- Raleigh News & Observer Editors Were Offended by Facts, Churned Out Misleading Rebuttal
- Editors Have Their Partisan Narrative and Will Stick to It, Regardless of Evidence
- Reasoned Analysis Shows N&O Article Intends to Mislead
This past Sunday, editors at the News & Observer ran Tell the truth on NC school funding. Not surprisingly, the N&O gives their side of school funding. It’s a perspective that leaves out some important truths. Consider the following:
Teacher Raises. The N&O claims that Republicans gave teacher raises but that only came “after no raise for four out of five years.” Since the editors conveniently fail to mention that Republicans were not in charge of the General Assembly for two of those four years, I will. Twice while Democrats had majorities in both houses of the legislature (2009-10 and 2010-11), teachers received no pay raises. (For more on this topic see: Getting Past the Rhetoric: Teacher Compensation.) Over the past dozen years each party had majorities in the legislature for six years. Each party gave teachers pay raises in four of the six years. Truth be told, Republicans have no monopoly on saying no to teachers. However, there is a world of difference in people’s perception of which party pays teachers better and which party gets criticism when for not paying teachers. If someone thinks Democratic leaders received the same scrutiny and criticism in 2009-11 that Republicans have received in recent years, please make the case. I’m waiting.
Why 2008-09? N&O editors grudgingly acknowledge that Republican budgets have increased in the last few years. They are quick to add, however, that appropriations and staffing levels for the public schools are nowhere near what they were in 2008-09 before the recession. Those advocating for more and more funding for the public schools are quick to latch on to this year. It’s the pre-recession high-water mark for public school spending, so it’s a convenient and cherry-picked data point. What’s wrong with 2008-09? Plenty.
First, it’s important to realize that a lot of that spending did not directly bear on classroom instruction. In 2009, almost 40 percent of the public school budget was spent in areas other than instructional personnel and related services.
Second, North Carolina had been on a hiring binge during the 2000s. During that decade, North Carolina schools added instructional support and administrative positions at rates that exceeded enrollment growth. Between 2000 and 2009, average daily membership (ADM) enrollment increased 15 percent. Over the same time, however, the number of instructional support personnel increased by 37 percent and administrator positions by 21 percent. North Carolina’s pupil to staff ratio (7:3) had been declining since 2003 and in 2009 was now lower (meaning more actual staff) than the national average (8:0). Just how much hiring was done? From 2000 to 2009, North Carolina added 212,000 students, but also 35,000 new public school employees: 18,700 new teachers, 1,400 new administrators, 4,200 instructional personnel and 10,600 non-certified staff.
The surge in school staffing was a much-discussed topic. (See: The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools and The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach.) When you learn that much of the spending during the 2000s was on other educational personnel – not classroom instruction – the case for similar funding levels collapses.
Ignore History. While N&O editors like to tie all funding levels back to 2008-09 levels, they have ignored what happened in the two years after 2008-09. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, Democrats presided over $1.2 billion in budget cuts, and they laid off or released over 10,600 staff, including 4,600 certified staff, 6,000 non-certified staff, 4,200 teachers, and about 3,700 teacher assistants.  It’s an upheaval with no equal in recent memory. In essentially ignoring these developments and failing to criticize Democratic leaders, N&O editors cast their lot fully with Democrats and surrendered any guise of objectivity.
Teacher Raises Don’t Matter; Rankings Do. N&O editors grudgingly admit Republicans have boosted teacher pay. However it doesn’t matter because North Carolina’s relative ranking among the states is still low and not acceptable. Current NEA teacher rankings place North Carolina close to the bottom of national rankings in teacher pay (42nd). This information has been used to propel much of the debate over teacher pay. Little has been said about the rankings’ many shortcomings however.
First, the data don’t reflect differences in cost of living from place to place. A salary of $50,000 will go much further in Winston-Salem than in Washington, D.C. Second, the rankings do not account for differences in the composition of the teacher work force. For example, states with low population growth (i.e. states in the Northeast or upper Midwest) will usually have an older, higher-paid teaching force than states that are growing and need to hire more teachers, who are usually younger. Lastly, the rankings do not include the value of benefits and compensation. In the case of North Carolina teachers adding in the value of health insurance, retirement benefits and Social Security adds an estimated $17,500 in total compensation. Thus while the average teacher may make $50,000 in salary, with the benefit package, total compensation tops $67,500.
Making some of these adjustments has a significant impact on rankings. Terry Stoops at the John Locke Foundation recomputed teacher rankings based on cost of living and found that North Carolina was not 42nd but 33rd. If we include this year’s 4.7 percent salary increase – all other things being equal – North Carolina’s ranking would jump all the way to 28th.
N&O editors say Election Day should be a day of reckoning for Republican legislative leaders. But when will the N&O editors be held accountable for their blatant misrepresentations and half-baked arguments?
 Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget, February 2009. See page 6. Published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/highlights/2009highlights.pdf
 Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget, for selected years. See table: Local Education Agencies Full-Time Personnel. Published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, See listing for various years. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/
 Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget, for selected years. See table: Local Education Agencies Full-Time Personnel. Published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/
 NEA Rankings of the States 2015, and Estimates of School Statistics 2016, National Education Association. Available at: http://www.nea.org/home/66703.htm
 Getting Past the Rhetoric: Teacher Compensation, Robert Luebke, and Aug. 5, 2016. Available at: https://www.nccivitas.org/2016/getting-past-rhetoric-teacher-compensation/
 NC teacher pay isn’t near bottom, by John Hood, Carolina, opinion, Raleigh News & Observer, July 7, 2016 available at: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/smithfield-herald/sh-opinion/article88193782.html