Craig Horn plans to run for state superintendent. Here’s what he’s done to teachers.

Union County Representative Craig Horn has given the strongest indication yet that he will run for North Carolina state superintendent.  In comments to NC Policy Watch this week, Horn said “at this point I’m planning on filing.”

I’ve been an outspoken critic of the notion of Craig Horn at the helm of North Carolina’s public schools since he first publicly floated the idea last month.  My friend Stuart Egan at Caffeinated Rage has, too.  And while we may be just two public school teachers in a state of nearly 100,000, our views are not unique among educators who have monitored Horn’s work as an elected official.  Here’s why.

Since being elected to the House of Representatives in 2010, Horn has rarely missed an education-related photo op.  During that time he has met a whole lot of teachers. Hell, I’ve met him a bunch of times myself, as my drawer full of Craig Horn business cards can attest.  Each time, Horn has firmly shaken my hand, handed me his card, leaned in close and said a little conspiratorially, “That’s my personal cell number. Call me. I can’t do it without your help.”  

Each time he’s forgotten that he already met me, already gave me the same song and dance about how much he relies on teachers to help him make sound decisions as a legislator.  And each time I’ve come away feeling that Craig Horn didn’t actually see me, he just saw an opportunity to paint himself in a certain light and score some political points.

How do I know Craig Horn’s love of teachers is largely a charade?  His 9 years of consistently voting against me and my colleagues–all of which is chronicled on the North Carolina General Assembly’s website.  These are just a handful of examples:

Here’s Craig Horn’s vote in 2013 on a budget bill which abolished career protections for all North Carolina teachers, meaning any teacher could be fired at any time without explanation or an opportunity to speak on their own behalf:

Here’s Craig Horn’s vote to eliminate pay for teachers who earn master’s degrees. made North Carolina the first state in the country to revoke advanced degree salary increases.

Here’s Craig Horn’s vote on stripping retiree health benefits from state employees beginning in 2021.  This means when teachers who have devoted their lives to educating the state’s children will be forced to purchase their own health insurance when they retire.

Here’s Horn’s vote on taking $85 million from the teacher assistant pool, one of several votes that has reduced teaching assistant numbers in North Carolina by 7000 compared with a decade ago.

Here’s Craig Horn’s vote on cutting all funding for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a 25 year-old teacher development program which gave scholarships to high school students who committed to teaching in NC schools.

For good measure, here’s Horn’s vote on greatly expanding testing and threats of grade retention for 3rd grade children through the Read to Achieve initiative:

Craig Horn is a smooth talking politician, but his words are worth exactly doodly squat.  The only thing that matters when it comes to evaluating his fitness for the office of state superintendent is his voting record, and Horn has supported the policy changes that have most damaged our profession during his time in office.

North Carolina’s teachers were caught napping the last time the office of state superintendent was up for a vote in 2016, and we’ve paid a heavy price.

It’s not going to happen again.

NC GOP official disputes account of suffering teacher, gets dunked on by Rep. Deb Butler

After the NC Republican Party Communications Director questioned the veracity of her account of a public school teacher not having enough money for food and gas, Representative Deb “I Will Not Yield” Butler responded to his public records request by publishing the teacher’s entire heartbreaking email on Twitter.

Tuesday evening, Brunswick/New Hanover County Representative Deb Butler posted the following tweet:

Shortly after her tweet, Butler’s legislative assistant Tayler Williams received an email from North Carolina Republican Party Communications Director Jeff Hauser.  Hauser was making a formal records request that Butler turn over the email she claimed to have received from the teacher.

That’s right.  The NC GOP didn’t believe a North Carolina teacher could be struggling to this degree.

In response to the request, Butler asked the teacher for permission to publish the email in its entirety and posted it on Twitter just an hour after Hauser asked for it.  

You can read the gut-wrenching account of this Brunswick County teacher’s financial struggles in its entirety below:

