The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday May 20th

NC legislators consider reinstating Teaching Fellows funding

State legislators opted to phase out funding for the N.C. Teaching Fellows program in June, but the N.C. House of Representatives’ Republican leader said he is reconsidering that decision.

The House passed a funding cut for the program’s administrative costs, but in the final version of the budget, the Senate stripped all funds for future classes of Teaching Fellows.

1986 – NC Teaching Fellows program was established

1988 – A Teaching Fellows program is established at UNC-Chapel Hill to attract talented high-school graduates into the teaching profession.

June 2011 – A line-item cut in the state budget proposed by the N.C. Senate would eliminate all funding for NC Teaching Fellows Program, phasing it out completely by 2015.

Sept. 2011 – House Speaker Thom Tillis says he has plans to discuss reinstating funding for the Teaching Fellows program.

May 2015 – Graduation for last Teaching Fellows class under current legislation

The program currently provides a $6,500 annual scholarship to 500 high school seniors in exchange for a four-year commitment to teach in North Carolina’s public schools.

“We have heard from a lot of people, from educators to parents to teachers to students and everybody in between that the Teaching Fellows program is something that is worthwhile,” said Jordan Shaw, spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.

There are more than 2,000 fellows in schools across the state, and their scholarships are protected by state legislation, even though funding for future scholars has been eliminated.

“Many of these students had been planning since they were freshmen in high school and working hard so they would be qualified to apply for Teaching Fellows,” said Jo Ann Norris, executive director of the program. “And that’s not available to them at the moment.”

But Norris, along with some legislators, is hopeful that situation will change.

Because the state legislature has demonstrated willingness to reinstate funding for the program, administrators have begun discussing plans to save next year’s freshman class, which would require approval of the legislature, she said.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on education, said he would support an effort to return funding to the program.

“When the budget went to the Senate, frankly I think a mistake was made,” he said.

But Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Montgomery, co-chairman of the Senate committee on education appropriations, said he is more reluctant to commit to restoring funding. He said he is worried the state will not take in enough revenue to re-appropriate funding to the program.

Shaw said House members must work with the Senate in order to restore the program’s funding.

“We have a very close working relationship with the Senate,” Shaw said. “Obviously we don’t agree on everything, but we’re pretty much in step with each other when push comes to shove.”

Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said he disapproves of Republican budget tactics.

“I think (the cut) was actually politically aimed at the Public School Forum, which hosts the Teaching Fellows, for not supporting the Republican budget process,” he said. “And I think that’s a really sad commentary on how we go about governing in this state.”

The Public School Forum is a nonprofit think tank that helps oversee the program.

Glazier said the Teaching Fellows program has had bipartisan support in the past.

But Tillman said the large budget deficit required the elimination of some popular programs.

“I think there’s some political downside to eliminating a good program,” he said. “We simply didn’t have the money to save everything.”

Tillman said the Teaching Fellows program is one of the first programs he wants to restore if revenues increase.

Matt Hughes, executive assistant to UNC-CH Student Body President Mary Cooper and a Teaching Fellow, said he is glad funding might be returned to the program, but he questioned why it was cut in the first place.

“I had hoped that if Speaker Tillis had believed that the program was that valuable to North Carolina that he would have stuck up for the program back in July.”

But Shaw said the budget process isn’t perfect.

“We don’t think that in a $20 billion budget that we got every single thing perfectly right,” he said. “And we are not opposed to going back and looking for things we can do better.”

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