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Two months after Rolesville High, Wake leaders want to rethink role of campus cops

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes

Nearly two months after a video of a violent altercation between a school resource officer (SRO) and a Rolesville high schooler spurred outrage, a small panel of Wake County leaders urged a fundamental rethinking of on-campus cops’ role, as well as a greater investment in school counselors, nurses and mentors.

Panel members—addressing an estimated 150 or so Wake residents who packed Rolesville Town Hall Thursday night—suggested school leaders should reduce the growing role SROs play in U.S. schools today, a trend critics blame for exacerbating teen arrests and the so-called “school to prison pipeline.”

“If we want to make an investment in school resource officers, we should limit their role to what it started off being, which is to protect and serve,” said Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes.

In addition to Holmes, Thursday’s panel of Wake leaders included Sheriff Donnie Harrison, Board of Education Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler, District Court Judge Craig Croom and Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles.

The forum convened with an internal investigation still ongoing into the Jan. 3 incident at Rolesville High School, in which SRO Ruben De Los Santos of the Rolesville Police Department slammed a teenage girl to the ground during a campus fight. According to media reports, the teen was attempting to break up the fight.

A video of the incident went viral in the hours that followed, sparking criticism from a host of community leaders, as well as the ACLU of N.C. It comes amid a growing contingency of researchers, advocates and groups like the non-partisan Congressional Research Service questioning the use of SROs in U.S. schools.

And at least one unidentified man who spoke Thursday was still palpably angry over the January altercation.

Rolesville Police Chief Bobby Langston declined to comment on the investigation, although he urged patience from members of the community.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that occurred, but everybody is due a due process,” said Langston.

In addition to criticism of the officer, some community leaders have endorsed a spate of reforms, including greater training for SROs and tweaking of the school system’s agreements with 10 local law enforcement agencies, including Rolesville police, serving in Wake schools.

Some protesters argued campus police officers should be removed from schools altogether, citing research that indicates their presence increases the chances students will leave high school with a criminal record.

And, although she stopped short of backing wholesale removal of SROs from schools, Holmes said Thursday that leaders must take stock of the data.

“In the old days, kids would get into a fight in the cafeteria and it would mean a trip to the principal’s office,” said Holmes. “Nowadays, that same kid gets into a fight in the cafeteria and they get handcuffed.”

For some, the controversy over school police has re-energized advocates behind the “Raise the Age” movement. As Holmes pointed out Thursday, North Carolina is one of just two states in the U.S. that charges 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults.

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House GOP advances school funding task force, rejects calls to guarantee diverse membership

School busesAs expected, the N.C. House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved draft legislation launching a school funding task force, but only after Republican backers shot down pleas from Democrats to guarantee fair representation on the pivotal panel from both minorities and Democrats.

“There’s no indication we’re going to get off the tracks,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-sponsored House Bill 6, which is now bound for the state Senate.

The task force, which would include 18 legislators hand-picked by Senate and House leadership, is tasked with devising recommendations for North Carolina’s entangled method of K-12 funding.

In November, a legislative research office panned the system as unfair to poor counties, students with disabilities and children with limited English proficiency, spurring a call for action from both Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.

The task force, if approved by the Senate, would be expected to complete a report by October 2018 with recommendations for reforming the multi-category school funding system.

Based on committee and House floor debates thus far, there’s clearly bipartisan support for addressing the funding system, but, given the enormous implications for public schools statewide, House Democrats sought pledges that Republican leaders would be mindful of racial and gender diversity when members were tapped.

That’s because some of the state’s most high-need schools and districts have a disproportionate share of minority students.

“You have to be reminded there are others in your society that have something to contribute,” said Rep. Henry Michaux Jr., a Durham Democrat.  “We don’t want to keep reminding you.”

Democrats also sought unsuccessfully to wring a promise from Republicans that at least three members of the minority party would be chosen for the key task force, which is expected to begin work this October.

While the draft legislation includes promises to consider both urban and rural leaders, as well as at least one Democrat from each chamber, critics wanted Republicans to go a step further.

“This committee is going to make recommendations,” said Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson. “To have a variety of political opinions on that I think would be healthy.”

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House GOP rebuffs call for gender, racial diversity on school funding task force

Desks in a classroom.State House Republicans leading the push to assemble a school funding reform task force rejected calls from at least one Democrat Wednesday that lawmakers assure gender and racial diversity on the pivotal task force.

The debate came as House legislators gave their tentative approval to create a task force of 18 lawmakers, although the draft of House Bill 6 will require a third vote of approval from the chamber Thursday.

At that time, lawmakers are expected to hear multiple amendments, including one pushed by Democrats intended to ensure diversity on the panel, which is expected to prepare legislative recommendations for school funding reform by next October.

“Let’s get started on a fundamental revamp of how we fund public education in this state,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-sponsored the bill.

