Thursday, June 3, 2010

N.C.'s Perdue, Obama Official Push for School Funds

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned on Thursday that without federal funds, hundreds of thousands of teachers will be laid off in the coming weeks.

Some 300,000 teacher jobs are at risk nationwide as recession-hit state and local governments struggle to meet requirements to balance their budgets, Duncan said. Layoffs seem likely without federal support, he said during a visit to Southern High School in Durham, with North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge.

Duncan and Etheridge said a $23 billion education jobs bill proposed in Congress was needed to keep teachers in the classroom and off the unemployment rolls at a time the economy remains fragile. ("Edujobs Falters, But Is It Dead?", May 28, 2010, Politics K-12 Blog)

"We are strongly urging Congress to take action and take action this month," Duncan said. "I don't have a Plan B. Plan B is children around the country are going to get hurt."

A spokesman for the state Republican Party did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

With billions more in federal education dollars at stake, Perdue and others lobbied Duncan to note the state's efforts to claim a share of the U.S. Education Department's Race to the Top grants. ("Race to Top, Round 2: The Contenders", June 2, 2010, State EdWatch Blog)

"Race to the Top came up frequently" during the meeting, which also included state schools superintendent June Atkinson, said Democratic state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr.

North Carolina missed out in March when Tennessee and Delaware won $600 million in grants to improve failing schools in the first round of competition for the "Race to the Top." The Education Department is expected to award the remaining $3.4 billion to 10 to 15 states in September.

Duncan noted that at about the time he was visiting Durham, the North Carolina Board of Education was adopting the common core curriculum standards for math and English for public school students. The final version of the education benchmarks were only released Wednesday. ("Final Version of Common Standards Unveiled," June 2, 2010)

"Wow!" Duncan said, holding up a newspaper describing the state school board's impending vote.

States are expected to use the standards to revise their curriculum and tests to make learning more uniform across the country, eliminating inequities in education between states and among districts. The uniform set of expectations represent the first time states have agreed to establish what students should know by the time they graduate high school.

Perdue said the state school board's vote was not scheduled with Duncan's visit in mind.

Early Friday, the North Carolina House of Representatives also completed work on its version of the state government budget for next year that emphasizes public schools. The House voted 63-49 in favor of the $18.9 billion budget shortly after midnight.

House Democrats will start working next week to eliminate budget differences with counterparts in the Senate who approved its own budget two weeks ago. The Senate plan focused on protecting the University of North Carolina system. The House emphasized public schools. The House budget directs the University of North Carolina system to find another $139 million in spending cuts at its campuses and central office compared with the current budget and $89 million more than the Senate plan. Public schools would benefit from $90 million more in North Carolina Education Lottery profits than the Senate used to preserve what House Democrats said are 1,600 positions in classrooms statewide.

The bottom-line figure for the House plan is less than the Senate plan approved two weeks ago and the one Perdue presented in April. Still, Republicans argued that the spending is actually higher than what Perdue is on track to spend this year because she held back on money to narrow a revenue shortfall.

"We think that they fall far short for what we need to do to prepare for next year and what we think will be a protracted strained economy," said Minority Whip Thom Tillis, a Republican from Mecklenburg. Next year, federal stimulus money runs out and temporary income and sales tax increases will expire.