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Threat of closure again looms over NCCAT

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Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 9:07 am | Updated: 10:09 am, Wed May 21, 2014.

It’s budget time, and once more the Cullowhee-headquartered N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching finds itself fighting for survival as state leaders decide who gets dollars in 2014-15 – and who doesn’t.

There are 35 NCCAT workers in Cullowhee and 10 at a sister campus in Ocracoke.

NCCAT is not funded in Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $21 billion budget, released May 14. If NCCAT fails to secure state funding, the 28-year-old professional development center for teachers will close June 30, and the 36.7-acre campus will be turned over to Western Carolina University.

To live another day, NCCAT must lobby its way into either the state Senate or House proposed budget; while that doesn’t ensure the doors stay open, it’s a must-do step in the process. The state is facing a projected $445 million revenue shortfall this year.

The Senate and House each pass their respective versions of the state budget, ostensibly taking into consideration the governor’s wishes. Then the two legislative bodies hammer out a compromise and pass an official budget that starts July 1.

“Obviously, we are disappointed not to be included in the governor’s budget, but we continue to work with the House, Senate and the governor’s office, and we hope for a positive result,” NCCAT Interim Director Richard Thompson said.

Thompson rallied the troops. He sent word to NCCAT teacher alumni that, if they value the institution, they should contact their state representatives.

“Your advocacy at this time is essential,” Thompson wrote in a NCCAT blog, addressed to “Dear Friends.” “Things are moving rapidly. We need our supporters to contact their representatives, now!”

The Senate will release its draft budget in two to three weeks.

A total of about 70,000 state pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers have trained at NCCAT, which offers interdisciplinary, topic-specific seminars for teachers in the environmental and biological sciences, technology, mathematics, communication, leadership, and the arts and humanities.

Last year, McCrory didn’t want to fund NCCAT, and nor did the state Senate; NCCAT managed to find a place in the House budget. It received $3.1 million, with strings. Lawmakers ordered NCCAT to review its mission, goals and objectives, to look for efficiency gains, and develop performance measures.

NCCAT, once touted as a model for other states on how to best support teachers in their professional careers, fell out of favor when Republicans came to power in 2010. Since then, NCCAT has fought to remain afloat, shedding staff – down from a high of 82 – as funding has been slashed. NCCAT in 2010-11 received $6 million in state money.

Apparently believing the best defense is a good offense, NCCAT leaders this year, responding to lawmakers’ demands for a bottom-up review, asked the General Assembly to restore $1.7 million; this request included $1.5 million of the $3 million reduction from 2011-12, and added $200,000 to bring NCCAT’s technology up to date. Also, NCCAT wants $1.5 million restored in 2015 to return the institute to its 2010-11 level.

NCCAT also asked that its funding be recurring rather than non-recurring; then the center wouldn’t have to request money every year, but would automatically be part of the state’s budget – just like it used to be, in its halcyon days.

NCCAT has promised to be laser-focused on helping teachers achieve state education initiatives. These include implementing the N.C. Read to Achieve Program for early grades, providing licensure renewal requirements, and more. Digital learning is highlighted, too, in the plan NCCAT sent to legislators The institution wants to certify 2,000 educators as data literacy leaders who can, in turn, train the state’s educator workforce.

Sylva, NC

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