March 10, 2014
Gov. Pat McCrory told the N.C. Chamber last week that his top two priorities were to reform education to “support teachers” and to invest more in the Department of Commerce. You would think that cleaning up the state’s coal ash ponds ought to figure in there too as an immediate goal for the May legislative session — if not before.
It’s not clear what McCrory means by support for teachers. Just last year he not only signed legislation that ended career status for teachers but he approved a budget that laid off teacher assistants, slashed funding for textbooks and supplies, ended supplemental pay for teachers who obtain advanced degrees and created larger classes for teachers to manage.
The tax package he signed even ended a tax deduction for teachers who are forced to buy supplies for their classrooms. And all that came on top of deep cuts in teacher professional development programs and the abolition of the award-winning N.C. Teaching Fellows program that provided college scholarships for students who agreed to spend at least four years in the classroom.
McCrory has proposed giving starting teachers a raise and said he was looking at possible changes to the law that gives some teachers small bonuses if they agree to give up their career status voluntarily.
That is the extent of the reform to “support teachers” that McCrory has mentioned to this point. If he’s really serious about supporting teachers, it’s not reform they need, it is investments in their pay and their careers and their schools.
Give teachers in the early grades their teacher assistants back. Restore funding for professional development. Give local school systems enough resources so they are not forced to increase class size. Provide enough funding for textbooks and supplies so teachers don’t have to make up the difference.
And give all teachers a raise and endorse a plan to bring their pay to the national average in four to five years, as former Gov. Jim Hunt has suggested. That would be a good start to support teachers. It’s not rocket science. It just takes a commitment to public education.
Then there is Commerce. There’s nothing inherently wrong with increasing funding for economic development efforts, though it’s not clear where that money would come from since McCrory says he’s not sure if there are resources to give veteran teachers and rank and file state employees a raise next year.
And let’s hope the governor isn’t talking only about more money for ill-advised incentive packages to individual companies. Increased funding for worker training and renewed investments in community colleges and the university system are far better long-term economic development strategies.
McCrory’s call for more funding for the Department of Commerce comes as the administration continues its push to privatize the state’s economic development efforts by turning them over to a nonprofit that will be funded by public and private money.
The idea isn’t new. It’s been tried in other states with mixed results at best and the efforts have been plagued by accountability lapses, ethical issues, and pay-to-play allegations.
We may be headed for the same problems. Sarah Ovaska with the NC Policy Watch reported that the leader of the new private nonprofit, Richard Lindenmuth, will not be subject to the provisions of the State Government Ethics Act that requires public officials to disclose their financial interests.
Members of the nonprofit board are also not covered by the ethics provisions, despite playing a role with Lindenmuth in determining which businesses receive tens of millions of dollars of public money.
That means, as Ovaska points out, that there are stricter ethical laws for members of the N.C. Board of Electrolysis Examiners than the group approving huge incentive deals.
John Lassiter, a longtime McCrory supporter who is chair of the new board, told Ovaska that board members are business people who wouldn’t do anything that would create a problem for them professionally. In other words, trust them to do the right thing and avoid ethical conflicts.
No thanks. The General Assembly needs to address this absurd oversight in May when lawmakers are expected to consider legislation governing the new nonprofit. Making Lindenmuth and board members subject to state ethics law is the least they can do.
And McCrory, who campaigned on ending what he called “the culture of corruption in Raleigh,” should demand it.