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In my continuing discussion of the budget, I will report on the impact of cuts to various departments. This week, the Director of the North Carolina Crime Lab reported that cuts to staff, along with an increase in evidence submitted for testing, has led to long wait times for local police and sheriff’s departments’ analysis. The staff has been cut from 130 to 124. This may not seem like a large cut, but prosecutors and defendants now have to wait sometimes a year or more for results. This situation also arose from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires the person who actually performed the test, the forensic toxicologist, to testify in court in person. They can no longer send the analysis by affidavit. The legislature will study whether to expand the western lab that could bring some relief.
On the state education front, a visionary program, Learn and Earn, started by Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, allows high school students to attend community college while finishing high school. It has shown its value this year in increased success for many students who are at risk of dropping out and to reach students at an earlier grade to keep them successful as they advance through school. The Department of Public Instruction announced that the high school graduation rate in North Carolina topped 80 percent in 2011-12 for the first time in state history.
Many of our schools are struggling with how to replace teachers and other personnel in the face of “reversions,” the money schools have to return to the state this year passed in the budget. For Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools in 2011-12 it is $3,394,300, for 2012-13 it is $2,922,889. For Orange County schools in 2011-12 it is $2,106,446 in 2012-13 it is $1,788,098. For Person County Schools in 2011-12 it is $1,446,879 and in 2012-13, it is $1,163,468. And this is after they have passed their budgets.
Finally, Charter Schools are still a contentious issue as we have even seen locally. In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to allow an unlimited number of charter schools in the state. However, the basic laws regarding how such schools operate while they were regarded as an "experiment" have not changed. Charter schools are exempt from statutes and rules applicable to a local board of education or local school administrative unit. From a public policy perspective this means that North Carolina now has two separate and, some would say, unequal public education systems operating simultaneously under different legal and ethical requirements. Although charter schools are required to have a plan for transportation and meals for low income students, they do not have to provide them because there is no requirement to fund the plan. Most difficult for the traditional public schools is that charter schools are allowed to send students back who don’t fit in or do well in the charter school setting. But the money stays with the Charter schools. Some superintendents feel that charter schools have abused this policy by rejecting a student when it is obvious that student will drag down their end of year test scores. The most serious consequence has been the de facto re-segregating of our schools. I have supported charters in the past to allow them to try creative methods of teaching and give teachers and administrators freedom from the excessive paper work required by the Department of Public Instruction. Some of the blame for the bureaucracy must fall on the legislature for requiring excessive “accountability” in the schools.
In the “what on earth is going on in state government?” department, is a bill passed last year titled: “An Act to Save Money by Repealing a Statute Requiring Local School Administrative Units, Community Colleges, and the University of North Carolina to Have Separate Bids for Juice and Water.” And some may accuse us of wasting taxpayers money.
Bolding added to emphasize how the GOP is enabling what I like to call Charter School Money Laundering.
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