News

The first million dollars in taxpayer-funded school vouchers have been sent to private and religious schools across North Carolina, the AP reports.

From the News & Observer:

The first million dollars have been sent to private and religious schools across North Carolina while an appeals court considers a judge’s ruling that a new scholarship program for low-income public school children is unconstitutional.

About $1.1 million was distributed last Friday to 109 private schools that accepted students under the Opportunity Scholarships program, State Educational Assistance Authority grants director Elizabeth McDuffie said Monday. That distribution was to cover part of the tuition for 568 students, according to the state agency administering the program.

The schools were primarily Christian, Baptist, Catholic or Islamic. The Greensboro Islamic Academy received the most money, $90,300 for 43 enrolled students. Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh received $54,600 for 26 students.

Earlier this month, The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the fate of the program is decided. But the program cannot continue to award vouchers while the case is still tied up in the courts.

An August ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher law, enacted in 2013, to be unconstitutional, halting a program that as Judge Hobgood said, “appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.”

Hobgood’s ruling is under appeal by the state’s attorney as well as defendant-intervenors for parents and Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.

Attorney Robert Orr, who represents the N.C. School Boards Association, told the AP, “everybody’s on notice that the court has already ruled at the trial level it’s unconstitutional. In the long run, if the trial court’s decision is affirmed, then we would look to the state to recover the public’s money. You have to emphasize that it is the public’s money that we’re talking about.”

Read the full story by AP reporter Emery Dalesio here.

News

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction received 40 applications this month to open up new charter schools in 2016, down from last year’s applicant pool of 71.

N.C. Office of Charter Schools director Joel Medley acknowledged the applicant numbers are down this year.

“It may be the application fee was raised from $500 to $1000. It may be that the timeline was moved forward a couple of months. It may be that some groups are waiting to submit using the new Fast Track Replication process,” Medley told N.C. Policy Watch, adding that he couldn’t give an accurate reason for why the numbers are fewer this time around.

Fourteen of this year’s applicants (click here for a spreadsheet listing the applicants) have indicated they plan to contract with education management organizations (EMO). For-profit EMOs were thrust into the spotlight during last summer’s legislative session, when 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.

At least ten of the forty applicants are re-submissions from prior years, Medley told N.C. Policy Watch.

According to the Office of Charter Schools, there are currently 148 charter schools in North Carolina—a figure that expanded quickly when lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on how many charter schools could operate in the state back in 2011.

But last year, the pace of charter school approvals slowed down considerably. While the State Board of Education approved 23 charter schools to open in 2013 and 27 schools to open in 2014, only 11 out of 71 applicants were green-lighted to open in 2015, a figure that prompted a heated debate between Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) members tasked with reviewing the applications.

According to the Charlotte Observer, CSAB board member Alan Hawkes of Greensboro emailed his fellow members to chastise them for being “judgmental and punitive” in rejecting plans that would have expanded charter school enrollment.

“The plan was to have operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity,” said Hawkes, a founding board member of two Guilford County charter schools run by the for-profit National Heritage Academies. Hawkes also indicated that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Reviewers of charter school applications may prove to be more cautious now, in light of the fact that a few charter schools have abruptly closed thanks to poor financial management and other governance problems.

Most recently, Concrete Roses STEM Academy in Charlotte shut down 20 days into the school year. The school had its funding frozen by the state after the school failed to submit required financial forms. The school’s sudden closure left families of the school’s 126 students scrambling to find new schools, while taxpayers likely lost the $285,170 the school already withdrew from the state’s coffers.

For some who wish to open a charter school in North Carolina, there’s still another option for submitting applications for 2016. Thanks to legislation passed last summer, a fast-track process has been put in place for successful charter schools wishing to replicate themselves and for charter chains wishing to expand their presence in the state. The State Board of Education must adopt rules for the fast-track replication process no later than December 15, 2014.

News

At yesterday’s first meeting of the North Carolina Academic Standards Review Commission, which is tasked with reviewing the Common Core State Standards and suggesting modifications or replacements to those guidelines in English language arts and math, newly-elected co-chair Jeannie Metcalf didn’t make known her position on whether the standards should stay or go — but her Facebook page indicates she opposes them.

Metcalf, a Winston-Salem/Forsyth school board member, confirmed on Tuesday that she administers the Facebook page RE-elect Jeannie Metcalf for School Board. Her page is peppered with links from noted tea partier and anti-Common Core activist Glenn Beck, N.C. Lieutenant Governor and Common Core opponent Dan Forest, and other stories that portray Common Core in a negative light.

Back in May, Metcalf declared herself an opponent of Common Core, citing a California story about how teachers in the Rialto school district came up with a writing assignment that asked students to write a persuasive essay about whether or not the Holocaust actually happened. The assignment was meant to satisfy a Common Core standard for critical thinking; however, there is nothing in the Common Core standards that invites this particular assignment, according to Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss.Capture

Jeannie Metcalf (click here to read more about her) will co-chair the Academic Standards Review Commission with pro-Common Core IBM executive Andre Peek. The next meeting of the review commission should be held sometime in October.

UPDATE: Metcalf emailed N.C. Policy Watch on Tuesday to say she does oppose Common Core.
“I will say I am much more concerned that the math standards be revamped. The ELA standards have some good points,” said Metcalf. “My co chair is chairman of the NC Business Committee for Education, which is solidly behind common core so I thinks it’s good to have different perspectives moving forward,” Metcalf added.

News

CommonCore_NC1At the first meeting of the Academic Standards Review Commission, which is tasked with reviewing and potentially replacing the Common Core State Standards, co-chair and Gov. Pat McCrory appointee Andre Peek told N.C. Policy Watch upon the meeting’s conclusion Monday afternoon that he is a supporter of Common Core and has been “since its inception.”

Peek, an executive at IBM, said “I do realize it’s [Common Core] a divisive issue for our state, though. But I don’t know the details of why…so through the efforts of this commission we’ll get to the facts…and how to change it to be more effective for our state,” adding that any changes made will be based on fact and not just a feeling of “we don’t like it.”

Peek will co-chair the Academic Standards Review Commission along with Jeannie Metcalf, who sits on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth State Board of Education.

Metcalf, who is an appointee of Senate leader Phil Berger and has no background in teaching, told N.C. Policy Watch last month about her qualifications to serve: “I’ve read lots of magazines and I go to lots of meetings…and so I got myself a self-guided education in curriculum standards in North Carolina and how they’ve changed over the years.”

For a full run down of the first meeting of the Academic Standards Review Commission, look for my story tomorrow morning over at www.ncpolicywatch.com

News

School-vouchersThe N.C. Court of Appeals ruled today that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the fate of the program is decided.

Students enrolled at private schools this fall expecting to have the vouchers, worth $4,200 annually, in hand – but an August ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher law to be unconstitutional, halting a program that, as Judge Hobgood said, “appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.”

As a result, voucher recipients either returned to public schools or paid the full cost of attendance at private schools. Some private schools also indicated they would temporarily subsidize voucher students with the hope that the final court ruling would turn out in their favor.

While the Court of Appeals’ ruling obligates the state to disburse taxpayer funds to the private schools of those students who were awarded vouchers no later than August 21, 2014, it also blocks the state from awarding any additional vouchers until the final merits of the case are decided. Read More