Commentary

In an opinion piece published this morning by the News and Observer, Hendersonville high school English teacher Chris Gilbert acknowledges the recent pay raise bestowed upon teachers by state lawmakers (significant for some and minuscule for others), but says he believes it is not demonstrative of politicians’ renewed commitment to public education.

Now, certain politicians can claim [the teacher pay raise of 2014] represents a renewed commitment to public education, and they secretly hope the pay increase will distract us from recent events that challenge this false narrative and reveal their true intentions.

We, however, have not forgotten the recent past.

We remember the recent plan to “reward” the top 25 percent of a district’s educators with small raises in exchange for relinquishing due process rights.

We remember that North Carolina’s teachers were recently among the lowest paid in the country.

We remember the passing of a state budget that led various districts to cut teacher assistants.

We remember a damaging bill passed last year that eliminated class size caps in early grades.

We remember the reduction of textbook funding from over $111 million in 2009 to $23.3 million in 2014.

We remember the implementation of the unconstitutional voucher program that siphons funds from public education to private schools.

We remember changes to the tax structure that have decreased revenue and threatened sustainable funding for teacher pay, our education system and other essential services.

This list could certainly continue, but the point should be clear: Recent state history reveals serious intent, and multiple attempts, to dismantle public education in order to justify privatization and create profit opportunities in the public sector.
News

An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal has found that Wisconsin’s taxpayers have lost $139 million dollars over the past ten years to private schools that have received funds from the state’s voucher program but were ultimately excluded from participating, thanks to their failure to meet standards relating to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing.

From the State Journal:

More than two-thirds of the 50 schools terminated from the state’s voucher system since 2004 — all in Milwaukee — had stayed open for five years or less, according to the data provided by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Northside High School, for example, received $1.7 million in state vouchers for low-income students attending the private school before being terminated from the program in its first year in 2006 for failing to provide an adequate curriculum.

Recouping money sent to shuttered schools isn’t a feasible option, since the money is gone, Bender and Olsen said. [Bender is president of School Choice Wisconsin and Olsen (R-Ripon) is the Senate Education Committee Chairman]

Unlike North Carolina’s school voucher program, which is currently in the infancy stage and may or may not survive a court battle in which it has already been declared unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge, Wisconsin’s voucher program has a (relatively) robust set of accountability standards.

To participate in Wisconsin’s school voucher program, schools must do the following, according to the State Journal:

Currently, schools wishing to participate in the program must meet requirements for the training of their staff, obtain academic accreditation, present a complete budget and submit information to DPI about their governing body or policies and contract with a third-party service to handle payroll taxes.

Private schools participating in North Carolina’s voucher program are not required to do any of the things that Wisconsin schools must demonstrate.

Instead,the North Carolina’s private schools are free to hire untrained people to teach, are not required to be accredited or meet any curricular requirements and do not have to share details of their budget or governing body with the state or public. Among the very few requirements they must meet include administering a standardized test annually, complying with health and safety standards and conducting a criminal background check for only the head of the school.

While the courts decide if our state’s voucher program should survive, North Carolina has already disbursed more than a million dollars in taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools across the state — including $90,300 to Greensboro Islamic Academy, which an N.C. Policy Watch report found to be experiencing significant financial troubles just last year.

Read the full story on Wisconsin’s voucher program here.

 

News

blog-voucherAs Policy Watch just reported, today the state Supreme Court decided to bypass the Court of Appeals and take up for its own review the fight over whether or not North Carolina’s new school voucher program should continue.

In the case Hart v. North Carolina, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional for several reasons–chiefly that the program uses public funds for private use and that it does not serve a public purpose.

The last stop for the case was with the Court of Appeals, which ruled in late September that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the Court worked toward a final decision on the program.

That ruling allowed the state to disburse more than $1 million to private schools already — $90,300 of which were sent to financially troubled Greensboro Islamic Academy, the largest recipient of voucher funds to date.

Stay tuned for more developments.

 

News

School-vouchersReligious private schools account for 90 percent of those receiving the state’s new taxpayer-funded school vouchers—a disproportionately high amount given that only 66.4 percent of the state’s 715 private schools are religious institutions.

According to data released by the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority, 98 out of the 109 private schools that have received vouchers (formally known as Opportunity Scholarships) from the state so far are religious institutions. Ninety-four of those schools identify as Christian, and four other schools identify as Islamic. To date, the state has disbursed just over $1 million to the religious schools.

The largest recipient of school voucher dollars thus far is Greensboro Islamic Academy. The school has received more than $90,000 from taxpayers while information has surfaced indicating that the school is in financial trouble and has inflated its tuition rates to reap as many publicly-funded vouchers as possible to stay afloat. Read More

News

Roger Bacon Academy, the private, for-profit education management organization (EMO) that runs four public charter schools in eastern North Carolina and is headed by prominent charter school advocate Baker Mitchell Jr., appears to have failed to comply with a state-imposed September 30 deadline requiring public charter schools to disclose the taxpayer-funded salaries of any staff who are employed by the private EMOs that manage them.

A directive issued on August 13 by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s CFO, Philip Price — on behalf of State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey – requested all NC charter schools who contract with private, for-profit EMOs to disclose the salary information of the EMO employees who operate or help staff their schools no later than September 30, 2014. Failure to comply with this directive would result in the state placing the charter schools in financial noncompliance status, which could set them on a path toward closure.

The non-profit organization that Roger Bacon Academy manages to oversee their four schools, Charter Day School, Inc., submitted documentation to DPI on September 30, but did not include salary information for employees of the private, for-profit company.

“CDS does not possess individual salaries paid by any private corporation that furnishes services,” said John J. Ferrante, chairman of the board of Charter Day School, Inc., in his September 30 letter to DPI.

North Carolina’s charter schools are public and receive taxpayer dollars to operate.

Last summer, the General Assembly approved legislation that allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

Read More