To the surprise of some of its own members, a legislative task force studying alternative ways to compensate teachers in the state put forth a report today asking the General Assembly to consider a short-term goal of significantly increasing the salaries of entering teachers and those teachers who are most likely to leave–which would be teachers with less than ten years of experience.

That recommendation mirrors Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent teacher pay proposal that would reward only beginning teachers in the state with significant pay raises, bringing their salaries up from $30,800 to $35,000 by 2015.

But task force members who were not lawmakers — teachers, principals, and other education stakeholders – were taken aback  by the report that bears their names, indicating their feedback wasn’t taken into account during the report’s development.

“Why were we brought here? I don’t sense the education professionals on this panel had much input in the report,” said Timothy Barnsback, President of the Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC). Read More

Lots of education news swirling around out there, so here are a few stories to keep you up to date as you enjoy your midday meal.

First, the great reporters over at WUNC have a few really interesting education stories up this week.

Dave DeWitt demystifies the complicated EVAAS system for evaluating North Carolina’s teachers, which some say is a big fat secret in terms of how it truly measures whether or not a teacher is doing a good job.

DeWitt also has a story today about all of the various teacher pay proposals on the table – and why merit pay plans may not work.

And WUNC’s Reema Khrais has fact-checked seven claims about the Common Core State Standards. See what she found here.

Kansas is having a rough week. Lawmakers took a page out of North Carolina’s book and decided enact a series of education reforms, including:

• Foster school choice by allowing corporations to receive tax credits for contributions to scholarship funds so children with special needs or who come from low-income households could attend private school.

• Make it easier to fire teachers by eliminating their due-process rights.

• Relax teacher licensing when hiring instructors with professional experience in areas including math, science, finance and technical education.

In Texas, a school teacher was suspended for being transgender.

And to end on a happier note, a couple of Guilford County Schools ranked pretty high in school rankings released by The Washington Post. Penn-Griffin School for the Arts made it into the top 100, and Grimsely High wasn’t far behind at 128.

SchoolsFlexibility on summer reading camps for third graders, a second chance for legislation that would require schools to stock EpiPens, and the case for continuing a Race to the Top-funded program to groom principals for service in high need schools were among the topics heard by lawmakers at today’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee meeting in Raleigh.

Read to Achieve

Randolph County superintendent Stephen Gainey asked lawmakers to amend legislation that requires local school districts to provide six-week summer reading camps for all third graders who don’t meet proficiency benchmarks in reading by the end of this school year.

“I’m asking you for flexibility. This is a good piece of legislation. I realize reading is a huge issue,” said Gainey, who begged lawmakers to consider shortening the provision that requires summer camps to last six weeks, instead allowing districts to come up with their own plans as long as they meet the minimum 72 hours of instruction provided to students.

Gainey endorsed a plan that would shorten the summer reading camps to three weeks, which he said would go farther to create the conditions necessary for for parents to commit to the camp and students to be able to concentrate for its duration. He expects 39.5 percent of his third graders to attend the camps. Read More

This just in from the Charlotte Observer‘s education reporter Ann Doss Helms on the closing of StudentFirst Academy in Charlotte:

The troubled StudentFirst Academy charter school will close at the end of next week, parents learned at an emergency meeting Wednesday night.

That leaves almost 300 K-8 students scrambling to find schools less than two months before the end of the school year.

“I’m up in the air. I have no idea what I’m going to do,” said Jackie Davis, the parent of second- and eighth-graders at StudentFirst.

StudentFirst began as a private school in 2001 and converted to a publicly funded charter school that opened in August. It quickly fell into financial and academic trouble. Facing queries from the state Office of Charter Schools, the board fired founders Phyllis Handford and Sandra Moss, who are now suing the board.

Consultants hired to answer state questions found academic shortcomings, unopened mail, unpaid bills, overpaid and overstaffed administration and tens of thousands of dollars in spending that hadn’t been properly documented, according to reports filed in connection with the lawsuit.

The StudentFirst board told the state last month that it owed $600,000 in bank loans and unpaid bills, but assured the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board that the school had a recovery plan that would keep the school solvent through June. The advisory board was scheduled to hold a follow-up session next week to decide whether to recommend revoking the charter.

However, in a brief press release issued Thursday morning, board chair Victor Mack said the school would surrender its charter, “discontinue school services” and release all employees effective April 15. The last day for students is April 11.

Read the full story over at the Charlotte Observer here. And for an in-depth look at what led to StudentFirst closing its doors, read this revealing story by Ann Doss Helms here.

The Walton Family Foundation, known for supporting vouchers, charters, and other school privatization initiatives across the country, paid $710,000 to NC-based school voucher advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom NC (PEFNC) in 2013, an increase of more than $100,000 over its 2012 contribution to the group.

Parents for Educational Freedom NC has received large contributions from Walton since at least 2009. The Walton Family has paid PEFNC $275,000 in 2009, $525,000 in 2010, $625,000 in 2011 and $600,000 in 2012, according to the foundation’s website.

Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom NC, has seen his own compensation increase considerably as the influx of Walton money has ramped up. In 2010, Allison received $107,889 for his work running the non-profit; in 2012, Allison reported an income of $156,582—a 45 percent pay increase in just two years.

PEFNC has been the primary advocacy group responsible for bringing school vouchers to North Carolina.

Last summer, lawmakers passed the Opportunity Scholarships program, a school voucher program that would enable taxpayer dollars to be funneled directly to private schools–$10 million in 2014-15 and $40 million in 2015-16, with the goal of expanding the program even further in the future.

The law, passed as a part of the budget bill last summer, provides little in the way of accountability for private schools while reducing funds for public education at a time when schools are seeing sharp reductions in funding over a years-long period.

Parents, educators, and school boards came together late last year to file lawsuits seeking to block the implementation of the school voucher program. In February, those groups received a temporary victory when a Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction in the case, stopping the program from moving ahead pending a final resolution.

A D.C.-based law firm, the Institute for Justice, intervened in the school voucher case on behalf of parents who want the voucher program to move forward. That firm also received a significant donation from Walton in 2013 — $530,547.

The Walton Family recently announced plans to double the number of students enrolled in private schools with the support of publicly funded school vouchers. Naming North Carolina as one state of several where new “parent choice” laws have been passed, the Waltons will give $6 million to the Alliance for School Choice, on organization that provides model legislation for state lawmakers to use as they introduce bills that would create alternatives to public education.

To see the full list of Walton’s grantees, click here.