While the big buzz today at the legislature is about the Senate’s education proposal (I’ll have more on that tomorrow morning), Senate lawmakers also took action today on implementing some key changes to the state’s Read to Achieve law.

Enacted in 2012 as part of Sen. Phil Berger’s Excellent Public Schools Act, the Read to Achieve law was designed to ensure that all students are reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. If a student fails to achieve that benchmark, then the law requires that student to be held back from advancing to the fourth grade. 

Parents, teachers and education advocates have been up in arms over the implementation of Read to Achieve, which has resulted in students taking as many as 36 tests during this spring semester — inciting fear and frustration among many eight-year-olds. And for students who fail to pass, they’ll be expected to attend six-week summer reading camps as a last-ditch attempt to make it into the fourth grade — camps that are not sufficiently funded by the state and thrust big logistical problems on the local school districts and families.

Responding to the uproar, Sen. Berger put forward some fixes today that were approved by the Senate Education Committee:

  • Directs the State Board of Education to provide multiple alternative reading assessments, instead of just one;
  • Allows the student reading portfolio to being being complied in the fall semester;
  • Allows reading camps to take place over a three week period or longer, instead of a minimum of six weeks;
  • Requires the Kindergarten Entry Assessment to yield both qualitative and quantitative data;
  • Clarifies good cause exemptions for Limited English Proficient students and students with IEPs, allowing them to advance to the fourth grade.

The bill also softens the A-F school grading system for 2013-14. This system applies grades to schools based on their students’ academic performance. Instead of a 10-point scale, a 15-point scale would be used to assess a school’s performance, which means fewer schools could receive low grades of D or F.

Stay tuned for more updates as the bill moves through the General Assembly.

PV82120131Members of the House Education Committee considered legislation today that would further reduce funds for school buses in the state, even though local school districts have already dealt with significant cuts to school bus budgets during the past several years.

If passed, House Bill 1040 would save the state $19 million in recurring funds over the years, in addition to $6 million in one time expenditures. Promoted for improving school bus efficiency by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie, Forsyth), the legislation would limit the statewide inventory of school buses and their replacement parts and improve the inspection process for school buses.

Rep. Chris Whitmire, (R-Henderson, Polk, Transylvania) expressed reservations about the bill. His mountainous counties wear out school buses fast, and to limit the inventory of spare school buses on hand could affect his school districts’ ability to adequately transport their students.

Eric Eaker, Director of Transportation for Lincoln County Schools, spoke out against the bill, explaining that substantial cuts to school transportation over the past several years combined with escalating costs and Gov. McCrory’s own cuts to transportation contained within his proposed budget will all have a negative impact on their ability to serve students.

Limiting a district’s ability to stockpile replacement parts, explained Eaker, also means that school districts won’t be able to buy parts at bulk prices and put those into inventory. And those parts are in even bigger demand because budget cuts have forced districts to keep school buses in operation longer.

Last year, lawmakers cut the school bus replacement budget by $29.8 million for 2013 and $39.1 million for 2014, and raised the mileage limit on buses from 200,000 miles to 250,000 miles – keeping older buses on the roads.

Committee members will vote on the bill, which also includes cuts to textbook services, at a forthcoming meeting.

 

Earlier this month, Sen. David Curtis (R-Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln) wrote what many regarded as a harsh email in response to a frustrated teacher’s letter to the General Assembly about teacher pay in North Carolina.

Senator David Curtis

Senator David Curtis

Curtis’ response to the teacher, who admonished the General Assembly for making false promises to raise teacher pay, included admonishing her for her bad attitude and pointed to what he believed to be were perks of the job that she was overlooking.

Those perks included eight weeks paid vacation (teachers are actually not paid for those eight weeks; they are 10-month employees) and a defined retirement contribution plan that guarantees her $35,000 for life (your retirement benefit is actually 1.82% of your average final compensation multiplied by how many years you have given to the state).

Curtis’ response sparked an Internet firestorm, and the Mooresville Tribune checked in with Curtis to get his reaction to the kerfuffle he caused.

Those comments and others in the email inflamed teachers around the state and prompted scores of critical emails and letters to Curtis. But the senator, a native of Mooresville, isn’t taking anything back.

In fact, he said many of his colleagues in Raleigh have told him they agreed with him.

“One positive is that this has increased my stature with the legislature,” Curtis told the Mooresville Tribune. “At least 40 legislators have told me ‘What you said was right on the money.’ ”

Read the full story over at the Mooresville Tribune here.

In case you missed the news earlier this month, Salon highlighted a new report out by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education that examines 15 states representing large charter school markets — and found instances of fraud, waste and abuse at charters totaling $100 million in taxpayer funds.

From Salon:

Perhaps most disturbingly, under the first category, crooked charter school officials displayed a wide range of lavish, compulsive or tawdry tastes. Examples include:

• Joel Pourier, former CEO of Oh Day Aki Heart Charter School in Minnesota, who embezzled $1.38 million from 2003 to 2008. He used the money on houses, cars, and trips to strip clubs. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Star Tribune, the school “lacked funds for field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks.”

• Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is accused of diverting funds from it for his private purchases. He allegedly bought houses, a Florida Condominium and a $300,000 plane, hid income from the IRS, formed businesses that billed even though they had done no work, and took $550,000 in kickbacks for a laptop computer contract.

• A regular financial audit in 2009 of the Langston Hughes Academy in New Orleans uncovered theft of $660,000 by Kelly Thompson, the school’s business manager. Thompson admitted that from shortly after she assumed the position until she was fired 15 months later, she diverted funds to herself in order to support her gambling in local casinos.

Others spent their stolen money on everything from a pair of jet skis for $18,000 to combined receipts of $228 for cigarettes and beer, to over $30,000 on personal items from Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Tommy Hilfiger. But the real damage came from the theft of resources for children’s future.

The end goal of the report, say its authors, is to warn the public about the increasing risk that communities and taxpayers face by having an inadequately regulated charter industry.

Despite rapid growth in the charter school industry, no agency, federal or state, has been given the resources to properly oversee [charter schools]. Given this inadequate oversight,we worry that the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.
Read the full report here.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled this morning that the state’s repeal of teacher tenure, also known as “career status,” and the 25 percent contract system that would award temporary employment contracts to those who relinquish their tenure, are both unconstitutional. Hobgood issued a permanent injunction.

“It’s a great day for teachers in North Carolina,” said Rodney Ellis, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators, following Hobgood’s ruling.chalk25

Last summer, lawmakers moved to phase teacher tenure out completely by 2018, on the basis that the law makes it too difficult to get rid of bad teachers. The legislature also mandated local school boards to offer temporary 4-year employment contracts beginning this fall worth $500 annually to the top performing 25 percent of teachers in the state. Teachers who accept the contracts would be required to relinquish their tenure early.

Tenure, or career status, offers a teacher due process rights in the event of a dismissal or demotion. Its repeal, said Hobgood, is an unconstitutional taking of teachers’ property rights.

Hobgood’s order also lets local school boards off the hook from being required to offer the 25 percent contracts to teachers. Hobgood characterized the 25 percent contract system as having no standards to guide school districts in how they would award them, further adding that temporary contracts for career status teachers are not reasonable or necessary for public purpose.

A significant percentage of the state’s 115 school districts have passed resolutions indicating their discontent with the contract system and asking the legislature to repeal the law. Guilford and Durham counties just won their own court ruling that granted them relief from having to award the contracts.

While the next step is to celebrate with teachers across the state, NCAE president Ellis added that he does anticipate an appeal to come from the state.