional education boards, task forces and committees. I hope no one will question my support for education at every level. However, in today’s toxic political environment, anything is possible!

While I realize we are in the midst of some highly competitive campaigns, I have never before seen as much outlandish, misleading, inaccurate and often completely untrue rhetoric about Republicans and public education.

Myth: Teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. The truth is that last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. Some undoubtedly left because their spouses found jobs in other professions. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, 8,500 out-of-state teachers moved to North Carolina to teach while only 2,200 teachers left.

Myth: Republicans are cutting textbook funding. Since Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, spending on textbooks has tripled from $23 million to $72 million per year. In fact, it was the Democrats who cut textbook funding from $111 million to $2.5 million seven years ago. This GOP increase is in addition to $143 million in state and federal funds to transition classrooms to digital and wi-fi connectivity. In less than two years, N.C. will be one of a few states where all classrooms are connected.

Myth: Spending on K-12 spending has been cut. Since Republicans assumed power, spending on K-12 has increased by 18 percent, including a $700 million increase in this year alone. North Carolina is unique in the level of state funding it provides for K-12 public schools with 64 percent of funding coming from the state compared with the national average of only 46 percent. Education receives the largest share of the state budget, and K-12 receives by far the largest chunk of those dollars. Only in government can increases be called reductions!

Myth: Teacher salaries are being increased only because this is an election year. Two years ago, North Carolina raised teacher’s salaries more than any other state in the nation. Teacher salaries were increased by 14 percent for beginning teachers. Last year teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between 6 and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent, and those experienced teachers between eight and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10 to 13 percent!

Myth: Principals have been left behind as teacher pay has been steadily increased under the Republicans. That has been true for the past eight years when they received a total of 1.2 percent increased pay. This year the Republicans granted 2 percent raises with a study approved for administrator compensation. Small, yes, but a recognition of the problem and a step in the right direction.

Myth: North Carolina’s pay for teachers compared with other states is slipping. As McCrory took office, pay had slipped to 47th. We will move to at least 41 this year and to a projected 34th next year. Total compensation, including fringe benefits, now averages $66,000 for 10 months’ employment. Is that enough for the tough job teachers face every day? Not for the effective teachers, but the trend has certainly been reversed and is headed toward our paying our teachers the most in the Southeast.

Myth: Class size has been increased. The truth is that kindergarten is capped at 18 students, first grade at 16 and second and third grades at no more than 17.

It is true that the Republicans are moving away from paying teachers based on longevity, degrees and certifications. Now that they have dramatically improved the base salaries in addition to reducing the number of years it takes for a teacher to reach the top of the pay scale, they are looking for ways to reward performance, leadership, extra work. I have been unable to find credible research that says the “old way” of paying based on degrees and seat time was effective.

So Republicans have dramatically increased teacher compensation (and will continue to do so), offered more parental choice and options for students, stressed the importance of reading, given additional funding for STEM programs, reduced class size and increased funding for technology and textbooks.

Does all that and more justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education?

Phil Kirk is chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education and a resident of Raleigh.

 Posted by at 2:31 pm
Sep 042016
 

Election season, or the Silly Season as it is known by many, is again upon us. It may be useless to bring some common sense into the picture, but let’s try.
In 2011, this state was nearly $3 billion overspent. Personal Income Taxes, Corporate Income Taxes and gasoline taxes were the highest in the Southeast and among the highest in the nation. North Carolina could not borrow money, our credit card was over the limit and we owed the Feds billions of dollars for money borrowed to sustain an under-performing system.
Over the last four years, Governor McCrory and the General Assembly have paid off those debts to the Feds, reduced personal and corporate income taxes to be among the lowest in the region, reduced and capped the gas tax AND added over a billion dollars to education funding in this state.
Before committing millions of dollars to teacher raises, Governor McCrory met with teachers and superintendents across this state who were clear that we must raise teacher salaries dramatically. And, they told us all that we must start with our newest teachers first or we will never be able to rebuild our base.
Over the last two years, North Carolina has implemented the largest teacher pay increase in the nation. We have also firmed up teachers’ benefit package which is now worth about $16,000 per year for every teacher in this state. Furthermore, contrary to what some teacher’s groups purport, NO benefits have been removed for new teachers, longevity pay was NOT taken away from veteran teachers, textbook funding has tripled during this administration and $97 million has been leveraged in federal and state funding to connect all schools to a robust Wi-Fi system by 2018.
In addition, graduation rates are at an all-time high and drop-out rates are at an all-time low. “Education Next” magazine now ranks North Carolina among the top K-12 schools in the nation for rigor and “Wallethub,” the online personal finance blog, has moved North Carolina into the top twenty in the nation for education quality and security.
There is more. We have stabilized the tuition costs for a 4- or 5-year degree by fixing tuition at all public universities so that students and parents can reliably plan ahead for these costs. And capping fee increases at no more than 3% a year. Our 58 Community Colleges are moving to an outcome-based education model and our Independent Colleges and Universities are helping to fill the void for the many needs-based scholarship students.
So what about the naysayers that just cannot stand for North Carolina to prosper and are desperate for bad news? Those folks keep saying, “It’s Not Enough!” Well, how much is enough? Consider that a teacher entering his 10th year of teaching has realized a 21% salary increase since Governor McCrory entered office; a teacher in his or her 19th year of teaching has seen a 15.5% increase.
Actually, we agree that we need to “Keep Pounding” and ensure that every teacher is prepared, supported and rewarded for their efforts and for improved student outcomes. And we need to complete the transition to the digital education environment. That prepares every student in our state for the demands of the twenty-first century job market. But, to ienore what has been accomplished thus far is dishonest and prevernts real conversations about necessary school reform from taking place.
As our state continues to grow, we will need to attract more teachers to the classroom as well as retain and support our experienced teachers and principals. Their guidance and experience is critical to our future success. They too deserve more pay and they need to extend their hand of welcome and support to our newest educators.
Winston Churchill once said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” These words of Churchill stand in stark contrast to the words that are preached on the other side of the political divide regarding education in North Carolina. If people simply looked a bit deeper at what the naysayers espouse, it would be ver obvious that much has been accomplished in a short amount of time.
We can choose ignorance and thus succumb to believing lies, but we know where that leads us. The truth is incontrovertible. When we can work together in a spirit of respect and understanding, we can climb to amazing heights and make life better for everyone.
The choice, as well as the responsibility, lies within each one of us.
By:
D. Craig Horn
Representative, District 68
North Carolina General Assembly

 Posted by at 8:09 pm