Minimizing the recession’s impact on the classroom is one goal members on both sides of the aisle share. A thorough review of current education spending is one way to accomplish that goal.
Three programs where additional savings can be found include the Public School Forum (PSF), North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching and North Carolina Teacher Academy.
Public School Forum
PSF bills itself as a partnership of business, education and government leaders and a not-for-profit policy think tank.
PSF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization formed in 1986. For many of those years PSF has received public support. Over the past three years, PSF has received $6.4 million in taxpayer funds. In 2010-11 PSF will receive $2.1 million in state funds. The $2.1 million is for PSF’s part of the Collaborative Project, an effort to assist low-income students in rural areas of North Carolina. The project will end in 2011.
PSF can also spend up to $810,000 for administration costs for the Teaching Fellows Program. The $810,000 comes from interest on the $12.7 million appropriation for the Teaching Fellows Program, a program PSF administers.
The Teaching Fellows program enjoys a close relationship with such groups as the American Federation of Teachers and the North Carolina Association of Educators. Teaching Fellow program guidelines allow AFT and NCAE members to be on the local and regional screening committee for teaching fellow candidates.
While PSF tries too hard to portray itself as a think-tank that is not aligned with a political philosophy, the record says otherwise. PSF’s board of directors reads like a who’s who of the major education interest groups in North Carolina. PSF directors represent such organizations as North Carolina Association of Educators, North Carolina School Boards Association, NC School Boards Association and the North Carolina Association of School Administrators.
PSF’s incoming President Jo Ann Norris has strong ties to NCAE and formerly directed NCAE’s political actions committee and lobbied for that organization in the General Assembly.
North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching
Like PSF, the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) has been around for about 25 years. However, unlike PSF, NCCAT is a state agency. The NCCAT Web site says the organization is dedicated to “advancing teaching as an art and profession.” North Carolina school teachers who have been employed for three years or more are eligible to take NCCAT classes.
NCCAT’s annual budget is $6.1 million and the organization employs close to 100 workers. While a separate development foundation exists to supplement budget funds, taxpayers provide 90 percent of NCCAT funding.
While professional development for teachers may seem like a laudable goal, NCCAT has been dogged by questions concerning financing, the relevancy of its course offerings and spending on facilities.
Teachers who attend NCCAT training each year don’t pick up the tab, taxpayers do. Even the cost of substitute teachers is covered. NCCAT offers such courses as Women in Aviation: Pioneers in Courage, and Sea Level Rise: The Impact of Climate Change on the Outer Banks and Crime Scene Investigator.
NCCAT has two training centers: one in the mountains of Cullowhee at Western Carolina University and another on Ocracoke Island. According to NCCAT brochures, close to 5,000 teachers attend NCCAT courses annually.
In an August 2009 article in Carolina Journal, David Bass commented on the NCCAT campus at Cullowhee. Bass writes:
“….The grounds feature an idyllic lake, nature trails and garden complete with covered picnic tables, benches and fountain. A detached lodge has 48 individual living quarters and includes private bathrooms, common areas with access to outdoor patios, kitchens stocked with snacks, wireless Internet, and even a Hershey’s Kiss on each teacher’s pillow in the morning.”
In addition to Cullowhee campus, NCCAT also has a conference facility on Ocracoke Island. The state recently spent $8 million to renovate the existing facility.
North Carolina Teacher Academy.
The North Carolina Teacher Academy (NCTA) is another professional development program for teachers funded by the General Assembly. In fiscal year 2010-11, NCTA received $4.7 million in general funds. According to NCTA’s Web site, the mission of the academy is to “enrich instruction and impact student achievement by supporting the growth and retention of highly qualified teachers through research-based professional development in the areas of school leadership, instructional methodology, core content, and technology.” NCTA offers professional development opportunities to school districts and individual schools in such areas as best practices, online learning and the NC standard course of study.
One of NCTA’s most popular offerings is a five day summer residential program to all teachers in North Carolina. In addition to picking up the cost of instruction, NCTA also offers teachers a $350 stipend for the week.
When it was revealed in 2007 that training for literacy coaches cost the state about $10,000 per trainer, NCTA found itself embroiled in the public debate. The literacy coach program was eliminated two years ago because of budget cuts.
While NCTA does provide legitimate opportunities for teacher professional development, unfortunately much of it is also colored by political correctness. The biggest offender is LEARN NC, a branch of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Education and a major provider of lesson plans for NCTA. Unfortunately you find plenty of political advocacy in lesson plans titled: Urban Sprawl: It’s Impact on the Environment and Human Impacts in the African Rainforest: What Can We Do? and Technology and Stress on the Environment. Other courses advocate for alternative lifestyles and include sections on women’s and gay rights.
Where do we go from here?
Current budget troubles didn’t spring up over night. They are merely the symptom of a system whose lack of oversight and incentives for efficiency helped to propel costs.
While encouraging individuals to enter teaching and offering professional development are laudable goals, there is no compelling reason why teacher training should be financed by state taxpayers. In the end, the need for state-financed training programs is questionable. Expenditures are duplicative and undefined.
Eliminating state support for PSF ($8 million), NCCAT ($6.1 million) and NCTA ($4.7 million) will produce $11.6 million in savings. That’s enough to fund 211 teachers for a year. If lawmakers are as truly concerned about keeping teachers in the classroom as they say they are, eliminating these programs may be a good place to start.