McCrory Announces Budget Plans

North Carolina governor Pat McCrory offered details on the 2016-2017 state budget that he is proposing.

“My budget invests dollars where they matter most by spending on key priorities that have the biggest impact on North Carolinians and their families,” McCrory said.

The budget makes an investment in education, giving teachers across the state a five percent pay increase.

It also will establishes a scholarship program by investing $2 million to attract 300 new, highly qualified math and science teachers to earn degrees and teach math and science in the state’s public schools.

“Our top budget priority this session is faculty and staff pay, and we are pleased that the Governor is proposing to invest in recruiting and retaining top faculty and to recognize the contributions of University employees,” said UNC System president Margaret Spellings.

McCrory has also stated he is pushing to get all North Carolina classrooms connected to Wi-Fi by 2018.

Overall, spending will be capped at $22.3 billion dollars, which would be a 2.8 percent increase from this year’s budget.

According to the governor’s office, there are no tax or fee increases in the budget.

“These investments build on our commitment to strengthen education, enhance public safety, improve the health of our citizens, build new roads that connect our communities, all while reforming government to make it more accountable and efficient,” McCrory said.

A full version of the budget is scheduled to be released Wednesday, April 27.

McCrory Defends House Bill 2, While Businesses Line Up Against It

Governor Pat McCrory released a video message on Tuesday responding to criticism of House Bill 2 and Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision not to defend the bill in court.

McCrory released the video amid protest against the bill and threats from national corporations to boycott the state.

McCrory said the bill is a matter of upholding an expectation of privacy and that opponents are speaking out for political gain.

“Unfortunately that has occurred when legislation was passed to protect men, women and children when they use a public restroom, shower or locker room. That is an expectation of privacy that must be honored and respected, instead, North Carolina has been the target of a vicious nationwide smear campaign,” said McCrory in the video.

Opponents of the bill say it rolls back protections for transgender individuals by forcing people to use the bathroom of the sex indicated on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.

“This is not about demonizing one group of people, in fact, let’s put aside our differences, the political rhetoric and yes a lot of hypocrisy and work on solution that will make this bill better in the future,” said McCrory.

Bank of America has now joined the ranks of companies condemning the bill. The bank joins more than 80 companies whose CEO’s have signed an open letter to Pat McCrory, authored by the Human Rights Campaign, calling for the repeal of House Bill 2.

Other notable companies that have signed the letter include Apple, Google, Pfizer and Facebook, among many others. The NBA said the law could also impact the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, which is planned to be played in Charlotte.

Earlier this week, the governor of Georgia vetoed similar legislation after major companies like Disney and Dell, threaten to pull their businesses out of the state if the legislation passed.

A lawsuit was filed earlier this week by LGBT advocacy groups challenging the legislation.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Roy Cooper said he would not defend House Bill 2 in court. Cooper, a Democrat, is running for governor against McCrory.

Cooper said he will instead defend the Treasurer’s Office nondiscrimination policy, which Cooper said is violated by House Bill 2.

“In order to protect our nondiscrimination policy and employees, along with those of our client, the state treasurer’s office, part of our argument will be that House Bill 2 is unconstitutional,” said Cooper.

McCrory said the attorney general’s obligation was to defend the state.

“When you are the state’s lawyer, you are a lawyer first and a politician second, therefore, I want to encourage the attorney general to reconsider his flawed logic,” said McCrory.

The ACLU has asked that the law be temporarily blocked until the case is heard in court.

North Carolinians Find Common Ground

In a time where we continually hear about divided politics and the polarization of America, a new poll from Public Policy Polling said there are a few issues North Carolinians can agree on.

“Redistricting has obviously been one of the biggest issues in the state so far this year,” said director Tom Jensen. “We found 59 percent of voters in the state want the law changed so district lines are drawn up in an nonpartisan fashion. Only nine percent of voters are opposed to doing that.”

The democrats surveyed supported independent redistricting 65 to six. Independents supported it 56 to 12 and republicans supported it 54 to 11.

“What’s most interesting is those republican numbers,” Jensen said. “Certainly if there was independent redistricting republicans would not have quite as lofty of a majority as they do in the congressional delegation and in the state legislature right now, but we find on that ‘small d’ democracy issue even republicans are in agreement.”

