MOREHEAD CITY — Nearly 200 parents, students and supporters of the Marine Science and Technologies Early College High School packed the school system central office Tuesday to appeal to the County Board of Education to fight for continued funding for the school.
“Please consider joining us in lobbying the N.C. legislature to continue funding the early college programs,” MaST parent Dr. Clark Johnson of Morehead City said. “Please do not yank the rug out from these kids who were willing to try something different to achieve their educational goals.”
Of the 23 people who spoke during the public comment time of the school board meeting, many were students who just finished their freshmen year at the school.
“This school has opened up a lot of different things to me,” rising MaST sophomore Gavin Dean of Smyrna said. “Please keep funding our school.”
Several emotional students talked about the difference the school, which allows students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously, has made in their attitudes, grades and lives.
“If the school is shut down, I don’t know what I would do,” rising MaST sophomore Pierce Toledo of Newport said.
Parent Brian Recker of Beaufort said the school has made a dramatic change in his foster daughter.
“This is the first time she has been a straight A student. She has a 4.2 GPA and she’s getting used to the idea of this being her new norm,” Mr. Recker said.
Parents, educators and students have started contacting legislators and school officials since recently finding out the latest state House version of the 2019-20 budget does not include funding for MaST, which is a partnership between the school system and Carteret Community College.
The school, located on the CCC campus, just completed its first year with 50 freshmen. It is scheduled to open in August with 50 new freshmen and 50 sophomores. The school system is providing core personnel, while CCC provides space and supplemental personnel.
School officials originally applied for and were approved by the General Assembly for state funding as a Cooperative Innovative High School two years ago. School and college officials planned on the General Assembly providing money to open the school for the 2018-19 year, then found out last summer the state’s budget did not include the funds.
County commissioners agreed to provide $186,358 for the 2018-19 year, with CCC providing an additional $125,000.
Last June, School Superintendent Mat Bottoms and CCC President Dr. John Hauser told commissioners they anticipated the state providing funding through a $180,000 grant for up to five years beginning the 2019-20 year.
While the Senate version of the budget funds $180,000 for three years beginning the 2019-20 fiscal year, the House version has no funds for cooperative innovative schools across the state.
Parents and MaST supporters asked the school board to find the funds to keep the school open and join them in lobbying legislators.
“Please consider these students and teachers who have already completed a year in this program and are fully committed to seeing it through,” MaST parent advisory council chairman Andrea Beasley, daughter of News-Times publisher Lockwood Phillips, said.
“Take into account all the students enrolled for next year who are excited about the opportunity,” Ms. Beasley continued. “Examine your issues with the program and please try to understand what MaST means to us. It’s not just a school — we are fully vested and will fight to keep our doors open.”
MaST Principal Dee Rosen pointed out that in 2017-18, early college high schools served more than 25,000 students in the state.
“The model continues to grow. Early colleges are focused on first generation college students (and) offers a career certification, associate’s degree or two years of transferrable college credits to a North Carolina public university,” Ms. Rosen said.
She added that last year 90% of the 50 MaST freshmen were first generation college students, and of the new group of rising freshmen, 91% are first generation college students.
Ms. Rosen further pointed out that students this year earned more than 500 college credits.
Board of Education Chairman Travis Day thanked parents, students and supporters for speaking, but said no decisions were scheduled to be made during the board meeting.
“We’re still waiting to hear some information about funding,” Mr. Day said. “There are a lot of questions out there. There will be no decisions tonight, but we will try to keep everyone in the loop.”
Board member Clark Jenkins thanked students for speaking out.
“I commend our young adults for coming here and fighting for what you believe in,” he said. “Continue to do that throughout your life.”
Board member Brittany Wheatly also commended the students, saying a student had emailed her with their concerns.
In response to an email from the News-Times, Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret (Jones), said Wednesday she isn’t certain what will happen to funding for MaST and other innovate high schools across the state because the state budget has not been finalized.
“We are not sure until the budget is finalized what the education conference chairs will agree to,” Rep. McElraft stated. “If they go with the Senate version of funding for the Innovation high schools there will be three more years of funding.”
Rep. McElraft added that it could be up to local officials to come up with the money for MaST if state funding falls through.
“Carteret County will continue to get the ADM (average daily membership) funding for these children no matter which school they attend,” she said. “The program started as a pilot program for a few schools and has grown at such an exponential rate that the state has decided to cap the funding to three years and also cap how many schools can be added each year. I’ve heard from parents on each side of the issue.”
Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico (Craven, Carteret), did not respond by presstime, but previously stated the Senate version does include funding for three years and he would continue to work on the issue.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.