News, Trump Administration

Report: Trump voucher plan could “decimate” traditional public schools

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

A new report from the progressive Center for American Progress says President Trump’s campaign call for $20 billion in federally-backed private school vouchers could have dire impacts for the nation’s traditional public schools.

While details of such a plan have been difficult to come by since his inauguration, expanding school choice options and vouchers is expected to be a major component of the Trump administration’s K-12 policy, particularly under controversial new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

But Friday’s report from a Washington, D.C.-based liberal think tank argues his voucher plan, one of Trump’s lone K-12 campaign promises, could destabilize many of the nation’s school districts, particularly thousands of the state’s smallest school districts.

From the report:

The findings underscore the severe limitations of President Trump and Secretary DeVos’ one-size-fits-all vision of nationalizing private-school vouchers. Public education in America is far from one-size-fits-all, and there is dramatic diversity within the more than 13,000 school districts across the nation—from the 1 million students in New York City’s more than 1,500 public schools, to the 60 students at the K-8 school on Beals Island, Maine, and its 100-student high school shared with the nearby town of Jonesport. Diversity can also be found among the 67 countywide districts in Florida educating more than 2.5 million students, the 545 districts in New Jersey educating nearly 1.3 million students, and the 413 districts educating fewer than 150,000 students in Montana.

When CAP staff members looked at the data, they found that there are:

  • Nearly 9,000 sparse school districts that have four or fewer schools where voucher proposals are highly unlikely to work and could decimate the public system
  • Another 2,200 average school districts that have five to eight schools where vouchers may not work and risk harming existing schools’ ability to serve millions of students

After excluding charter schools and regional agencies that are legally considered school districts, this means that 85 percent of the 11,200 regular school districts fall into these two categories of sparse and average districts where vouchers are entirely or more than likely to be unworkable as a logistical matter.

Private school vouchers have been a central plan of GOP-led school choice reforms across the country. Indeed, Republican leadership in the N.C. General Assembly plans to ramp up the state’s financial investment in vouchers by $100 million over the next decade, despite criticism that mostly religious private schools maintain discriminatory admissions policies toward other religions and LGBTQ students.

Nevertheless, North Carolina’s voucher movement has garnered traction with Republicans and a number of African-American Democrats in the legislature who say parents need more choices.

News

Chapel Hill schools cancel class during “Day Without a Woman”

School busesHere’s a developing story.

The News & Observer is reporting that Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will be closing next Wednesday. The reason? School officials are expecting a number of missing staff taking note of “Day Without a Woman,” a national protest intended to draw attention to the role of women in American society.

From the N&O:

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will be closed to students on March 8 – proclaimed as “A Day Without A Woman” – because the school system expects to be shorthanded.

Durham Public Schools also is discussing closing schools on March 8 but no decision had been made. Superintendent Bert L’Homme said he’ll talk about the possibility with staff and make an announcement on Friday.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent Jim Causby made the call, changing next Wednesday to a teacher workday. Students won’t be expected to make up the day because the school system is on schedule to meet the required number of instructional hours anyway.

Causby made the decision because principals and other supervisors in the school system reported that they expected a high number of staff members to be absent on March 8.

A Day Without A Woman” is a political protest corresponding with International Women’s Day that encourages supporters to wear red, avoid spending money at businesses unless they are owned by women or minorities, and take the day off from work. It also includes a march in Washington. The national demonstration is intended to emphasize the role of women.

“The expected absences would make it difficult to teach students on March 8 and to provide essential services including transportation and food service,” the school system said in an emailed statement Thursday.

“Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools values and supports its female employees,” the statement read. “However, the decision to close schools is not an endorsement of the planned demonstration. The decision is made solely to avoid operating school on a day when there are insufficient staff to provide instruction and basic school services.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system’s employee makeup is 75 percent women.

News

Gov. Cooper’s budget boosts educator pay, pre-K; phases out vouchers

Gov. Roy Cooper unveiled a $23.5 billion budget proposal Wednesday that includes sweeping investments in teacher pay, early childhood education, teacher scholarships and classroom support while, eventually, phasing out North Carolina’s controversial private school voucher program.

“We are catching up with investments in education, all the way from birth through community colleges and universities,” Cooper told reporters Wednesday at Durham Technical Community College.

The plan, which increases overall spending by about 5 percent, includes a host of sweeteners for public school advocates who have long criticized Republican leadership in the N.C. General Assembly for their K-12 spending priorities.

That includes, as promised, a 10 percent increase in teacher pay over two years for all North Carolina teachers, a rate the governor says would bring the state to tops in the southeast in three years. Cooper’s office says the plan would bring the state’s teacher pay at least to the national average by five years.

“As parents, we trust our teachers with our kids many hours a day,” said Cooper. “It’s time to put our money where our trust is.”

The governor, meanwhile, acknowledged GOP lawmakers in the legislature have already announced their own plans to raise teacher pay to an average of $55,000 this year.

“I like the fact that there seems to be some competition on who can raise teacher salaries the most,” Cooper added. “I hope they win. That would be great.”

Cooper’s proposal would also lift principal pay by an average of 6.5 percent, heeding advocates’ complaints that North Carolina principal pay is among the worst in the nation.

Early childhood education, touted by some for its long-term academic impacts, particularly for low-income students, gets a lift too.

Cooper’s budget creates another 4,700 state-paid Pre-K slots for at-risk children, and adds another $15 million to the Smart Start Program, a state partnership that helps parents pay for child care, access preventative health care and improves early childhood education.

Meanwhile, in what’s sure to be one of the most debated elements of the governor’s plan, the budget would eventually end the state’s controversial investment in private school vouchers through the so-called Opportunity Scholarship Program.

While school choice advocates, including a handful of Democrats, defend vouchers as offering an alternative for low-income children, Cooper and a number of public education advocates have been bitingly critical of the use of public dollars for private, mostly religious schools, some of which hold anti-LGBTQ admissions policies.

The governor’s budget would fund the program through this year and next, delivering on already promised scholarships, but would nix a plan by lawmakers in the GOP-controlled N.C. General Assembly to raise the state’s investment in vouchers by $100 million over the next decade.

“I believe there should be a phase out of this where we can get our money in public education, where we have more accountability and where more students can benefit,” said Cooper.

Another major component would launch what Cooper is calling the N.C. Best & Brightest Forgivable Loan. Modeled after the GOP-scuttled Teaching Fellows Program, the new program would provide $10,000 forgivable tuition loans in exchange for a commitment to teach in a state public school for four years after graduation, or three years at a low-performing or low-wealth school.

“I hope that we can get this done,” said Cooper. “It is an important way to attract the best teachers.”

It’s a nod to North Carolina’s increasing difficulty recruiting top-notch educators, with officials reporting jilted teachers leaving the state or the profession altogether. Experts have also warned about plunging interest in teaching degrees in the UNC system. 

Read more

News

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.

Read more

News

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.”

Read more