Teacher Pay and Common Core were the news out of Raleigh on Wednesday.
The House passed a bill that puts the future of Common Core standards in limbo. Governor McCrory says he’ll sign the measure into law. And a bill making its way through the state Senate would effectively kill a Mecklenburg County vote this November. That referendum asks voters if they want an increase in sales tax to help pay for teacher raises and funding for the arts.
First, a bit of background:
Mecklenburg residents currently pay 7.25 percent in sales tax. Most of that goes to the state. But 2.5 percent goes to the county.
That rate would go up another .25 percent if voters approve the referendum this fall.
Eighty percent of the additional revenue would go towards raising teacher salaries and 7.5 percent would help fund the city’s struggling arts and cultural institutions. The remaining money would go to libraries and Central Piedmont Community College.
But this new bill would effectively kill that plan. As legislative staffer Trina Griffin told the Senate Finance Committee, "The bill provides that in no case can a county levy a sales tax in excess of 2.5 percent. So it creates an overall cap."
Since Mecklenburg already has that 2.5 percent sales tax, no additional sales taxes could be levied by County Commissioners or voters.
The bill would affect all counties except Wake and Orange, which already levy more than 2.5 percent sales tax. They would be grandfathered in.
"This is a rather large change to be making so quickly," said Joanna Reece of the Association of County Commissioners, one of two members of the public to address the committee. She suggested sending the bill back for further study.
Shortly after, the bill was approved with a voice vote
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Dumont Clarke said, "It basically takes away the people's right to decide."
When asked if there was anything the County could do to stop the measure, Commissioner Dumont Clarke said no. "Counties are just a subdivision of the state of North Carolina," he added, "We can’t do anything other than what they otherwise us to do."
There is no current “Plan B” for county-funded teacher pay increases.
As for the arts funding now in questions, a representative of Arts and Science Council says the group is not ready to discuss it.
The bill is expected to be considered next by the full Senate.
The Common Core set of standards will soon be on its way out of North Carolina. Those goals for what students should know have been in place for the past two years. The Governor plans to sign a bill that would do that. The House just passed it.
Critics of Common Core, like Lindalyn Kakadelis with the John Locke Foundation, have good things to say about it.
"It is a good bill because it gets Common Core out of our state statutes," says Kakadelis.
But so do advocates like Gary Salamido with the North Carolina Chamber, because it still allows for the possibility that those standards could serve as the basis for the new ones.
"This bill actually is a process in place that is open and transparent and allows a lot of input from a lot of different perspectives to make sure that we keep the focus on higher standards for our young people," says Salamido.
In other words, it could’ve been worse. The bill would keep Common Core standards in place for this coming schools year. It sets up a politically-appointed commission that would get feedback from parents, teachers, and curriculum specialists and make recommendations to the state board of education.
North Carolina School Superintendent June Atkinson is on board with that.
"We welcome that input. We think it’s very important for people to read the standards, not just read about them. By having a commission I believe more and more people in the state will pay attention to the standards," says Atkinson.
She says that will help people understand the standards set goals, not lesson plans. Plus, Atkinson says big changes aren’t likely since the Common core is all about getting students to apply their knowledge in college and the workplace.
"The standards do that and I believe that through the review process as we would’ve done anyway we will fine tune those standards to make them even better," says Atkinson.
The John Locke Foundation’s Lindalyn Kakadelis is optimistic the commission will improve the standards.
"There was a lot of questions about whether [Common Core standards] were developmentally appropriate or not. But hopefully the commission is going to look at specifics like that and give their recommendations to the state board of education."
The commission is scheduled to begin the review process in September.