News

State lawmakers could soon decide to anoint pro-school privatization nonprofit Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) to distribute taxpayer dollars to new charter schools in the state, according to the Associated Press.

From the AP:

The budget proposal being considered by the General Assembly may break new ground in state spending by letting Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina decide which fledgling charter schools get a piece of $1 million a year, N.C. Center for Nonprofits vice president David Heinen said.

“This is probably unique to have a completely independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit having discretion without a lot of criteria,” said Heinen, citing the chapter of federal tax law describing charity and educational groups. “I don’t know of any other that is quite like this.”

If the Senate endorses what is currently a House proposal, PEFNC would be tasked with doling out up to $1 million annually in start-up funds for new charter schools (up to $100,000 each) to set up shop in geographic areas where charter schools are few in number.

When the House rolled out this idea earlier this year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern over the idea that a private group beholden to virtually no public oversight could be tasked with handing out taxpayer dollars.

Legislative efforts have attempted to direct similar responsibilities to PEFNC in years past.

In 2013, lawmakers proposed giving the nonprofit $1 million over two years to develop charter schools in rural parts of the state, but that measure did not pass. A similar bill was filed last year too, but also did not survive.

None of the taxpayer funds can go toward administrative or management fees, according to the current proposal. Darrell Allison, executive director of PEFNC, already receives a large compensation package that has has increased considerably over a short time.

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. In 2013, his salary bumped up again to $167,085, according to tax records.

PEFNC has received millions of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation (owners of Wal-Mart) over the past several years. The Waltons are known for supporting education initiatives such as vouchers, charter schools and other privatization measures.

For more background on PEFNC, click here.

The Senate begins the process of rolling out their budget later today in committee meetings. I’ll be tweeting from Senate Ed at 4pm — follow me on Twitter @LindsayWagnerNC.

News

This week, researchers from the University of Maryland and Wellesley College released a report that finds that the learning gains young children experience from watching Sesame Street are on par with what students learn in preschool.

From The Washington Post:

The researchers also say those effects probably come from Sesame Street’s focus on presenting viewers with an academic curriculum, heavy on reading and math, that would appear to have helped prepare children for school.

While it might seem implausible that a TV show could have such effects, the results build on Nixon-era government studies that found big short-term benefits in watching the show, along with years of focus-group studies by the team of academic researchers who help write “Sesame Street” scripts. Several outside researchers have reviewed the study, and none are known to have questioned its results.

As my toddler channels the Count when totaling the number of grapes he has in his bowl each day (ha, ha, haaaa, as the Count would say), it’s easy to see the impact of Sesame Street’s strong educational components.

But is Elmo enough?

The study’s authors do point out that preschool—Head Start, in particular, which is targeted toward low-income children— is designed to deliver more than just academics. It also comes with access to medical and dental services, family supports and opportunities for socialization that you can’t get from your television set.

That message, however, got a little buried in the Washington Post story titled, “Study: Kids can learn as much from ‘Sesame Street’ as from preschool.”

“There’s a lot of development that happens in an early education setting,” said Rob Thompson, executive director of the children’s advocacy group NC Child. “Children develop important social and emotional skills in pre-kindergarten that help success in school and in all aspects of life.”

North Carolina has been a beacon that other states look toward for how to do preschool right. The return on investing in NC pre-kindergarten is estimated to be $9 for every dollar spent, according to the N.C. Justice Center.*

High- quality preschool can increase a child’s performance in the early school grades and boost high school graduation rates, improve chances of landing a job later in life, and reduce criminal behavior, among other benefits, according to researchers at the Carolina Institute for Public Policy.

But over the past several years, the state has steadily decreased its support for pre-kindergarten programs that target at-risk youth by reducing the number of pre-K slots available to at-risk children.

“Reduced access to early learning for at-risk youth means that many of these children are likely to begin their primary education lagging their peers,” according the Justice Center report.

Wellesley College’s Phil Levine, co-author of the Sesame Street study, emphasized to NC Policy Watch that the children’s show is a great way to augment a high quality preschool program — not a replacement.

“It’s a mistake to think of these things as one or the other,” said Levine, when comparing Sesame Street to preschool. “What you get in terms of the long term effects from pre-K are partly academic and partly nonacademic—and those nonacademic effects are really important.”

Levine says when it comes to fighting poverty and inequality, there’s no magic bullet.

“The more tools in our arsenal, the better—and Sesame Street is just another good one.”

*NC Policy Watch is a project of the N.C. Justice Center.

News

Common Core picThe Academic Standards Review Commission, which is tasked with recommending changes to the state’s Common Core standards for English and math, wants to hear from the public this coming Monday, June 15.

Those who want to weigh in on the standards and their impact on students are invited to send an email to Jo Herrera at jocelyn.herrara@doa.nc.gov. Time is limited, so only the first 20 interested parties will be allowed to speak at the ASRC’s monthly meeting on the 7th floor of the state education building (301 N. Wilmington Street, Raleigh).

