Recommendations 15 through 18 in the Civitas Institute Agenda “20 Changes for 2010: A Policy Primer for State Reform” focus on improving public and higher education.
Last year about 63 percent of state budget dollars were spent on public education. Taxpayers provided approximately $12 billion to fund schools, community colleges and the UNC system.
Despite decades of ever-expanding budgets, most North Carolinians are less than pleased with the results. Standardized test scores remain at unsatisfactory levels. Low morale and an outdated pay system contribute toward high turnover of teachers. Nearly 30 percent of high school students fail to graduate after four years. Only 55 percent of UNC college students graduate in six years.1
The rise in charter school, private school and homeschooling enrollments suggest parents want better educational opportunities. These developments have spurred a need for new solutions.
Problem: Many students lack access to quality public educational opportunities.
North Carolina charter schools offer students smaller classes, innovative curricula and teaching methods as well as higher levels of student and parental satisfaction. Several North Carolina charter schools are listed among the best schools in the nation.
New evidence suggests that charter schools also boost high school graduation and college attendance rates.2 These trends coupled with higher levels of parental satisfaction have increased the number of students on charter school waiting lists to 16,000.
A 1996 state law (G.S. Ch.115C -238(b-k)) capped the number of North Carolina charter schools at 100. In 2008, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Charter Schools recommended lifting the cap3 .
15.) Allow more educational choices for parents and children
A January 2010 Civitas DecisionMaker Poll found 56 percent of North Carolina voters favored lifting the cap on charter schools, compared to only 24 percent who opposed lifting the cap.
- Lift the cap on Charter Schools.
- Lawmakers should pass new legislation patterned after HB 125 (Gulley, R-Mecklenburg; Avila, R-Wake; Killian, R-Mecklenburg). The legislation raises the cap on charter schools by 10 percent of the number of charter schools in the previous year. If enacted, the legislation would expand educational opportunities and remove family income as a key variable in determining access to quality schools.
Problem: North Carolina’s teacher pay system is outdated and in need of reform.
Good teachers are a vital input to improving student achievement. Retaining good teachers is an important step to boosting student achievement and to developing good schools. The incentives of the current teacher pay system are inadequate to address the needs of the individual teacher or the school district.
The current pay system provides too few financial incentives on the front end of a career when teachers can have a real impact on students and too many incentives on the back end of a career when teacher impact is usually less. Under the present system good teachers are often paid the same as mediocre teachers. In addition, the current pay system also limits what principals can do to attract quality candidates, build retention and be competitive in the current market.
16.) Empower principals to reward teachers based on performance and results, rather than merely time served.
61 Percent of North Carolina voters believe a merit-based pay system best serves the needs of the state, while only 26 percent viewed length of service as the best means for salary structures. (January 2010 Civitas DecisionMaker Poll).
- Pass legislation creating a teacher reimbursement system that includes merit pay provisions.
- The legislation should, among other things, provide that the General Assembly set the entry level pay grade for teachers and instructional support. It should also, however, allow principals to add to the entry level salary if he/she determines that the employee’s qualifications or experience makes it appropriate to do so, or if it is necessary to retain or attract teachers in certain areas such as mathematics, science or special education. The legislation should also authorize the principal to determine the amount of merit pay each employee can receive. A similar proposal was adopted in SB 218, introduced last year by Sen. Neal Hunt (R–Wake). Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of committee.
Problem: High school and college dropout rates are unacceptably high.
High School: Nearly 30 percent of high school freshmen fail to graduate four-years later. Dropout out coordinators and dropout prevent grants have shown little success in reducing dropout rates. Too often dropout grants are awarded not on need, but geography. Terry Stoops, education analyst of the John Locke Foundation, reports that of the 100 schools receiving dropout grants, 55 schools failed to improve dropout rates relative to their school districts.4
17.) Focus dropout prevention programs to areas of highest need, create synergies with local businesses.
New legislation is needed to specifically target dropout resources in the areas of highest need. Additional resources can be gained from elimination of dropout coordinator positions in low-need counties. Legislation should also link school vocational education programs with local companies to ensure that graduating students have marketable skills.
College: Nearly 65 percent of students fail to graduate from UNC institutions after four years. With each student receiving a public subsidy of approximately $13,000, it is easy to see how college dropouts cost North Carolina taxpayers millions each year.
18.) Reform UNC system state aid criteria to focus on graduation.
Pass legislation to tie receipt of state aid to meeting UNC graduation goals. Currently, UNC institutions are rewarded for the number of students enrolled — not how many students they graduate. Legislation should establish campus graduation goals based on campus factors and student populations. In addition, financial and institutional incentives should be developed for community colleges whose students enroll in the necessary courses (both academic and remedial), transfer to UNC campuses and demonstrate a record of academic success.
For additional information about public education in North Carolina see: http://www.nccivitas.org/issues/education
1 For additional detail on the recent history of public education in North Carolina see: Learning the Lesson:1985-2005,A Guide to North Carolina Education Policy (Civitas Institute); Addendum to the Public Policy Series 2006-2008 (Civitas Institute).
2 The Unknown World of Charter High Schools, by Kevin Booker, Tim Sass, Brian Gill and Ron Zimmer. Education Next, Spring 2010. Also available at: http://educationnext.org/the-unknown-world-of-charter-high-schools/
3 See Commission’s findings and full report at: http://www.self-help.org/about-us/about-us-files/Charter%20School%20Commission%20Final%20Report.pdf
4 Evidence shows little benefit from state dropout grants, by Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation, March 2009 available at: http://www.johnlocke.org/press_releases/display_story.html?id=471