OK, I’ve had some time to read through HB 90 quite a few times. My thoughts are as follows;
It does buy some time and a lot of funding for school districts to hire the teachers they will need to staff smaller K-3 class sizes. This is a huge win for the parents of those children. It was inevitable that the General Assembly would cave in this election year. It was just too hot a topic to let it be a talking point for Democrats in November. One of the major complaints of school districts was that reducing class size over a one-year period did not give ample time to recruit and hire the needed teachers. This new strategy addresses that by phasing in the reductions over a four year time frame. In fact it keeps the class size the same for next school year.
But the Republican majority couldn’t just do something smart and good without trying to muck up a bunch of other things. They felt like they were bending to the will of their voters so they had to take more control of something else. They decided to create a whole new line item allotment for funding “enhancement” teachers (art, music, theater, physical education, health and other similar programs). Generally, the money placed into that allotment for K-5th grade can be used to pay for classroom teachers in K-12th grades. However classroom teacher allotments cannot be used to pay for enhancement teachers. There is a weird exception to this beginning in 2021. Money can be used from teacher allocations to pay for “visiting international exchange teachers through a visiting international exchange teacher program approved by the State.” I don’t really get this exemption but I’ll do more research on it.
The allotment itself is one enhancement teacher for every 191 students. I have no clue where this number comes from. But using West Pine Middle School as a random example; the allotment would cover 4.3 enhancement teachers. There are currently 6 enhancement teachers working there. You can do the math.
There are two other problems that HB 90 does nothing to address.
The first is the additional capital outlay required to add the classrooms school districts will need (except in districts affected by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – I know you’re confused – I’ll get to that in a minute). As we all know, Moore County will be voting on a Bond Referendum to deal with its most critical schools this May. Those badly needed bonds will only keep a few of our elementary schools from crumbling around the feet of our students and teachers. It will not address the capital needs of all the rest of our school buildings.
The second is that it does not deal with the fact that hiring teachers is becoming increasingly difficult. As North Carolina school systems respond to the need for more K-3 teachers, less and less young people are joining the profession. It’s been estimated by Moore County Schools that the state will need to add nearly 62,000 new teachers once the class size reductions take full effect. The UNC school system is graduating about 14,000 certified teachers a year. That number is down dramatically from 2010 when more than 18,000 graduated (-25%). That means that if we hire every single graduate it will take more than four years to fill all the slots. Of course we can’t hire any of them until the increased funding begins, so we’ll just have to ask them to hang loose. At the same time NC teacher salaries rank well into the bottom half of US averages (there are many different ranking systems but none put NC above 35th). The General Assembly has not offered any plan on how to address this issue.
Now for the nutty stuff;
The General Assembly is trying to cut two completely unrelated deals by lumping them into this bill. Because it finally dawned on them that they are giving in and doing what constituents have been begging them to do for more than year, they are saying they will give us what we want only if we give them what they want. And what they want is you guessed it, more power.
Back in January Governor Cooper got the builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 600 mile natural gas pipeline expected to be started in spring and completed in 2019, to commit almost $60 million to a “mitigation” fund. The money would be used to help pay for environmental issues, economic development and renewable energy projects in the pipeline’s path. The pipeline goes through at least three and maybe four aquifers as it winds through eight NC counties, including Cumberland.
What the GA is requiring is that these funds be handed over to them, to be used for school districts that lie in the affected counties. This would not include Moore. Now, that doesn’t sound all bad except that we know what happened with Lottery funds. Those monies were supposed to be “over and above” funding but eventually replaced existing funds.
Additionally, the General Assembly is now holding the Elections and Ethics board hostage. In January the state Supreme Court struck down for a second time, the attempt by the Republican Party to grab control of the Elections Board. As part of this bill the General Assembly wants to not only tell the Governor who he can appoint but also wants to add a ninth person from a list provided by the other eight members.
In case you don’t think any of this is important, this is the Board that authorized a dramatic rollback of early voting and a reduction in polling places, particularly in minority-heavy communities during Governor McCrory’s tenure.
It’s these kinds of deceptions that frustrate sensible people. Trying to trade blatant power grabs for doing the right thing is simple misdirection. Its look over there, while we do this over here. This is just one more reason why I’m running for the State House. Representative Boles has been strangely silent on this.
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