Jenson said North Carolinians are also in agreement on mandatory background checks for gun purchases, raising the minimum wage to 10 dollars an hour and the EPA clean power plan, but these agreements don’t always turn into action.

“Even when you have 17 republicans running, not a single one of them would say they supported increasing the minimum wage, even to $10 an hour,” he said. “We find the republican base has a very different view than republican politicians with 53 percent supporting at least ($10 dollars an hour).”

While these issues are more closely associated with democratic candidates, democratic challengers at the state level are having a hard time picking up votes.

Republican senator Richard Burr and governor Pat McCrory are both up for reelection in November.

“The interesting dynamic you have with both McCrory and Burr is that republican voters aren’t that in love with them,” Jensen said. “Burr has about a 50 percent approval rating with republicans. McCrory is in the 60s. But then when you ask would you vote for McCrory or Roy Cooper, Richard or the democrat, they get 80 to 85 percent of the vote.”

Jenson said McCrory has a -7 approval rating, but still leads expected challenger Roy Cooper by a few points. Burr has a -11 approval rating, but leads his expected challenger Deborah Ross by six points.

“There are a lot of republicans who don’t actually like them, but will still vote for them over a democrat,” Jensen said.

Governor Calls Public Hearings On African American Monument

Governor Pat McCrory is inviting the public to four public hearings to get feedback on a monument at the State Capital to commemorate the contributions of African Americans in North Carolina.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate way to recognize the contributions of African Americans to North Carolina’s history than a monument at the State Capitol,” McCrory said.

The public hearings will be held at four different locations across the state.

“I encourage North Carolinians to actively participate in dialogue about key considerations and thematic elements for this important monument,” McCrory said.

For 25 years the state was under a moratorium on create more statues in the State Capital, but the moratorium was lifted to create this monument.

The issue of race on campus came to the forefront this summer, when the UNC Board of Trustees agreed to rename Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall.

There have been a number of protests on campus in recent months, calling for racial equality and the elimination of Silent Sam.

The public hearings will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the following locations:
  • March 1 at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, 134 South Elm Street in Greensboro;
  • March 8 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American + Culture, 551 South Tryon Street in Charlotte;
  • March 22 at the Braswell Memorial Library, 727 North Grace Street in Rocky Mount;
  • March 29, at the Shaw Auditorium at Fayetteville State University, 1200 Murchison Road in Fayetteville.

McCrory Softens Tone on Higher Education, But Sticks to Message

North Carolina’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory may have softened his tone about the purpose of higher education in the state since he set off a firestorm by mocking gender studies last year, but his message remains the same: UNC and other universities need to “hone in” on the “changing market environment.”

“The educational elite have taken over our education where we’re offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs.

“You want to take gender studies? That’s fine. Go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that it that’s not going to get someone a job.”

Those comments, made during an interview with conservative radio host and Reagan-era education secretary Bill Bennett on Jan. 29, 2013 did not endear the newly elected governor to the UNC community.

McCrory’s recent remarks during a jobs tour in Greensboro also did not help soften relations. He joked to reporters that North Carolina needs more truck drivers and tech workers, and less political science majors, sociologists, psychologists, and especially, journalists.

So it wasn’t a surprise that the governor’s Oct. 12 keynote address at Memorial Hall for University Day was not exactly packed to the rafters; nor that his speech got what could be described as a polite response.

The tone of his remarks was softer, and he even seemed to back off a little.

“Our universities must continue to be an environment where our students can exercise their brains and be free to think, explore, solve problems, adapt, and innovate, regardless of their major,” said McCrory. “We must teach knowledge that is essential for a free person to actively participate in civic, professional, and family life.

“This is the definition of liberal arts: history, language, literature, religion, philosophy, the sciences, mathematics, business and civics.”

But McCrory stuck to his repeated message, both in his speech and during an interview that day with Carolina Connection.

“I think the big change that UNC and all universities are going to have to make in the future is they’re going to have to adapt more quickly to the changing market environment, and to the job skills gaps that industry is facing at this point in time.”

During his address at Memorial Hall, McCrory mentioned an Employer Needs Survey of 800 public and private employers, conducted this year by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Of the 45 percent that reported trouble hiring employees, 40 percent of them cited lack of experience, technical skills and educational credentials as a big reason.