…a local teacher here in Brunswick County, North Carolina.  I wanted to express my concern and frustration over the requirements and qualifications required for any form of public assistance.  I realize that there are large amounts of families that are in tight financial situations but I am having difficulty with the fact that as a state employee who works extremely hard every day and I am not able to receive help.  I am a single mom with zero support from my child’s father. He has been unable to be located and works under the table so I cannot track his employment. I have been denied any form of help, from Medicaid for my daughter to food stamps and childcare vouchers.  I understand that I am employed and I am thankful for this every day but when I submit my information to try to get any assistance, I am denied because my Gross amount of pay is utilized, rather than my take home pay. According to my paycheck, I make $4,840 a month.  This is not accurate. I have to take into consideration that I only get paid 10 times a year and therefore I have set up at Summer Cash account through SECU to help save money for the months I am not paid in the Summer. I take out $600 from each paycheck for that amount which leaves me with $4,240.  I also have supplemental insurances to help cover emergencies since I am the only income for my family. This costs $440.32 a month. I am now at $3,799 a month. Then I have to take into account that I have state, federal, retirement, social security, and medicare taken from my paycheck for the amount of $1,070.89.  I am now bringing home $2,728.79. With my take home pay, I have monthly bills that I have to pay. I pay $975 a month in rent, $130 in utilities, my phone bill is $143, car insurance is $100, insurance for my daughters health and dental is $84. I have student loan payments at $336 a month. I have personal loan payments each month from trying to cover months that I was extremely in debt.  These total $393. I have to pay day care each week at $90 a week so on average that is $405. I am at $162.79 left. I also have credit card payments each month that cost $156.00. I have $6.79 left in my bank account to now cover gas, groceries, and miscellaneous items that always arise. I am currently in debt from not being able to pay all of my bills each month. I am $504 in debt to one student loan company and $672 to another.  My bank account currently sits at $0.64. I have another week before payday.

If you would so willing to help explain to me what I can do about this I would greatly appreciate it.  I am trying extremely hard each month to make it day to day. I often go without food in order to make sure that my daughter is provided for.  I depend on the charity of friends to help cook me dinner with leftovers since they know how hard I am struggling. I have sold off everything I can in my household to try to supplement my income and I try to pick up babysitting jobs or tutoring to make ends meet.  I am asking for your help as my local representative with this. I know I am not the only teacher in this situation. I realize that some strides are being taken to help with teacher pay but I need help now. If I would be able to get any kind of assistance I would be more than grateful.

It’s hard to imagine being less in tune to the realities of life for a North Carolina public school teacher than the Republican Party is right now. 

Earlier this month our General Assembly passed a bill which was inaccurately titled the “Strengthening Educators’ Pay Act.” The legislation would have given teachers in years 0-15 no raise at all for the next two years and increased salaries approximately $50 a month for the majority of teachers at 16 years and up. 

That bill was so insulting to North Carolina’s educators, especially when paired with the massive corporate tax cut passed at the same time, that Governor Cooper vetoed it and asked the legislature to do better.  Cooper even offered to negotiate salary increases for educators independent of the Medicaid expansion issue which has been at the heart of our 4 month budget impasse.

General Assembly leadership responded by adjourning until mid January.

When North Carolina teachers have to go hungry in order to provide for their children, you know the problem of underfunded schools has gotten really serious. When a high-ranking representative of the majority party refuses to accept that reality, it’s painfully clear that relying on our state legislature to step up and do the right thing is unrealistic.  It’s an incredibly sad state of affairs.

At this point all we can really do is hope that better days lie ahead.

No decent raises for NC’s educators, but ineffective standardized test bonuses continue

While North Carolina’s state legislators settle in for a two month break from the exhausting business of not negotiating a state budget, educators across the state are hard at work serving this year’s students on last year’s salary.  

To be clear, the General Assembly did pass a bill which would have increased some educator salaries, but it was so insulting that Governor Cooper vetoed it and asked them to do better.  That bill would have given no raise to teachers in years 0-15 and just $50 a month more to the majority of experienced teachers teachers at 16 years and up.  Our schools’ non-certified staff–custodians, cafeteria employees, instructional assistants, etc.–would have fared even worse under the bill, with paychecks going up less than $20 a month in most cases.

Lawmakers also passed another massive corporate tax cut, though, one which would have taken a billion dollars in revenue off the table over the next 5 years.  Thank God for that gubernatorial veto.

Despite our legislature’s failure on teacher salary, there will be some sizable direct deposits made to teacher accounts in the new year.  Because they are paid by recurring funds, bonuses for standardized test scores are still on for school year 2019-2020.

After Read to Achieve failed to move the needle on student reading achievement, Phil Berger and company rolled out bonuses in 2016, thinking the promise of higher pay might lead to higher test scores.  Apparently the theory was teachers were holding back their best teaching ideas and waiting for just the right moment to use them.  

Bonuses are paid to the top 25% according to EVAAS scores, and in some cases can reach as high as $9,000 for individual teachers.  This year a total of almost $39 million will be spent on the financial incentives.

