If you thought the dust had settled in Raleigh now that lawmakers have agreed on a final budget for 2015-17, think again—late Monday afternoon, Senate lawmakers gutted a House bill and inserted language that would divert money intended for use at traditional public schools over to charter schools.

Sen. Chad Barefoot spoke in support of the measure, arguing that public school money should follow a child, wherever he or she attends school. But Katherine Joyce, a lobbyist for the North Carolina School Administrators Association, said the changes will “have a significant, negative impact on your school districts.”

“This is making lots of changes in the delicate balance between funding for your public schools and funding for your charter students,” Joyce said. “Your LEAs will be strongly opposed to it.”

Many Senators appeared to be taken surprise by the move. A similar version of the bill was introduced back in March, which passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Currently public and charter schools all share per pupil funding given to school districts by the state. But it’s possible for districts to carve out certain funding streams to keep within traditional public schools—which includes sales tax revenue. The proposed charter school funding change would no longer allow that practice of reserving sales tax revenue for traditional public schools..

The funding change for charter schools would have additional impacts, some of which include:

  • Public schools would have to share federal monies with charters that support nutrition and transportation programs—even though charter schools are not required to offer students lunch or transportation.
  • If a district has a supplemental property tax intended for public schools, those funds would have to follow a child—even if he or she attends a charter school outside of the taxing district.
  • Districts may have to separately designate gifts and grants in order to keep them within the traditional system.
  • Federal appropriations made to school districts would have to be equally shared with charter schools.

Back in May, I talked with Guilford County Schools’ Chief of Staff, Nora Carr, about the proposed measure, as it stood in HB 456.

Tillman acknowledged that with his proposed measure, districts would have to separately designate those gifts, grants or reimbursements in order to keep them with traditional public schools—and that practice, says Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr, is what’s actually calling into question the issue of fairness.

“The thought of trying to add yet another level of paperwork [to earmark restricted funds], at a time when we’re cutting staff right and left because of other legislative actions going on,” said Carr, “and to paint this as fairness is just really misleading.”

Carr explained that, for example, Medicaid reimbursements for exceptional children (EC) by and large should go to traditional public schools, which serve the lion’s share of that student population. In order to make sure the reimbursements are directed to the schools serving EC students, the district would have to create yet another separate fund, creating more bureaucracy when the district is already dealing with very tight resources.

It’s important to note that the latest version of the bill may exclude Medicaid reimbursements, allowing those to stay with traditional public schools by default—but the language isn’t totally clear, so that’s a provision worth tracking.

And grants, as Carr noted back in May, are often sought out for specific activities at traditional public schools during a time of waning revenues. Having to then share the grant awards with charters who did not seek those funds would be unfair, said Carr.

Read the latest version of the charter school funding bill here, and a bill summary written by legislative staff here. The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, then, if approved, on to the House for a concurrence vote.


This just in: members of the House and Senate who were appointed to a conference committee appear to have brokered a deal to keep the Office of Charter Schools administratively within the Department of Public Instruction, despite Senator Jerry Tillman’s (R-Randolph) initial efforts to move that office under the State Board of Education. A final vote on the proposal is expected Monday.

According to a conference committee report filed late Thursday, “the Office of Charter Schools shall be administratively located in the Department of Public Instruction, subject to the supervision, direction, and control of the State Board of Education.”

While the charter school office would continue to be housed within DPI, according to the conference report, it would appear that the State Board of Education could exercise more oversight over that office—but how that would practically work isn’t yet clear.

The report also stipulates that Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest would head a three-person search committee to appoint a new Office of Charter Schools director. That position is currently vacant; its former director, Joel Medley, vacated his position this summer to go work for the new K12, Inc.-backed online virtual charter school NC Virtual Academy.

Other items of note in the proposed legislation:

  • Raises the statutory minimum number of students enrolled in a charter school from 65 to 80;
  • Offers more opportunities for charter school applicants to make corrections to their applications along the way;
  • Includes an anti-nepotism policy;
  • Allows a charter school board member to have a conflict of interest so long as they comply with the school’s conflict of interest policy;
  • Members of a charter school board may reside outside of North Carolina;
  • Charter schools may charge extracurricular fees consistent with what the LEA charges;

Notably, the conference report also contains a provision that is unrelated to charter schools. Section 10 deals with disability vouchers, which currently require eligible students to be reassessed by their LEAs every three years to ensure they still qualify for the special needs scholarships, which allow students to use state funds at private institutions.

The conference report appears to allow recipients of the disability vouchers to be reassessed for eligibility not only by the LEA, but also by a “licensed psychologist with a school psychology focus.”

Let me know if I missed any key provisions in H334.



Having worked through the Labor Day weekend, lawmakers are indicating that budget talks have been productive and that we could see a budget agreement hammered out—2.5 months late—between House and Senate leaders by week’s end.

It’s been a very long seven (?) months since the start of this year’s legislative session, so in case you’ve gotten so weary you’ve lost track of what’s at stake for public education, here are seven big issues.