The governor did not mention that one in three employers reported an insufficient number of applicants; and that one in four reported unwillingness by job candidates to take the wages offered as a factor.

He also did not mention that a lack of “soft skills,” such as communication, enthusiasm, and interpersonal talents was reported as a factor by one in four employers; and that one in six employers said that criminal records prevented hiring. One in 10 applicants reportedly didn’t pass a drug screening.

The Associated Press reported in September 2013 that $20 million in state budget cuts across 58 community college campuses resulted in “fewer instructors, larger classes and reduced services for students seeking skills to build careers.”

The Commerce Department survey that McCrory cited also found that the North Carolina industry with the most hiring difficulty was educational services, at 62.5 percent.

UNC System President Praises GA’s Work On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Tom Ross

Tom Ross

UNC System President Tom Ross praised the North Carolina General Assembly for it’s attention to higher education with the signing of the 2014-15 budget, signed into law Thursday morning by Governor Pat McCrory. The reception wasn’t as rosy on the Pre-K-through-12 level.

President Ross released a statement shortly after the passage, reading, in part: “There is a lot to appreciate in this budget, including the first new investment by the General Assembly for parts of our strategic directions initiative and the support of the New Teacher Support Program.”

“We continue to focus on our responsibility to produce a well-equipped talent force for our businesses and our communities,” President Ross said. “Highly talented faculty and staff are critical to these efforts. As other states continue to reinvest in higher education, our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff will only get more challenging. We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly next session to address the issues that will hinder our State’s future competitiveness.”

The New Teacher Support Program’s goal is to cater to each young educators individual needs in order to make sure they are on the path to success.

Despite an average of seven-percent increase to teachers’ salaries in primary education, there are still concerns among educators.

Longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.

This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost and those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18 percent increase.

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Representative Graig Meyer of Orange and Durham counties told WCHL Wednesday, after the announcement of Budget Director Art Pope’s resignation, that he’s also concerned about future budget decisions because there is now an $800,000 to $1 billion deficit that will have to be accounted for during 2015-16 budget talks.

UNC Campus Security Releases Final Safety Report

A last report was released today by the UNC Campus Security Initiative which provided an in-depth review and recommendations for improving safety and security for all University of North Carolina campuses.

This analysis by Initiative demonstrates what the UNC campuses do well, what the law requires, and how the University can do to improve security measures amidst a time of uncertainty.

The UNC Campus Security Initiative has encountered 26 findings and 36 recommendations in order to aid in collaboration efforts and the sharing of resources, along with many other opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to work together to make a safer UNC.

The office of Governor Pat McCrory worked alongside the Initiative to reduce the dangers alcohol and substance abuse, and many of the UNC campuses will work on this further for their program, which is focused on treatment and prevention.

The crime rate on each of the UNC campuses is still significantly under the statewide average, but the Initiative says that they will continue to “build on existing efforts with better coordination, clearer policies, and the best resources available.”

To see the full UNC Campus Security Initiative report, click here.

Common Core Elimination Bill Moves Forward

The Common Core curriculum standards that dictate what’s taught in grade school classrooms across the state are on their way out.

Gov. Pat McCrory signaled that he would sign a compromise bill that the House passed Wednesday and Senate signed off on it last week. The House approved the bill, 71-34, to rewrite the statewide curriculum to better tailor it for North Carolina students.

“I will sign this bill because it does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards,” McCrory said in a written statement. “It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards. No standards will change without the approval of the State Board of Education.”

Both chambers had competing bills on how to change the state’s curriculum, but came to a compromise that allowed the state to potentially use some materials from the Common Core program that are effective.

The bill “melds the two versions quite well,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. “We are not taking anything off the table from the standpoint of being able to access the best ideas in the country to ensure that we have high academic standards.”

The bill directs the State Board of Education to rewrite the Common Core standards for the state’s K-12 standards. A new standards advisory commission would be formed to make curriculum recommendations to the board. The bill does not bar the commission or State Board from integrating current Common Core standards with the new ones. The commission would be made up of 11 members, some appointed by legislative leaders, one by the governor and others by the State Board of Education.

Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.

The curriculum standards were developed by the nation’s governors and school chiefs and have been approved by more than 40 states. But North Carolina and a handful of other states are responding to complaints from teachers, parents and conservative advocates that the standards are causing confusion and leading to the use of curriculum that is age-inappropriate.

