Education, News

North Carolina officials choose struggling Wayne County elementary for controversial takeover program

Officials in North Carolina’s controversial takeover initiative, the Innovative School District, have selected a struggling Wayne County school — Carver Heights Elementary — to be the second addition to the program in 2019.

A spokesman for the ISD, David Prickett, confirmed the news Tuesday morning, adding that an official announcement was forthcoming. Leaders in the Wayne County school system were notified Monday, Prickett said.

The Goldsboro elementary school earned an “F” grade and did not meet state growth expectations in 2016-2017, according to its N.C. report card.  But the school serves an extraordinarily high level of economically disadvantaged students — about 90 percent — a population that tends to struggle academically.

Carver Heights was one of six schools that made a final list for consideration this fall, chosen because of their academic marks.

The selection will require the approval of the State Board of Education.

Leaders and supporters of the takeover program held a town hall with Wayne County residents last week and received a rocky reception from some vocal opponents.

Critics say the unproven program, which allows for charters and other private groups to seize control of a struggling public school, amounts to experimenting with predominantly low-income, students of color.

Similar models have been met with lackluster results and public outcry in states like Tennessee and Michigan.

But supporters say it’s an innovative approach for schools that have long struggled. Republican lawmakers advanced the takeover model, once called the “achievement school district,” in 2016, with support from a wealthy school choice backer behind a growing charter network.

Officials with the ISD tapped a Robeson County school, Southside-Ashpole Elementary, for the program last year. Ethical questions about the nonprofit established to run the school have troubled the initiative.

The program is expected to select up to five schools over the next few years, although Carver Heights will be the only recommended addition in 2019, Prickett said.

Leadership with the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), which advocates for teachers across the state, have been openly critical of the state-run district.

Indeed, NCAE President Mark Jewell slammed the news in a statement Tuesday.

“The Innovation School District is an unproven and unaccountable takeover scheme that does nothing to improve student achievement,” Jewell said. “Having for-profit companies take over public schools will do nothing but rip our communities apart.  I was just in Wayne County last week and parents, educators, and our communities have been making it loud and clear that they do not want this.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Environment, News

Lawmakers expected to approve nearly $800 million in hurricane relief

House Speaker Tim Moore (L) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R)

North Carolina state lawmakers are expected to speedily approve almost $800 million in hurricane relief this week, legislators announced over the weekend.

The news follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s call last week for the state to open up its pocketbook and spend from its $2 billion “rainy-day fund” after Hurricane Florence battered the state last month.

From WRAL’s report Monday morning:

When lawmakers gather Monday afternoon, they plan to approve nearly $800 million in Hurricane Florence relief funding, legislative leaders said over the weekend.

Gov. Roy Cooper had asked for $1.5 billion in state funding for the storm recovery, with $750 million of that upfront and approved during this week’s special legislative session.

Lawmakers noted that the administration’s needs estimates were preliminary, based largely on computer modeling of the storm damage as opposed to in-person analysis. Leadership said in a news release that they want to keep “maximum flexibility” as more information comes in, and that their initial appropriation would total $794 million.

“Some assessed needs may shift considerably over time as federal aid becomes clearer and damage assessments continue,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in a joint statement. “Education needs, for example, are particularly preliminary.”

Leadership did not release a breakdown of how the money would be spent. More details should be available when the House and Senate appropriations committees go into joint session at 4 p.m.

The initial recovery package may be completely approved by Monday night. Most of the funding will come from the state’s $2 billion “rainy day” reserve fund and will not require a tax increase.

Billions more will likely flow from the federal government and from private insurance claims tied to the storm and the subsequent flooding, which was historic in much of southeastern North Carolina. Private groups are working to help repair homes as well. Many people, though, will likely never be made whole.

House Appropriations Chairman Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said in the weekend release that school repairs will be the top priority in the state’s package, along with cleanup, road and local infrastructure repairs and fully funding the state’s match for federal recovery dollars.

Lawmakers already approved $56 million in Florence recovery aid two weeks ago. That money was earmarked to pay teachers and other school staff whose schools were closed for an extended period and to provide initial matching funds for federal aid.

It remains to be seen how the dollars will be spent.

Cooper’s proposal considered not only the damage to homes and small businesses, but also pledged cash to reeling farmers, relocating homes in the state’s floodplains, and expanding a buyout program in order to move hog farm pits, one of multiple looming environmental concerns exacerbated by storm flooding.

There’s been no word that legislators intend to take up more divisive matters. Lawmakers were roundly criticized for their jabs at then-incoming Gov. Cooper in December 2016 as they convened to fund relief for Hurricane Matthew.

Look for updates from Policy Watch as lawmakers gather.

Education, News

Gov. Roy Cooper names three to the State Board of Education

Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper has named three new appointments to vacant seats on the State Board of Education.

On Wednesday, Cooper appointed Greenville’s Jill Camnitz, a former local school board member in Pitt County; Charlotte’s James Ford, a former state teacher of the year in 2014-2015; and J.B. Buxton, an education consultant from Raleigh and former administrator in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Because they are filling vacant seats, they will not be subject to confirmation by the state legislature. That’s noteworthy because the GOP-controlled General Assembly stonewalled previous Cooper appointees to the board, including Buxton.

And lawmakers voted down Buxton’s appointment to another seat on the board in June without any explanation.

The new appointments follow a handful of early resignations from the state’s top school board.