Teacher assistants. Yes, once again, TA jobs are on the line and serve as one of the biggest sticking points between the House and the Senate. The House wants to preserve their jobs (of which there are already far fewer than pre-recession levels), while the Senate wants to do away with more than 8,500 TA jobs over the next two years in favor of reducing classroom sizes.

Educators say wait: not enough space or time at this point to reduce class sizes and, by the way, who will drive the buses, administer the medicines, and keep kids safe—not to mention who will make sure third graders are reading proficient?

Driver’s education. The Senate wants to defund driver’s ed and make parents pay $350+ for their kids to learn how to drive. Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Boone) says kids just need to sit behind the wheel for a while—instruction isn’t necessary. The House wants to keep the program going, which some say has markedly improved thanks to recent efforts to increase oversight and coordination between the DMV and driver’s ed programs.

Meanwhile, thanks to funding uncertainty, some school districts have already quit providing driver’s ed. And the person at DPI who some say is responsible for making the program better? He got laid off.

Teacher pay. Lawmakers have said they’ll fund the step increases that were foreshadowed in last year’s set of pay raises, which is welcome news to teachers who thought they would have seen those pay bumps earlier this summer. Beginning teachers will see their base pay rise again to $35,000, a promise that was made last year. Everyone else? $750 Christmastime bonuses, which isn’t really a salary increase, but, well—a bonus.

All of these promises were made verbally, though, so let’s see how things actually pan out in the budget documents.

Reminder: NC ranks 42nd in teacher pay, 47th in per pupil spending, and new teachers have no tenure rights. And next year, new teachers may not be able to look forward to…

Health retirement benefits. Senate lawmakers want to end a much-treasured benefit that comes with working for the state government for many years at comparatively lower wages than what private industry pays: state-paid health retirement benefits. Teachers and state employees hired after January 1 of next year would not be eligible for free health insurance upon retirement. House and Senate leaders have been pretty quiet on the budget provision, and we’ll see if it makes it into the final budget.

A-F school grades. The Senate wants to require local school districts to come up with improvement plans for schools that receive Ds or Fs under the state’s new school grading system—but they offer no funds in order to help local schools implement the plans. (See why this is especially important at the bottom of this post.)

“We believe money is not the answer,” said Sen. Brown, explaining instead that districts must identify other ways to deal with factors that contribute to poor performance at failing schools.

Neither Senate nor House budget proposals also do not include language that would change how schools receive A-F school grades, in spite of interest expressed on both sides of the aisle for the school grading system to be amended so that the grades better indicate how well schools are able to help their students improve academically over time.

If the A-F grading system remains as is, by and large high poverty-serving schools with fewer resources would continue to receive failing grades while schools that serve higher income populations would receive better marks—a trend we just saw continue for the second year in a row.

School vouchers. The House and Senate want to expand the Opportunity Scholarships program by $6.8 million, bringing the total cost of the program to $17.6 million each year of the biennium. The vouchers allow low-income students to attend unaccountable private schools with taxpayer dollars.

Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled the program constitutional, we’ll see if legislators move to expand the program even further.

Textbooks. The Senate proposes $58 million over two years for textbooks and digital resources—less than half of what the House has proposed. Funds for textbooks have been slashed to the bone over the past five years and House and Senate proposals still do not restore textbook funds to their 2011 levels.


Bonus issue: Achievement School District. It’s not in the budget, but hey, who knows — anything can end up in the budget.

The ASD is an idea being shepherded by Rep. Rob Bryan behind closed doors. The proposal allows charter school operators to take over low-performing schools, fire the teachers and staff, and catapult students’ academic performance into the top 25 percent within a few years. A wealthy businessman from Oregon is financing lobbying efforts associated with the possible legislation.

Word on the street is that Bryan’s bill is being met with pushback and key Republican lawmakers haven’t been converted on the idea. Stay tuned to see if the ASD proposal gets inserted into a gutted Senate bill (SB 95) and heard in committee, or if it makes it into budget documents.


Education blogger
James D. Hogan

Following yesterday’s release of North Carolina’s latest A-F school grades—which, for the second year in a row, were largely a reflection of how poor or wealthy a school’s students are—education blogger James Hogan wrote about his own wife’s 15 year career at a D-rated elementary school in Iredell County.

Writing about the students Hogan’s wife teaches, he writes:

Her students have it rough. Many of them don’t get to sleep on beds. Their bikes are regularly stolen. Their fathers aren’t always around. Whenever my wife invites students to share what they did over the weekend at the beginning of class, she often hears stories about parents or siblings who were arrested. Or shot.

Several years ago, I stopped by my wife’s classroom to drop something off with her that she’d forgotten. After I left, one of her students raised his hand and asked who the man was who’d just visited their classroom.

“He’s my husband,” she replied. “Mr. Hogan.”

“Do he beat you?” the student asked.

Do he beat you? It was an honest question, asked in earnest by a kid who’d seen plenty of domestic violence in his life. And that question said a lot about the baggage this particular student—and so many of his peers—brings to class every day.

Despite the challenges that Hogan’s wife’s students face outside of the classroom, her school exceeded the state’s growth expectations for students’ standardized test scores. Teachers there, it appears, were making a difference.

