News

State Board of Ed Chair: Potential charter takeover schools had “plenty of time” to make improvements

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey

As public school officials narrow down their list of schools eligible for the first year of a controversial charter takeover program, the chair of North Carolina’s top school board says the low-performing schools being considered are due for a change.

“There is reason to believe that they’ve had plenty of time to deal with these failing schools,” said board Chairman Bill Cobey. “I would hope that, as we go through the process, they would be willing to accept the fact that maybe we need to try to something different.”

Cobey’s comments come with leaders in the state’s Innovative School District (ISD) releasing a list of six remaining schools. That list includes two schools apiece in Durham and Robeson counties, as well as schools in the Northampton and Nash-Rocky Mount school districts.

Those schools include:

Durham Public Schools – Lakewood Elementary

Durham Public Schools – Glenn Elementary

Nash-Rocky Mount Schools – Williford Elementary

Northampton County Schools – Willis Hare Elementary

Robeson County Schools – R.B. Dean Elementary

Robeson County Schools – Southside Ashpole Elementary

In Durham, at least, local officials have made no secret of their opposition to the Innovative School District, which could allow for-profit, charter management operators to assume control of operations and staffing at a public school.

But Cobey, like ISD Superintendent Eric Hall, says local opposition won’t necessarily deter state leaders from tapping a school for charter takeover.

“I think we live in a world where people are open to innovation, respect innovation,” Cobey said. “They don’t want to just wait for things to happen and just listen to people say, ‘Oh, we’re handling it.’ I think people are impatient. They want change now. For the children, you just don’t get another year.”

Cobey added that he does not believe the proposal to constitute a “takeover” of local schools, calling the ISD a “fairly modest” program.

Nevertheless, the initiative—a favorite among school choice backers—has spurred intense opposition from many public school leaders. Similar districts in Louisiana and Tennessee reported middling results and intense controversy among locals.

In December, the State Board of Education is expected to tap two schools for the program’s first year in 2018-2019, with another three schools to join the following year.

Schools eligible for inclusion were chosen because of poor academic scores over the past three years. ISD officials plan to conduct site visits with eligible schools and conduct needs assessments before choosing two schools to recommend to Cobey’s board in November.

News

North Carolina principal at prospective charter takeover school pushes back

The principal of at least one North Carolina school facing the prospect of a charter takeover is pushing back.

The News & Observer posted a video Friday of Chris Germanoski, principal at Selma Middle School in Johnston County. Selma Middle is one of 41 low-performing, public schools remaining on the state’s list of schools eligible for charter takeover next year, part of North Carolina’s controversial new Innovative School District (ISD).

“We’ve done the research. We’ve put a plan in place,” Germanoski argues in the video. “…Now all we need is an opportunity to enact that plan, to follow through on that plan.”

Schools included on the state list did not meet or exceed growth growth in any of the previous three years and finished with school performance scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide. They also, according to state officials, would not have adopted any of the state’s established reform models in the prior year.

Policy Watch reported last week on the mixed reactions from school district leaders across North Carolina whose local schools were named.

It’s worth noting Selma Middle’s district, Johnston County Schools, was one of two school systems—the other being Durham Public Schools—that officially asked for state leaders to look elsewhere to test the charter takeover model, according to a WRAL report. 

That said, ISD Superintendent Eric Hall said last week that opposition from local leaders won’t sway state leaders from choosing any particular school.

“If the data points to a school that’s been struggling for far too long with too many students not meeting growth, my commitment is to listen to local boards and communities for the rationale,” Hall told Policy Watch. “But my lens is going to be about the kids. My lens can’t necessarily be about what adults want.”

Seven schools have already been removed from the list of eligible schools because they are the recipients of federal grants aimed at school turnaround.

Hall is expected to narrow down the list further by October, with the State Board of Education scheduled to tap two schools for the program’s initial year in December.