The Common Core standards, a set of guidelines that were developed by a group of governors and state superintendents and set forth what students should know and be able to do in English Language Arts and mathematics, has incited a great deal of controversy both in North Carolina and around the nation.

Parents, teachers, and other stakeholders have called into question whether or not the standards demand excessive testing, if they are grade-level appropriate, and if they serve as a vehicle for corporate profit. Some states have either opted out or plan to opt out of the adoption of the standards, and other states have repealed the standards altogether.

But proponents of the standards say they are badly needed, providing increased academic rigor that will better prepare students for today’s workforce demands.

Siding with those who are clamoring for homegrown academic standards that North Carolina can say it owns, state lawmakers passed a bill last year that halted the Common Core’s implementation and creates a politically appointed Academic Standards Review Commission that must review the standards and suggest appropriate changes.

The review commission includes political appointees of Senate leader Phil Berger, former Speaker Thom Tillis and Governor Pat McCrory. Two members of the State Board of Education, including its chair, Bill Cobey, also sit on the commission.

For more background on the review commission and Common Core, click here.

News

Moore County Schools Superintendent Robert Grimesey (Image: Moore County Schools)

It’s been quite a few days for Moore County schools chief Robert Grimesey.

Last week the Moore County school board voted, without explanation, to fire Grimesey, who had been on the job for less than a year.

The move touched off a political firestorm resulting in three board members resigning, Moore County Rep. Jamie Boles filing a temporary restraining order blocking the school board from hiring a new superintendent, and threats of special legislation that would recall the entire school board.

And the community came out in force for Grimesey, buying t-shirts that said #SupportGrimesey and bombarding social media websites calling for his reinstatement.

Last night, the remaining members of the Moore County school board voted 4-1 to bring him back.

“As it has for the past six days, Moore County stands together as one tonight,” Grimesey said following the vote, according to WRAL News. “Not for a man, not for any man, but for its own ideals and its principles. For its economic vitality and its quality of life.”

After the vote, a fourth board member resigned Monday night. Several school board members who initially voted for Grimesey’s firing say it was justified—but because of strict confidentiality laws on personnel issues, they couldn’t say what led to his termination.

Read the full scoop over at WRAL.

News

Without explanation, the Moore County school board decided last week to fire its superintendent in a 5-3 vote — and since then a political firestorm has erupted, with three members of the board resigning following intense community pressure and a state lawmaker filing a temporary restraining order blocking the board from hiring a new schools chief and threatening special legislation to recall the school board.

Robert Grimesey was fired from his post as Superintendent last week. (Image: Moore County Schools)

Robert Grimesey was fired from his post as Superintendent last week. (Image: Moore County Schools)

“This is a very important issue, and I don’t think the board members understand what they have done to the community,” Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) told WRAL news.

“Who speaks for the citizens who elected the school board,” Boles told N.C. Policy Watch via telephone Monday.

“The citizens of Moore County want the school board recalled and I represent them. I speak for the people, I don’t speak for Jamie Boles.”

Robert Grimesey held the position of Superintendent of Moore County Schools for just under a year. “Strained relationships with some top school administrators and principals,” could be the reason for the school board’s decision, according to the The Pilot, a local online newspaper in Southern Pines.

Strict state personnel laws make it impossible to know the real reason, as board members are barred from discussing these matters.

Members of the community have come out in support of Grimesey. According to The Pilot, social media has lit up with support for the ousted superintendent and even t-shirts that say #SupportGrimesey are being sold in Southern Pines.

Southern Pines Town Councilman Mike Fields encouraged those board members who voted to fire Grimesey to step down from their posts, and state lawmaker Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) told members who voted for the ouster to step down by noon Monday or face special recall legislation. Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said he’d support Moore’s proposed measure.

Rep. Boles has also blocked the school board from making a hiring decision for a new superintendent with a temporary restraining order filed last Friday.

Leanne Winner of the N.C. School Boards Association says she’s never seen a state legislator get involved in the hiring and firing of a superintendent.

“Most of the time we see the General Assembly get involved in school board politics, it is not directly related to a specific incident,” said Winner.

In a Friday press release, Boles said, “I have never seen the continuity and unity of Democrats, Republicans, NAACP, PTA, students, teachers, conservatives and liberals alike as I have seen with the unified condemnation of the process in which our superintendent, Dr. Grimesey, was fired.”

Dr. Ed Dunlap, who has worked for the N.C. School Boards Association for 36 years and is its executive director, says it’s troubling to him that a state lawmaker is getting involved in local school board politics.

“It’s extremely important for the school board and the superintendent to have a good working relationship with each other. [They] need to continually work on that relationship so that the opportunity for these kinds of instances to occur would be mitigated,” said Dunlap.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” Dunlap added.

The Moore County school board will meet this evening at the Union Pines High School in a closed session, then the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on Grimesey’s firing.

For an in-depth story on the Moore County schools drama, including more details about how the county commissioners might financially punish the school board for their actions, check out The Pilot’s latest here.

This post has been updated to add comments from Rep. Jamie Boles.