Some members suggested the sooner-than-expected departures came because they did not want to be in the same position as current members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt, both of whom are serving long after their terms expired last March.

Willoughby and McDevitt have remained in their positions as lawmakers waited months to vote against Cooper’s nominees to replace the pair.

Jill Camnitz

According to Cooper’s press release, Camnitz — in addition to her experience on her local school board — served as chair of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Coastal Plain Board of Directors, and worked with local groups like the Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County, the Pitt County Educational Foundation and the Brody Foundation.

 

 

James Ford

Meanwhile, since his time as a teacher, Ford served as the program director for the Public School Forum of N.C., a nonpartisan policy and research group in Raleigh, and launched a consulting firm, Filling the Gap Education Consultants, that advises public school leaders on equity issues.

J.B. Buxton

Buxton runs his own consulting company, Education Innovations Group, and once served as an education advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley.

The new board members are expected to take up their seats immediately.

The state board has had a tumultuous relationship with state lawmakers in recent years, wrestling over education policy, and the powers of Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Education, News

Superintendent Mark Johnson names former charter school headmaster as his chief of staff

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has named the former headmaster of a Rutherford County charter as his new chief of staff, Johnson’s office announced Friday.

Johnson announced Joe Maimone’s appointment a few months after Maimone’s unexpected resignation from Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, the Mooresboro charter he co-founded in 1998.

Maimone has also served on the state’s Charter Schools Advisory Board — which counsels the State Board of Education on charter policy and applications — since 2013.

Joe Maimone, Superintendent Johnson’s new chief of staff

The position will report directly to Johnson, a Republican school choice supporter who’s clashed openly with the State Board of Education over K-12 policy and the budget.

“Joe has the management expertise and the background in K-12 education to help us continue the process of making this department function best,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am happy to have him join the team of professionals who make up the Department of Public Instruction.”

Johnson touted Maimone’s background with the charter school in his announcement Friday, pointing out that he led the school as it grew from 110 students in grades 7-9 in 1999 to about 1,300 students in grades K-12 today.

The superintendent’s announcement said students “thrived” at Maimone’s school.

The charter earned a “B” performance grade and did not meet growth expectations on its 2016-2017 assessments, according to the most recent state report available.

The school serves a decidedly different population than many typical public schools, however, with just 7.5 percent of its students considered “economically disadvantaged.” Traditional school supporters have often pointed out that the state’s growing charter sector serves a more affluent population.

Academic research has documented the powerful impact socioeconomic status has had on academic performance.

The charter is part of the TeamCFA charter network, which has deep ties to influential Republican state leaders.

Maimone also made some waves this year when he suggested traditional public schools were “milking” the federal school lunch program, serving free lunches to students who could afford to pay for their meals, according to The News & Observer.

Commentary, Education, News

Editorial: Teachers deserve respect from North Carolina lawmakers

A new editorial from Capitol Broadcasting Company takes North Carolina legislators to task over teacher pay, part of a long-running series of criticisms against Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly.

Teacher pay has been on the rise in recent years, but the state’s pay plunged from 2009 to 2018 when adjusted for inflation.

State legislative leaders have attempted to combat those critiques in recent weeks, but the editorial calls on lawmakers to stop the “spin.”

From the CBC editorial:

North Carolina’s legislative leaders have come up with lots of ways to say they’re paying public school teachers well. With the help of Republican-oriented “think tanks” they point to questionable claims of accelerated pay raises, cost-of-living differentials and use local supplements – particularly from a handful of the state’s urban school districts – to paint a rosier pay picture.

First, average teacher pay – the average salary for all North Carolina’s public school teachers – is NOT what the average teacher makes. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s public classroom teachers were paid LESS than the average.

Also, average teacher pay includes local supplements, money that comes from local taxpayers in specific districts, that vary widely depending on the school district. Several districts don’t provide any supplements. Yet, the expectations of a second grade teacher in Bertie County (which doesn’t provide a local supplement) are no different than the expectations of a second grade teacher in Wake County, which provides one of the most generous supplements. In fact, North Carolina courts have ruled the state’s Constitution mandates “a sound basic education” for every child.

The unfortunate reality is that North Carolina has become something of a national punching bag for teacher pay. Earlier this month the New York Times, in a story titled ”The Second Shift: What teachers are doing to pay their bills,” highlighted an Iredell County middle school teacher (who reached peak pay and has been in the classroom for 19 years) forced to work a second job to make ends meet.

recent report from the Economic Policy Institute showed the gap between wages for teachers and other college graduates is at the highest level ever. The pay differential – the institute calls the difference between what teachers are paid in relation to comparable workers as the “teacher pay penalty.” North Carolina ranks 49th – only Arizona is worse. North Carolina teachers earn 35.5 cents on the dollar compared to what other college graduates earn.

Overall public school education funding still lags. “In constant dollars, North Carolina’s spending per student peaked at $9,952 in 2007-08, ranking 40th in the nation. State support per student continued to slide to $8,784 in 2012-13, when North Carolina ranked 46th. As North Carolina’s population continued to grow, state legislators made incremental increases until spending per student reached an estimated $9,528 in 2017-18, ranking 39th. But spending per student still remained $424 less than pre-recession levels in 2017-18, after adjusting for inflation,” according to a recent analysis from the Higher Education Works Foundation.

This is not a record that represents a commitment to quality public schools and respect for the professionalism teachers bring to the classroom.