lw-410Reporters at the Detroit Free Press have dug deep for the past year to uncover the facts surrounding how Michigan has spent $1 billion on charter schools, yet failed to hold them accountable for their results.

Among the investigation’s findings:

  •  Michigan’s charter schools spend $1 billion per year in state taxpayer money, often with little transparency.
  •  Some charter schools are innovative and have excellent academic outcomes — but those that don’t are allowed to stay open year after year.
  •  A majority of the worst-ranked charter schools in Michigan have been open 10 years or more.
  •  Charter schools as a whole fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty.
  •  Michigan has substantially more for-profit companies running schools than any other state.
  •  Some charter school board members were forced out after demanding financial details from management companies.
  •  State law does not prevent insider dealing and self-enrichment by those who operate schools.

The investigative report contains loads of videos and source documents, as well as a close look at National Heritage Academies, a national charter operator that operates many of Michigan’s charter schools and has schools in North Carolina as well — and is looking to expand here in the Tar Heel state.

It’s an important and compelling read for anyone interested in public education, especially as North Carolina bears witness to a burgeoning charter school movement of its own.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Common Core picGov. Pat McCrory told reporters yesterday that he favors high academic standards, but doesn’t care about the Common Core brand.

“What we’ve got to talk about is high standards, especially in math and reading,” said McCrory following an event that awarded federal bonus dollars to teachers who develop new classroom materials for a statewide database.”If you ask most North Carolinians if they want high math and reading standards, they’re gonna be for it. I don’t care what you call it…I could care less about the brand name.”

The Common Core “brand,” as McCrory calls it, was adopted by North Carolina in 2010. Approximately 45 states and the District of Columbia have also adopted the academic standards, which are billed as a set of guidelines for what students should be able to know and do in math and English language arts. The state has spent upwards of $100 million of both federal and state dollars as well as countless teacher training hours on the implementation of the Common Core.

Lawmakers have used the short legislative session this spring to move toward repealing the Common Core, which some have assailed for being inappropriately difficult in some grade levels and poorly implemented. Nearly identical bills aimed at putting a stop to the implementation of the standards and creating a review commission to recommend alternatives have passed both the House and Senate, and their differences are currently being worked out in a conference committee.

When speaking to a group of Common Core supporters last month, however, McCrory said that the move to opt out of Common Core, which a number of other states is also considering, was not a smart move. He has also said he is working with lawmakers to come up with a compromise that would preserve high academic standards for the state.

“I hope that we’re going to come to some common ground on the Common Core,” said McCrory yesterday. “I think that the brand of Common Core has been damaged by anything that goes wrong with education.”

If legislation passes that would reneg on the state’s promise to implement the Common Core, McCrory declined to say whether he’d veto the bill.

 

The Wilmington StarNews reports that Baker Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy, the for-profit education management organization that oversees four charter schools Mitchell founded in eastern North Carolina, as well as another company that leases school equipment and supplies both take in considerable sums of money from leasing land, buildings, equipment and supplies to Mitchell’s schools.

For the 2013-14 school year, Charter Day School in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville paid Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy about $1.5 million to lease their buildings. As part of their contract, the schools also agreed to pay property taxes and insurance, which totaled another $90,000; and building upkeep, for another $200,000. Douglass Academy, housed in the Peabody Building on North Sixth Street in downtown Wilmington, is leased from the nonprofit Friends of New Hanover County Community Action for $1 per year.

The company plans to open a fourth school, South Brunswick Charter School in Southport, this fall.

Mitchell incorporated both the Roger Bacon Academy for-profit education management company and the for-profit Coastal Habitat Conservancy school equipment and supply rental company in early 1999. He founded the first nonprofit charter school four months later, according to records from the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

Mitchell currently serves as the secretary for Charter Day School Inc.’s board of trustees, is the president of the management company and is the registered agent for the rental company.

That means Mitchell leads the company that manages the schools and the company that rents equipment to the schools and is an officer on the schools’ decision-making board.

Mitchell, who also sits on the state board that reviews and recommends new charter school bids in the state, has come under intense scrutiny lately as he has fought hard to keep the salaries of his public charter school employees secret, even though state law requires that information to be made available to the public.

Mitchell, who he himself has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing charter schools in southeastern North Carolina according to IRS filings, is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, but details of that case have not been made public.

One of Mitchell’s newer charter schools, Douglass Academy in Wilmington, is currently under a warning for low enrollment numbers. The school must boost those numbers to the statutory minimum of 65 early this fall in order to avoid closure.

Read the full StarNews story here.

House Speaker Thom Tillis partnered with Gov. Pat McCrory today to announce their efforts to work together toward a teacher pay plan they characterized as responsible and affordable—but key details of the House’s new mini-budget proposal, unveiled today, remain unclear.

“We’ve been preparing plans from not inside the beltline but outside the beltline – by listening to the experts who are closest to the action, who are every day inside the classroom,” said McCrory, who was flanked by Speaker Tillis, State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey, State Superintendent June Atkinson as well as lawmakers, school superintendents, teachers and other education advocates from around the state.

McCrory called on local superintendents and teachers to support his proposed teacher pay plan, which would work toward implementing career pathways that reward teachers for performance as well as experience and avoid cutting teacher assistants, unlike the Senate proposal which would slash TAs in the second and third grades.

Tillis followed McCrory by stepping up to the podium to announce his revised “mini-budget” that would be unveiled later in the afternoon in the House appropriations committee.

Calling it a consensus bill that people on Main Street would support, Tillis said his revised legislation would give teachers a raise but take the lottery funds off the table to do that. He would also preserve funds for teacher assistants. Read More

common-coreOn Thursday members of the House Education Committee, who were supposed to take up the Senate version of a bill that aims to repeal the Common Core State Standards, instead replaced its language with their own version of the bill that they had already passed earlier in the legislative session.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, the bill’s sponsor, stood at the podium ready to present his bill to the House committee, apparently unaware of the surprise maneuver to toss his bill aside.

“First time in 12 years I’ve never received a PCS bill [proposed committee substitute of a bill] until I got here, late. I’ll give you the courtesy of putting any PCS I’ve put up out there,” said Tillman. “That’s just courtesy folks, and I believe in that and I’ll do that.”

Tillman was reacting to the fact that committee members failed to consult with him in advance regarding their intentions to never debate his version of SB 812, which, like the House version of the bill, seeks to reneg on the state’s promise to implement the Common Core State Standards. Read More