Here are some examples of her school’s approach to making sure at-risk youth don’t fall through the cracks toward failure:

This year, my wife’s principal has created a school-wide theme called “Operation Possible.” The idea is that, beginning on Day 1, students are pushed to consider what comes at the end of their education. What jobs would they like to work? Where might they want to live? What are their dreams?

The entire faculty has embraced the concept. Several of them are coming to school dressed like doctors and nurses (operation possible, get it?), ready to diagnose students’ passions and enable them to follow them.

One of the administrators runs a leadership program that identifies students on the brink who could use extra one-on-one mentoring. They’re called ambassadors, and they form an exclusive club. The school provides them with collared shirts and ties (there’s a female group starting this year), and they lead visitors on tours, work with younger students, and learn from career professionals about making good choices in life.

The ambassador program has demonstrated great success, keeping kids out of trouble, and reaping the reward of what an investment in a troubled young person’s life can produce.

Other faculty have shown enormous initiative over the summer. One noticed her students’ extra energy distracted them from learning, so she wrote a grant and earned funding to buy standing desks, stability ball chairs, and other furniture that allowed students to work out their kinetic buildups and still stay focused.

Another teacher, whose students attend classes in a mobile unit (did I mention my wife’s school, which was expanded in the last five years, is overcrowded?), grew tired of her students getting soaked on rainy days during the walk to the main building. So, she wrote and earned a nearly $20,000 grant that will help build a covered walkway between the buildings.

When schools receive D or F grades, they don’t get extra resources to make sure students can do better. Teachers don’t get extra help either. The school has to send a letter home to parents simply stating that their children’s school got a failing grade—and that’s it.

Fortunately for Hogan’s wife’s school, their students’  parents can learn more about what that D grade really represents through his writings. Otherwise, they might not know the full story.

Read ‘The Beautiful Story of a D-Rated School” here.


Last week, the News & Observer’s Linda Darnell Williams contextualized the prospect of resegregation in Wake County Schools—which, as media reports have recently noted, is an increasingly real proposition not only in Wake County but around the country as deliberate efforts to diversify student populations in the wake of Brown v. Board of Ed begin to wane.

The news that Wake County is backing away from its diversity policy is “very sad,” [New York Times magazine reporter Nicole] Hannah-Jones said in a recent conversation. She noted that Wake’s economic diversity policy was held up as a national model.

Any move toward resegregation is distressing, she said, because “the record is very clear that when districts resegregate, education plummets without exception.”

All Wake has to do, she said, is look at Charlotte, which rapidly saw more racial segregation in schools after it was released from court-ordered busing.

The N&O’s Keung Hui recently reported that Wake County has seen a doubling in the number of racially-isolated and high poverty schools, which have increased by more than 150 percent in the last seven years.

In 2010 and 2011, a Republican-dominated Wake school board made changes that undid parts of a decade-old busing system intended to make Wake’s schools more diverse. Previously the county assigned students to schools sometimes far away from home in an effort to limit high concentrations of low-income student populations inside one school building.  Citing parental frustration over children attending schools far from home, the board dropped the socioeconomic diversity requirement from the county’s school assignment policy and adopted a ‘choice model’ that continued to cause confusion and controversy.

Today, Wake’s school board is now dominated by Democrats — but its members appear to be unwilling to reverse the previous board’s decisions. Citing the tumult parents parents and students endured from the old school assignment policies, the board seems to favor pouring more money into low-performing schools—which, as Keung reports, typically have high numbers of students from low-income families.

Darnell Williams says she’s worried that efforts to redirect extra resources to these newly resegregated schools won’t ultimately be a promise that’s kept.

Instead of taking action to foster integration, lawmakers and many school leaders promise additional resources to schools with concentrations of poor and minority students. The evidence is not convincing that sufficient resources are forthcoming. Talk of volunteers reading to low-income students is laudable, but it won’t have the impact of smaller classes and highly qualified teachers – resources that cost money.

Within the context of resegregation, it’s important to highlight the fact that North Carolina has entered into a new phase of school accountability. Schools are now awarded letter grades ranging from A-F based largely on students’ performance on standardized tests. Schools that perform poorly don’t get extra resources in this new system; they just get a slap on the wrist by way of requiring them to send a letter to parents informing them of their failing grades.

There’s a distinct correlation between racially isolated, high poverty schools and the likelihood they’ll receive a D or F from the state. Countless studies document the fact that poorer students perform worse than their richer counterparts on standardized tests. As such, schools with greater concentrations of low-income students will have a hard time getting As or Bs, unless lawmakers decide to change the metric to favor how students grow over time, rather than their performance on a test on only one day.

And when talking resegregation, also worth flagging is this: while North Carolina sees more and more predominantly high poverty schools reenter the picture, Rep. Rob Bryan is working behind the scenes on a proposal to allow for-profit charter school operators to take over failing public schools. While some say new approaches are necessary to interrupt the cycle of schools failing poor kids, others are concerned that allowing charter operators with fewer accountability requirements could do more harm than good.

Could a lack of willingness to keep schools diverse give way to to the privatization of North Carolina’s worst-performing schools?

Stay tuned.