Courts & the Law, News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

State, not local government, to blame for poor school conditions, Appeals Court rules

The local government in one eastern North Carolina county can’t be held responsible for “serious problems” with chronically underachieving local schools, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Responsibility for Halifax County’s lagging district falls instead on North Carolina’s state legislature and its executive branch, judges argued.

That ruling comes after five students in the county and their parents or legal guardians accused Halifax County commissioners of unequal funding for the county’s three school districts, slighting two districts largely composed of minority students.

It’s a pivotal ruling related to the state’s long-running Leandro case, which began in 1994 when plaintiffs in several low-wealth counties, including Halifax, argued students were not afforded the same chance to succeed as their peers in more affluent North Carolina counties.

In the Leandro case, the court found the state has a constitutional obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to students.

The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s ruling said decisions made by local county commissioners infringed on that right, although two out of three judges found that the local board of commissioners cannot be solely blamed for the districts’ myriad issues with facilities, supplies and performance listed in the case.

Mark Dorosin, an attorney with the UNC Center for Civil Rights who represented the Halifax County plaintiffs, called the decision “disappointing.”

“The court’s ruling in the Halifax case really tries to narrow the scope of the constitutional right to a sound basic education in a way that I don’t think the court that decided the Leandro case intended,” said Dorosin.

Issues in Halifax’s minority-dominated districts include flagging test scores, deteriorating facilities and marked difficulty in hiring quality, experienced teachers—all in contrast with a third, primarily white local school district.

The majority sided with an earlier trial court dismissal in the case, finding “serious problems in the schools in Halifax County, but because this defendant—the Halifax County Board of Commissioners—does not bear the constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education, we affirm the trial court’s order dismissing this action.”

Instead, the court found that responsibility rests with state leaders in the N.C. General Assembly and the executive branch, including Gov. Roy Cooper, the State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

However, one dissenting judge, Chief Judge Linda McGee, wrote in her opinion that local governments have a “role to play” when it comes to the financial backing of the public schools.

Because one judge dissented, the plaintiffs will have the right to appeal their case to the state Supreme Court. Dorosin said Tuesday he would be speaking to his clients in the coming days to discuss further appeal.

Look for more on this pivotal case later this week from Policy Watch.

News

Report: N.C. drops seven from list of schools eligible for charter takeover

Seven North Carolina schools are off North Carolina’s list of 48 eligible for the state’s controversial charter takeover model, WRAL reported Monday.

According to the news station, state officials with the Innovative School District (ISD) removed those schools because they are receiving federal grants aimed at turning around academic performance.

From WRAL:

“Those (federal) funds would likely be lost if they were transferred into the Innovative School District,” (ISD Superintendent Eric) Hall said. “We would not want to see resources like that diminished in a school that we already know has significant needs.”

Those seven schools are: Brogden Middle and Carver Heights Elementary in Wayne County; Eastway Elementary in Durham County; Vick Elementary in Wilson County; Ashley Academy and Kimberly Park Elementary in Forsyth County; and Bruns Academy in Mecklenburg County.

WRAL’s report comes several days after Policy Watch reported on lingering concerns about the school reform model among some leaders in local districts with schools named on the state’s list of eligible schools.  

North Carolina leaders are hoping to boost performance in some of the state’s chronically underachieving public schools. The ISD model, once dubbed the Achievement School District, would allow charter operators to assume control of operations, including staffing, at two such elementary schools in 2018-2019. Another three schools would follow in 2019-2020.

Charter schools are publicly-funded institutions with greater flexibility in staffing, curriculum and calendar, something many traditional public schools have been advocating for with state lawmakers.

However, the takeover model’s spurred opposition from some who question whether local, public schools should be turned over to potentially for-profit charter management organizations. They also point to mixed results in other states as reason for pause.

Read more

News

Report: With DACA’s fate uncertain, U.S. universities look to protect immigrants

A new report from the Associated Press indicates the swirling confusion surrounding President Trump’s order last week to rescind DACA has some universities searching for ways to protect immigrant students.

