Tennessee’s education commissioner has ordered the closure of a struggling K12, Inc.-operated online school, as lawmakers here at home debate a budget proposal that could pave the way for K12 to finally set up shop in North Carolina.K12 logo

Tennessee Virtual Academy began operating in 2011 and struggled to produce positive academic results from the get go, according to The Tennessean. Three years of low student growth at the K12-managed school prompted Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, to order the school’s closure at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

K12, Inc. has a history of producing low performance and graduation rates across the country, most recently prompting the NCAA to announce that it will no longer accept coursework from 24 virtual schools that are affiliated with the company.

The company has also been compared to subprime mortgage lenders, pulling in and churning out a disproportionate amount of students who are not well prepared for the online learning model–all in the name of big profits from taxpayer budgets.

A spokeswoman for K12, Mary Gifford, told members of a study committee considering virtual charter school options here in North Carolina that the poor results simply reflect the fact that their company tends to attract low performing students, and the home-based system of education can do little to help that demographic.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group in February. “Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

K12, Inc. has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to land in North Carolina, and is currently waiting on the state Supreme Court to hand down a decision on their appeal to open a virtual charter school in the state.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have acted on the recommendations of a virtual charter school study committee and have inserted language into the proposed 2014 budget to direct the State Board of Education to establish a Virtual Charter School Pilot Program, which would authorize the operation of two virtual charter schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

The provision would allow the virtual charters that show positive academic outcomes to become permanent institutions at the discretion of the State Board, without having to go through a formal application process.

There does not appear to be criteria set forth in the proposed legislation for how the State Board of Education should vet and select the two virtual charter schools that would take part in the pilot program.

Notably, at least 90 percent of all teachers employed by the virtual charter schools must reside in North Carolina.

To read the virtual charter school study committee’s report to the legislature, click here.

To read the language for a virtual charter school pilot program in the state budget proposal, click here and read section 8.35.

North Carolina’s public universities can’t keep turning to tuition revenues to fund need-based aid for lower-income students, a move could lessen how much aid is available for coming classes and lead some to take on more student loans.

The university system’s Board of Governors unanimously passed a four-year tuition proposal Friday that puts a 15 percent cap on how much tuition money schools can use for need-based aid to help lower-income students.

The need-based aid proposal also freezes the dollar amount that goes to need-based aid at five campuses that are at or exceed the 15 percent mark – Elizabeth City State University ($470,584), Fayetteville State University ($328,869), N.C. State University ($7.3 million)and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ($19.1 million) and Winston Salem-State University ($190,089). Read More

Bettina Vinson has driven a school bus in Wake County for 17 years, and when she learned that after years of frozen pay she would receive a $500 raise according to the budget proposal state legislators are debating now in Raleigh, she was shocked.

“It was like a slap in the face,” said Vinson.

Lawmakers have included in their 2014 budget proposal a $1,000 raise for most public employees, but non-teaching public school workers – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other non-certified and central office staff—will only see a $500 salary increase, if lawmakers pass the budget as it is currently written.

“Why are the N.C. State bus drivers, who are doing the same job and are driving older kids who are easier to manage getting a $1,000 pay raise when we’re driving small kids and doing the same work they are doing and getting $500?” said Vinson.

“I think it’s wrong because what people are not realizing is that we are the first ones that these children see in the morning,” said Vinson. “And we set the tone for the teachers. Sometimes you have kids who’ve had nothing to eat, and I buy food to keep on the bus because you know the ones who get on the bus without breakfast or supper the night before, and so I feed them.”

So far, not one lawmaker who has had a hand in crafting the budget proposal has explained why public school employees are getting the shaft. Read More

Last week’s unanimous Fourth Circuit ruling in King v. Burwell, upholding the availability of Affordable Care Act tax credits to health insurance purchasers on both state exchanges and the federal exchange, may be heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yesterday, attorneys for challengers to that ruling filed a petition asking the high court to take the case next term.

Read the full petition here.

 

 

Over the course of the past three days, nearly 10,000 North Carolinians signed a petition calling on legislators to address the rising cost of the tax cuts that passed last year.  Tax cuts that primarily benefit wealthy taxpayers and profitable corporations.  The petition was delivered yesterday to legislators and yet early this morning the Senate approved a budget that fails to stop future tax cuts or address the growing gap between the priorities of the state and the adequacy of our revenue system.

PetitionDelivery

As the House debates the budget today, it is time to turn to the Governor for leadership on this issue.  He had early in 2013 committed to revenue neutral tax reform but as is increasingly clear the plan passed last year is not revenue neutral and is growing in cost.  The income tax cuts alone are projected to cost more than $5 billion over five years.  And it is quite possible, as we have written before, that the revenue shortfall for this fiscal year could be as high as $600 million.  That would mean the total tax plan would lose the state $1 billion in revenue each fiscal year.

Without those dollars it will be difficult for policymakers to meet the priorities of North Carolinians, sustain their plans for a teacher pay raise or ensure that North Carolina is on competitive ground and delivering a high quality of life to all.  Let’s hope the House rethinks the budget and if not that the Governor will lead the state down a more fiscally responsible path.