By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The North Carolina General Assembly passed the state budget last week. Local leaders with the county’s public charter school, North East Carolina Prep School (NECP), spoke out on the budget’s impact on education.
“One thing we were hoping for was transportation dollars,” said Diane LeFiles, director of communications for NECP. “We’re having to secure funds for the buses we’re adding this year.”
NECP did not receive transportation funding for the upcoming school year.
“The per pupil dollars that come to NECP, the transportation dollars should follow them, as well,” said Taro Knight, director of community relations/ middle school/ operation for NECP. He said the transportation dollars come out of the school’s general fund, and the cost savings come from administrators having to “double up” on duties.
The budget, on the other hand, supports the growth of charter schools, allocating $320,000 in funding to support additional charter school staff to allow for appropriate oversight of charter schools, since the cap on charter schools was lifted in 2011.
The state Senate and House passed a bill last week providing more rules for the governance of charter schools but dropping a measure that would have created separate oversight for charter schools.
Knight said NECP has had a good relationship with DPI and the office of charter schools and does not want to have a separate oversight committee for charter schools.
“We don’t want to have the appearance of two separate education institutions,” he said.
Othar Woodard, vice-chair of the board of directors for NECP, said he is “certainly pleased” with the expansion of charter schools, within the sector of public education.
“Those of us in charter school education, we firmly believe in public education,” Woodard said. “We just believe in having choices within that system. We believe in teachers having more flexibility within the classrooms to educate our children.”
“What harms us is when we take public dollars and give it to private schools,” Knight said. He said he is against the portion of the state budget allocating $10 million for scholarships for income-limited students to attend private schools.
The investment in the Excellent Public Schools Act and a particular provision in that act is part of the state budget that Woodard approves.
“They are requiring students to be proficient in reading by the end of the third grade. That’s very positive,” Woodard said. “We (at NECP) are prepared to look at different options to make sure that happens.”
The budget also shifts $12.4 million from lottery receipts to add 2,500 pre-kindergarten slots.
“You can’t go wrong with putting money in early education,” Knight said.
On the downside, Knight and Woodard both expressed their concerns with the budget cuts to teacher assistant positions, a cut of approximately $110 million. Funding for teacher assistants will focus on kindergarten and first grade classrooms, rather than on kindergarten through third grade.
“Those first few grades are the most important grades in our educational system,” Woodard said.
Knight said the cuts won’t effect NECP; the school only has teacher assistants in its kindergarten classrooms because the school’s “inclusion” model often has more than one certified instructor in a classroom at one time. However, he and Woodard said the cuts will impact the community.
“That affects everybody, when we have cuts in education and can’t provide quality education to our students,” Woodard said. “Education, we believe, is the foundation for growth and quality of life in Edgecombe County.”
Another budget cut — $286 million this year and $246 million next year — in funding for classroom teachers, will not have a direct impact on NECP, but will have an impact on traditional public schools in Edgecombe County.
“Our K-5 elementary classes do not go above 20 students per classroom,” Knight said. “Anytime you take a cap off classroom size, that cannot be good for education. You can’t expect a teacher to be able to reach 35 or 40 kids.”
The budget also takes away the salary incentive for teachers to earn an advanced degree. That budget cut will not impact NECP.
“I do think it’s important to offer incentives for teachers to get further education, and it’s our plan to continue to do that,” Woodard said.