The news comes with national outlets reporting a tenuous deal between Democrats and Trump on the order, which would eventually remove Obama-era protections for certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Many, or about 350,000, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress, are currently enrolled in school, colleges or universities.

But the uncertainty cast by the president’s order is spurring many schools to action.

From the Associated Press:

“I don’t think anybody can put much faith in the statement that there is a deal, because so much can change,” said John Trasvina, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law and an immigration expert who worked in Washington under the Clinton and Obama administrations. “I’ve seen tons of times when people think they have an immigration deal, and then it goes away.”

Under the Trump administration plan, those already enrolled in DACA remain covered until their two-year permits expire. If their permits expire before March, 5, 2018, they can renew them for another two years as long as they apply by Oct. 5. But the program isn’t accepting new applications.

The University of San Francisco, which has about 80 DACA recipients, is advising students to adhere to that deadline and is raising money to help pay the $495 renewal fee.

Despite reassurances from schools that they’ll be able to continue attending classes, many students are anxious. They’re worried about how they’ll pay for school if they can’t work.

Ana Maciel, a 23-year-old who works full time to put herself through a University of San Francisco education Master’s program, says she’s been on “an emotional roller coaster.” She fears being deported to Mexico, the country she left at age 3, and wonders if it’s smart to keep investing in school if she can’t work afterward.

“Is this what I should spend my money on?” Maciel says about her $8,000 tuition. “Everything is up in the air.”

Trump’s DACA announcement on Sept. 5 came after 10 Republican attorneys general threatened to sue in an attempt to halt the program. They were led by Attorney General Ken Paxton in Texas, which has the second-highest number of DACA recipients after California.

Three days after Trump announced the administration was phasing out the program, the Arizona attorney general brought a separate lawsuit that claims the state’s universities cannot provide in-state tuition rates for DACA recipients. Attorney General Mark Brnovich says the schools are violating Arizona law which makes it clear in-state tuition is eligible only to those with legal immigration status. The schools are vowing to fight back.

And critics of the program were swift to denounce the possibility of a deal in Congress. Numbers USA denounced the prospect of making a deal on border security to provide “amnesty for the so called ‘dreamers’ to compete and take jobs from Americans and those here legally.”

Meanwhile, immigrants are fearful of being sent back to countries they don’t consider home.

Andrea Aguilera, a Dominican University junior in suburban Chicago, worries about being deported and separated from family members, some of whom are citizens. She was illegally brought across the Mexican border at age 4.

“You never know what can happen under this administration. We do want to feel relief. We’ve been fighting for something more permanent for a really long time,” she said. “It seems like it’s a game (to political leaders). They don’t realize how many peoples’ lives are being affected by this.” 

At UC Berkeley, Burmese-Taiwanese national Amy Lin, a 23-year-old doctoral student in the university’s ethnic studies department, has set up an emergency phone tree for DACA students. She fears Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials might come knocking.

“The university says it doesn’t allow ICE agents on campus, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come in,” said Lin, who was brought to the U.S. illegally at age 12.

University of California President Janet Napolitano filed a lawsuit last Friday that’s one of several high-profile legal challenges to Trump’s decision.

Napolitano helped create the program in 2012 as Homeland Security secretary under President Barack Obama. The 10 schools in the UC system have about 4,000 students without legal permission to stay in the U.S.

UC schools are among those offering student loans to DACA students, and they’ve directed campus police not to question or detain individuals based on their immigration status.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, which has hundreds of DACA students, has posted online instructions for students and security staff to call campus police immediately if anyone, including federal agents, comes on campus and starts asking questions.

“We have to follow the law, obviously,” said UIC Provost Susan Poser, but “we’re going to do everything we can to support (students).”

At Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, president Elizabeth Kiss plans to invite DACA students to her home to meet with an attorney. Georgia bars in-state tuition rates for students without legal immigration status.

“I have no intention of picking a fight with the Georgia Legislature,” said Kiss. “I also have to keep students safe and support their well-being.”