The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 3rd

NC General Assembly might discuss funding for Teaching Fellows

The program — launched nearly 30 years ago by the legislature — was created to recruit talented high school graduates into the education field. It provided 500 scholarships to in-state high school seniors, who would then commit at least four years to teaching in the N.C. public school system.

The Teaching Fellows Program lost its state funding for good in the 2014-15 state budget, continuing a phase-out that began in 2011.

Keith Poston, executive director of the N.C. Public School Forum — which oversees the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program — said the non-profit believes the program will not be revived.

“I think there’s virtually no chance that the existing program will be restored,” Poston said. “We’ve been managing and administering the program since its conception in 1986, but it will officially end and the teaching commission will be dissolved on March 1.”

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke — an advocate of the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program — said opposition stemmed from a dislike of how the program was run, not its recruitment of teachers.

“I think it is certainly possible, maybe even probable, that there will be some efforts to come up with something that might be viewed as a sort of replacement or substitute for what has been the Teaching Fellows program,” he said.

But Morgan May, senior co-president of Carolina Teaching Fellows, said she is unsure what a revamped program would look like.

“I don’t see what else they could come up with,” May said. “STEM is one thing, but my concentration is social studies and science, and if you focus on this one population, you’re getting rid of the humanities and the arts.”

May said members of the organization’s administrators and fellows made efforts to write to legislators and keep the program alive.

Both May and Joshua Conger-Kallas, also co-president, were surprised to see the demise of such an established program.

“I thought (budget problems) would be more short-term than what it turned out to be,” Conger-Kallas said.

Conger-Kallas said he has seen the effects of the funding losses on the program, as he and his cohort have watched earlier classes graduate.

“One of the things I think the state has cut is financial incentives to take on additional responsibilities in the classroom,” he said.

But Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Civitas Institute, said if the Teaching Fellows model were successful, it would have found alternative funding.

“If any program is worthwhile and people feel strongly about it, money will come forward. If it doesn’t, well, I believe it’s a statement about the program itself,” he said.

Becky O’Neill, a spokeswoman for Teach for America — a program that received $6 million from the legislature in 2013 — said she thinks Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows Program occupy different niches.

In 2013, the N.C. House of Representatives included $3 million in its budget to reinstate the Teaching Fellows Program.

While Teach for America focuses primarily on placement in hard-to-staff, low-income areas, Poston said there are N.C. Fellows working in all 100 counties of North Carolina.

But with the Southern Education Foundation’s report that 53 percent of N.C. public school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, O’Neill said the problem is more wide-reaching than any one program.

“When you see a statistic that jarring, I think it really brings it into focus, for just the need for more great teachers, period.”


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