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NC Education Leaders Lay Out Spending Needs

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(Photo credit Karin ZEITVOGEL/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit Karin ZEITVOGEL/AFP/Getty Images)

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Merit pay in schools — or performance-based teaching, as legislative and education officials describe it — was part of the discussion Tuesday as representatives of all three layers of North Carolina’s public education system laid out their budget priorities.

But the state’s public school leaders have yet to find a model they like, and the head of the community colleges have said there is no money to reimburse the high performers most years. The University of North Carolina system is moving toward performance-based enrollment, where UNC will limit the number of students at schools that don’t meet their goals.

“There’s much work to be done,” Superintendent June Atkinson told the House Education Oversight Committee. “We’ve yet to find a really good pay-for-performance model in the United States.”

The state will move to a merit system soon, said Sen. Jerry Atkinson, R-Randolph.

“One day we will go, before long, to a truly pay-for-performance system, based on the progress of students,” he said. “If you don’t base it on the progress of students under your tutelage, we are truly missing the boat.”

The idea of merit pay for public school teachers or rewarding them more directly for their students’ performance got traction during this year’s session of the General Assembly but largely stayed out of the legislation that ultimately became law.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, pushed an education overhaul plan through his chamber that in part would have directed each local school system to create its own performance-based pay model. But House Republicans weren’t completely sold on the idea for this year.

House lawmakers also were interested in giving teachers cash for each student that performed adequately on Advancement Placement tests. A compromise left out both the AP idea and merit pay and gave teachers on average a 1.2 percent pay raise, their first in four years.

The budget law also gave funds to support 1.2 percent increase for UNC and community college system employees, but they received flexibility to offer merit pay increases

UNC President Tom Ross said the system is setting up five key measures that will apply to all 17 campuses, including graduation and retention rates. Those will be measured against goals for set for each campus, he said.

Those that don’t meet the standards, “we’ll be able to restrict their enrollment or prevent them from enrolling more students at all,” Ross said.

Scott Ralls, head of community colleges, said those schools have performance-based funding system. “Most years, there’s not performance funding that goes with the metrics,” he said.

Atkinson’s first budget priority is the reinstatement of $367 million in discretionary spending.

Since 2009, the General Assembly has required school districts to return a portion of the state funds they receive, although the districts decide where to cut. The amount of the so-called combined “discretionary cut” reached $429 million during the 2010-11 school year, then dropped this year.

School district leaders have said they’ve found it increasingly difficult to make the cuts without eliminating classroom workers. Democrats have blamed the cuts on districts having to eliminate thousands of positions over the past two years. Republicans say the problems haven’t been as severe as feared.

“Public schools got more during this past time, with all the doom and gloom, than in prior years,” Tillman said. ” … I don’t see classrooms overrunning with students.”

Among the major UNC needs: $2.3 billion to pay for all the necessary renovation and repair on 17 campuses, Ross said. The community colleges would like to reinstate summer classes, which lost funding in 2003, for three popular areas of study, at a cost of about $15 million, Ralls said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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