Public schools, universities and community colleges across the state are investigating ways to reward better performing schools — but administrators say the economy continues to be a roadblock on the path to reform.
All three layers of North Carolina’s education system have looked into models that provide incentives for improved student performance and graduation rates, but no formal proposals have been adopted.
McCrory would provide two pathways to higher education from high school — one for four-year college and university degrees and one for workforce training or community colleges. McCrory also wants to encourage degree completion for students through incentive-based programs.
McCrory does not plan to increase funding for higher education until the system is reformed to better utilize the resources already available. He would seek to better allocate resources through expanded technology use, sharing of best practices and a stricter capital expansion process.
Need-based financial aid
McCrory would examine the costs of state universities and seek to make financial aid more performance-based, specifically granting financial incentives to students who finish their degrees early.
McCrory favors a performance-based model for higher education and a merit pay system that rewards K-12 public school teachers regardless of seniority.
McCrory does not mention tuition increases in his plan but advocates for driving down university costs by expanding technology and sharing best practices among campuses.
Dalton wants to increase early college and community college programs that lead to degrees. Additionally, Dalton would expand the Last Credit Scholar program that waives admission fees for students close to completing a degree.
Dalton wants to restore funding to higher education by developing a performance-based formula that addresses the specific needs of campuses. He would also seek to better prepare students for college and restore funding to K-12 education by eliminating millions of dollars in tax loopholes and cracking down on tax delinquents.
Need-based financial aid
Dalton would offset any tuition hikes with comparable increases in need-based financial aid.
Dalton would create a formula to reward high-performing universities. He plans to increase K-12 teacher pay to the national average.
Dalton wants to make college more affordable and accessible by incentivizing degree completion, offering occupational loans to workers for obtaining community college degrees and granting in-state tuition to more student veterans. Any tuition hikes would be offset with aid increases.
The push for accountability comes at a time of scarce resources for the state. Each school system has absorbed millions in state funding cuts in recent years, including a $414 million reduction for the UNC system in 2011-12.
In this year’s gubernatorial race, both Republican candidate Pat McCrory and Democrat Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton have expressed support for performance-based funding, though their platforms differ on how the programs would be implemented.
June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction, said her priority is to increase the base salary for K-12 public school teachers.
The state’s starting salary for teachers is $29,500, and the pay scale process is lengthy and slow, said Angela Farthing, director of program policy for the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Farthing said the steps for pay raises will ideally be condensed before performance-based funding is implemented.
Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, co-chairwoman of the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, said it’s difficult for teachers to enter the profession knowing their pay will be stagnant regardless of performance.
“We’re investigating the pay schedule because there is an interest in it,” she said.
Farthing said she had concerns about some aspects of performance-based funding.
“Students are not a test score, and a teacher should not be judged on a test score,” Farthing said.
Atkinson said teaching should not be a competitive sport but based on people working together for students.
“Another component of any type of pay-for-performance should be that all teachers are eligible,” she said.
Jonathan Pruitt, associate vice president for finance for the UNC system, said the UNC system is also in the process of developing a performance-based funding model.
He said the system is shifting from an enrollment-based funding model to one that provides incentives for improving student retention and encouraging efficiency.
The N.C. Community College system has a performance-based plan already in place, but it’s not stable, said Jennifer Haygood, the system’s chief financial officer.
She said for a number of years, no funding was approved by the state.
“Obviously, it’s not going to be a very effective system if there’s no guarantee for funding,” she said.
Haygood said the new proposal will incentivize improvement with a tiered system of funding based on performance measures.
Farthing said she was concerned about the longevity of these types of programs.
Some other states have ended their programs due to a lack of funds, she said.
Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Montgomery, a member of the education oversight committee, said he thinks pay-for-performance models will benefit students.
“Our investments in education are going to determine the future of this country,” he said.
He added the state needs to do what’s necessary to fund education, even if it means making difficult choices — which include not raising taxes during tough economic times.
But Farthing said it is amazing to talk about bonuses when there is no money available for textbooks and basic education infrastructure.
“With the budget times that we’re in right now, it’s not wise for our state to think of a performance-based or compensation model until we can afford to cover the basics of education,” she said.
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