What are we getting for that money?  

According to EOG proficiency scores, third grade reading achievement is actually worse off now than it was before the General Assembly started waving the carrot:

North Carolina’s third grade reading data is consistent with the findings of Award-winning Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who set out to learn whether the New York City Department of Education’s bonuses actually led to better outcomes for students.  Fryer’s research determined that it didn’t.  Not only that, the practice of dangling money in front of teachers may have made things worse, by encouraging teaching to the test and damaging the collaboration so necessary for healthy school culture:

“I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools.”

North Carolina’s bonus scheme hasn’t worked so far, and I highly doubt this is the year it finally clicks. Perhaps instead of continuing to waste taxpayer dollars in this manner we should use that $39 million to hire some school counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists and make a real difference in the lives of North Carolina’s children.

The truth about the General Assembly’s inadequate educator pay raise bill

Last week the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill entitled “Strengthening Educators’ Pay Act” almost entirely along party lines.  As the public waits to see whether Governor Cooper will sign the bill or veto it, it’s worth taking a closer look at exactly what this bill does–and what it doesn’t do.

But first, let’s review what Governor Cooper himself proposed on educator pay.  

In early July, Cooper sent a budget compromise to leaders in the General Assembly calling for an increase in teacher pay which would average 8.5% over two years, restoration of master’s degree supplements that state legislators stripped in 2013, and a 5% pay increase for non-certified school staff, among other things.  

That proposal was met with cricket noises from the legislature.

Now state lawmakers have passed a new educator pay raise bill and sent it to the Governor.  

Here’s what the General Assembly’s bill would do for educators this year and next:  

  • Teachers with 16-20  years of experience will receive a $50/month increase for 2019-20 as compared to last year’s salary schedule.  For school year 2020-21, teachers with that amount of experience will receive a $50/month increase.
  • Teachers with 21-24  years of experience will receive a $150/month increase as compared to last year’s salary schedule.  For school year 2020-21, teachers with that amount of experience will receive a $50/month increase.
  • Teachers with 25 or more  years of experience will receive a $60/month increase as compared to last year’s salary schedule.  For school year 2020-21, teachers with that amount of experience will receive a $50/month increase.

While there is some variance in raises based upon level of experience, in general the additional pay should just about cover the case of copy paper you’ll still need to buy after the General Assembly cut funding for classroom supplies 55% over the last decade, perhaps with enough left over for a couple tanks of gas to get you to your second job.  

It’s also important to note that, for the 2020-21 school year, the language of the bill reads “it is the intent of the General Assembly” to raise salaries rather than using the word “shall” as it does for the current school year.  That means the raises for next year are not guaranteed.

If teachers with 0-15 years of experience are wondering what kind of raises they’ll see over the next two school years, there’s news on that front as well. 

For school year 2019-20, here’s the pay raise those teachers will receive:

For school year 2020-21 this will be their increase:

In addition to falling far short of his compromise when it comes to teacher pay, the new bill on its way to Governor’s Cooper’s desk includes no restoration of master’s pay. Nor will the 12 month non-certified staff get the 5% raise the Governor sought.  Instead, they will receive a meager 1% increase in salary in 2019-20. For 2020-21 the bill calls for another 1% raise but again refers to “intent” rather than saying it “shall” happen, meaning the increase is not guaranteed for the following year. Also, any non-certified employees who work less than 12 months will receive a prorated increase rather than the full 1%.  So, for example, a 10-month employee would receive an insulting .83% raise.

Politically, the intent of state legislators is to pressure Cooper to either sign a bill which falls far short of what our public schools deserve or risk accusations that he is failing to support educators:  “Why do you hate teachers so much, Governor??”

It’s the General Assembly equivalent of the classic “Why are you hitting yourself?” bully move.

State lawmakers need to know that public school educators and the general public are smarter than that.  We see how you are conducting business without basic integrity, refusing to negotiate in good faith and attempting to ram an unpalatable budget through by simply waiting for Democrats to be absent for the vote.  We see that your latest tax cut over the next four years will deprive us of more than $1 billion in revenue that is sorely needed in our schools in order to reduce costs for corporations that already enjoy the North Carolina’s lowest corporate tax rate in the country.  

I don’t speak for every educator in the state, but I can promise I speak for a lot of us when I say that we believe our public schools deserve better than what the General Assembly is trying to pawn off on us.  

That’s why we will fully support Governor Cooper’s veto of this teacher pay bill.