The draft before the House Wednesday does include a handful of concessions that emerged from committee debate on the bill, including promises that the task force assembled by GOP leadership will “reflect geographic and urban/rural diversity,” as well as the guarantee that the panel includes at least one member from the minority party in each chamber.

However, called upon by Rep. Verla Insko, a Democrat from Orange County, to go a step further by making a pledge for gender and racial diversity, Horn described the proposal as “micromanaging.”

“There’s no reason to believe the (House) Speaker and Senate President will not take all those things into consideration,” said Horn.

It’s clear why Insko would seek promises of racial diversity, as some of North Carolina’s poorest counties, with the most high-need schools, have a disproportionate share of minority students.

Legislators authored House Bill 6 after a November report from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED) complained of serious fissures in the state’s complicated method of funding public schools.

That report alleged glaring deficiencies in funding between rich and poor counties, as well as insufficient allocations for students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.

However, N.C. Justice Center analyst Kris Nordstrom has argued that ditching the state’s current system could only worsen the divide between poor and wealthy districts.

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News, Trump Administration

Conservative group urges Betsy DeVos to dismantle federal education department

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

We’re still awaiting details on new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ plans for the nation’s public schools, but a report from The Washington Post this week is sure to fire up public education advocates already anxious about the new secretary.

According to the Post‘s Emma Brown, a conservative policy organization with deep ties to DeVos and President Trump’s administration is pushing the pair for some big changes in how the nation administers public schools.

From the Post:

A policy manifesto from an influential conservative group with ties to the Trump administration, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, urges the dismantling of the Education Department and bringing God into American classrooms.

The five-page document produced by the Council for National Policy calls for a “restoration of education in America” that would minimize the federal role, promote religious schools and home schooling and enshrine “historic Judeo-Christian principles” as a basis for instruction.

For those unfamiliar with the Council for National Policy, it’s a powerful group of conservatives that, since its founding in 1981, has generally sought to advance Christian right principles.

DeVos’ father-in-law, wealthy GOP benefactor Richard DeVos, is a former president of the group and top Trump aides Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway have both been involved with the council, according to the Post. The report adds that DeVos and her husband have also donated to the organization.

Here’s a Policy Watch examination of what DeVos’ confirmation means for North Carolina public schools.  Read more

News

Fix to school funding crunch advances through N.C. House

North Carolina House lawmakers unanimously backed draft legislation intended to allay an imminent K-3 class size dilemma for public schools Thursday, despite criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

House Bill 13 will offer local school districts flexibility over their average and maximum classroom sizes in the early grades, weeks before public school leaders say a GOP-led state budget provision could have forced districts to choose between axing arts and physical education classes or asking for major funding increases from local governments.

State officials say the the implications could be modest in smaller districts, but significant in some of North Carolina’s largest school districts.

Republicans say the bill will resolve the unintended consequences of a legislative mandate last year that schools trim class sizes in the lower grades. But Democrats and public school critics have chided GOP lawmakers for what they describe as an “unfunded mandate” that would have drastic impacts for local school districts.

“If we truly believe that class size can make a difference as I do, then just fund it,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat. “Put the money where our rhetoric is and just fund it.”

Starting with next school year, school districts are set to lose the ability to exceed the state’s funded average classroom sizes in grades K-3. Without easing that directive or providing additional financing, local school officials complained of broad impacts on staffing, infrastructure, teaching assistants and class sizes in grades 4-12.

House lawmakers unanimously approved the bill Thursday and it’s now bound for the state Senate, where its prospects for approval without modification are murky.

Senate leaders have been significantly more critical of public schools in recent years, and a spokeswoman for Senate President Phil Berger has not responded to multiple Policy Watch inquiries about the matter.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, the Henderson County Republican who co-sponsored House Bill 13, said Thursday that the controversial budget mandate in question arose at least in part because Senate leadership was “upset” that public schools were using classroom funding for other purposes.

Republicans suggested multiple times in committee and on the House floor in recent days that public school districts are misusing state funding, although they have not offered proof and school district lobbyists have indicated they know of no such circumstances.

McGrady said he hopes his bill, which has the support of local district lobbyists at the N.C. School Boards Association, will offer a “smoother path” for North Carolina schools. Local districts warned of “draconian” cuts without action from the legislature to mediate last year’s mandate, he said.

“They didn’t have a lot of warning,” said McGrady. “This is a bill to give a glide path here.”

Meanwhile, McGrady rebuffed calls from Democrats Thursday to debate overall school funding. Critics of GOP leaders have long maintained that the state legislature is not properly funding North Carolina public schools.

“I’m sure we’re going to have that debate when we debate the budget,” added McGrady. “This bill is not that bill. These positions for lower class sizes have already been paid for by us. This is about flexibility.”