The state Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday they support the curriculum rewrite and that it brings predictability and certainty to education in the state.

“This is a significant step toward a reasonable approach to make standards higher and our top priority is pushing for the absolute best academic standards for the state,” said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, in a statement.

Educators and families on both sides of the aisle have been complaining about Common Core and ask that it be replaced, said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

“The bottom line is it’s a terrible system. There may be some good things about it and though this bill will allow them to sue those things if they need to,” he said. “It’s not something we should have ever accepted.”

Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, said repealing the rules is a solution in search of a problem, sends a bad signal and puts an unfair burden on schools, teachers and parents, who already invested and trained with Common Core.

“Why are we really doing this?” she said. “Is this really to better education or is this more political in nature? I worry that this is more political.”

McCrory Threatens Senate Budget Veto

RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory says he’d veto any North Carolina budget plan on his desk that raises teacher pay dramatically like the Senate wants because it would mean huge cuts elsewhere to pay for it.

McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday he’s not going to risk key government services and allow Medicaid reductions to accept the Senate’s average 11 percent pay offer. The original Senate proposal cut funding for thousands of teacher assistants to pay for it.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) issued the following statement Thursday:

“I’m disappointed by the governor’s threat to veto the largest teacher pay raise in state history and surprised by his demand for a budget without cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid – given that his own budget included almost $20 million in cuts to teacher assistants along with significant, though ultimately achievable, cuts to Medicaid.

“The governor has been unable to sustain any of his previous vetoes in the Senate. It would be more helpful for him to work with members of both chambers of the legislature, since his unwillingness to listen to those who have an honest disagreement with him on spending priorities in favor of staging media stunts and budget gimmicks is a major reason the budget has not been finalized.”

The governor is siding with the latest House offer to raises teacher pay on average by 6 percent, up from 5 percent. He says 6 percent is about as far as he can go and feel comfortable.

The two chambers are negotiating budget adjustment for the year that started July 1.

State Teacher Pay Task Force Report Draws Criticism From Educators

The final report issued by a state task force charged with tackling issues related teacher pay is drawing criticism for lacking specificity and failing to produce any tangible solutions.

In the last meeting Monday of the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force, state leaders outlined observations and recommendations for improving the current condition of teachers’ pay in North Carolina.

The most assertive action the report recommended was setting a “short-term goal” of increasing salaries for teachers with less than 10 years of experience—i.e. beginning teachers and those who are most inclined to leave the profession in North Carolina.

Governor Pat McCrory already announced in February that it was his intention to increase starting teachers’ salaries.

As “a long-term goal,” the report suggested that the General Assembly institute a pay raise for teachers across the board. State House 50 Representative Graig Meyer, who was in attendance Monday, said he was disappointed that a timeline was not set for achieving either of those objectives.

“There is no reason why we need to wait two or three more years to go ahead and give pay raises to all teachers in the state,” Meyer said.

As far as developing parameters for a new teacher salary compensation model, Meyer, who also serves as the Director of Student Equity and Volunteer Services for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said he thought the report was deficient and unclear.

Lawmakers are considering alternative teacher pay models that could be coupled with strong student performance in the classroom. The state’s current salary schedule bases teacher’s salary increases on their years of experience.

“They had multiple presenters talk to us about different incentive pay plans. The one thing that was clear was that there was no evidence that any of those plans are very good at identifying who are the best teachers, nor what is the best way to compensate those teachers,” Meyer said. “They are trying to create something for which we have no good model. It doesn’t mean that a good model couldn’t exist, but I don’t see any reason we should push ahead with something that is going to fail.”

In its final recommendation, the document called for the State Board of Education to examine the teacher compensation systems and report back to lawmakers later this year.

“They are kicking the can down the road and are shifting the responsibility over to the state Board of Education, and it is too bad that they are not making the decisions that they need to in order to give teachers a raise,” he said.

Meyer added that he and others who attended the task force meetings felt that the input of education professionals had been left out.

“I was disappointed that this was a task force where educators were actually invited to the table with the General Assembly, but at the end, when the report came out, the educators made it clear that their voices hadn’t been heard. The things that they recommended, the things that they wanted to see in the plan.”

North Carolina’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the country, ranking 46th, and make less than  instructors in each of the surrounding states.