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Two charter schools hoping to open up shop in North Carolina in 2016 have abandoned partnering with a troubled management company that had planned to operate the schools, according to the News & Observer.

The questions surrounding Newpoint Education Partners [a Florida-based education management company] caused the State Board of Education earlier this month to refer Pine Springs Preparatory Academy in Wake County and Cape Fear Preparatory Academy in New Hanover County to an advisory board for further review. Both schools have since submitted letters announcing they’re severing relations with Newpoint, according to Adam Levinson, interim head of the state Office of Charter Schools.

At a meeting of the State Board of Education earlier this month, the applications of Cape Fear Preparatory (New Hanover) and Pine Springs Preparatory (Wake) were kicked back to the state advisory board that reviews charter school applications so that they could further investigate allegations and charges of grade tampering and other abuses at some of Newpoint’s Florida charter schools.

A formal investigation by the Florida State’s Attorney into these allegations resulted in criminal charges handed down in early June—just as the charter school management company had hoped to nose its way into doing business in North Carolina (for more background, click here).

Other findings of the school district’s own investigation included students not completing curricular requirements; numerous missing or incomplete academic records for the schools’ students; allowing the employment of an individual who had not passed a background check; and teachers drinking alcohol with students on a senior trip/cruise, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

See Cape Fear Preparatory’s letter explaining their intention to cut ties with Newpoint here, which outlines how the board plans to operate the school without the aid of an education management organization.

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A few short lines in the 2015-17 Senate budget would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees hired after January 1, 2016.

“This will negatively impact the state’s ability to recruit good, qualified folks,” said Richard Rogers, executive director of the North Carolina Retired Governmental Employees’ Association. “In the future, I don’t see folks sticking with state government for the long term or for a career.

Current law provides teachers and state employees with a paid health insurance plan for the duration of retirement. It’s a graduated system, said Rogers, so employees must work a certain number of years in order to receive the maximum benefit of a fully-paid health insurance plan.

The Senate budget provision, located deep in the biennial proposal that was released and passed by Senators this week, would affect teachers and state employees who join the workforce after January 1, 2016 by eliminating the health insurance benefit altogether.

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The provision also affects those who stop out of the workforce and withdraw their retirement benefits from the state system, then re-join the workforce after January 1, 2016. Those state employees would also forfeit their retiree health insurance benefits.

The retiree state health plan provides health care coverage to more than 685,000 teachers, state employees, retirees, current and former lawmakers, state university and community college personnel, state hospital staff and their dependents, according to the plan’s website.

The General Assembly is expected to spend the rest of the summer hammering out a final 2015-17 budget for the state. Stay tuned to see if the Senate’s proposal to axe retirement health benefits for teachers and state employees makes it past the cutting room floor.

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A teacher and assistant principal at Orange County’s Efland-Cheeks Elementary School have resigned their positions following an uproar over the teacher’s decision to read a gay-themed fairy tale to his third grade students in an effort to put a stop to bullying in his school.

From the News & Observer:

Omar Currie and Meg Goodhand of Efland-Cheeks Elementary School submitted resignation letters, Orange County Schools spokesman Seth Stephens said Monday.

Currie had said he would resign because he felt administrators did not support him after he read “King & King,” in which two princes fall in love and get married. He has said he read the book after a boy in his class was called gay in a derogatory way and told he was acting like a girl.

Previous press reports detail how the teacher’s decision to read “King & King” sparked an uproar in the community, with parents filing formal objections to the book resulting in two public hearings.

While the Orange County elementary school has twice decided to uphold the use of the book, one parent has appealed that decision to the superintendent. Orange County schools will hold a public hearing on the matter Thursday evening.

Currie, a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who is gay, says he’s felt unsupported in his decision to read the book to students and has been criticized for participating in an interview about the controversy on school grounds, even though he did not break any rules related to student privacy.

The News & Observer conducted a lengthy Q&A session with Currie that was published back in May. In the interview, Currie explains what happened the day he read “King & King,” what it’s like to teach in a rural school, and how he has experienced bullying himself as a gay African-American teen in middle school.

Can a teacher be an activist? (Currie and [assistant principal] Goodhand have been criticized for speaking at a conference for LGBT activists, which sought in part to challenge ‘the heteronormative culture in schools.’)

Currie: Yes, I think you should be. You have a group of students in your classroom. You leave a lasting impact and a lasting impression on them. It is important that you are championing the rights of those kids and the future of those kids. I think it’s important that you’re an activist and not just about things like that, but in general for the teaching profession and your rights as a teacher.

Read the full Q&A here.

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Teacher assistants ask Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Mocksville) to save their jobs

About a dozen teacher assistants from all over North Carolina came to the General Assembly Wednesday to tell lawmakers they’re not happy with the prospect of losing a significant chunk of their workforce thanks to a Senate budget proposal that eliminates more than 8,500 TAs from elementary school classrooms.

“It’s about the children and the future of North Carolina,” said teacher assistant Teresa Sawyer from Currituck County. “If you lose extra people in the classroom, what’s going to happen to these children?”

Senate lawmakers unveiled a budget this week that would rid North Carolina’s early grade classrooms of more than half of their state-funded teacher assistants.

TAs have been a target for state budget cuts for years—since 2008, the state has lost more than 7,000 of these instructional aides who also frequently double as bus drivers and first responders to medical emergencies.

Instead of providing enough funds to keep TAs in classrooms, Senate budget writers have proposed putting some funds instead toward hiring more teachers to reduce K-3 class sizes.

“It’s a good concept, because there is some research out there that says lower class sizes work better,” said North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants’ incoming president, William Johnston, “but [with the Senate budget proposal] you’ll get 2,000 more teacher positions and eliminate more than 8,000 TAs…you’re losing 6,000 sets of eyes to make sure that students get to where they need to be.”

“The safety of the children is being compromised,” added Johnston. “How are you going to cover lunch duty? How are kids going to get their medications?”

Others expressed concern over where the additional classes would be housed.

“Are they gonna give us money to create new construction?” wondered teacher assistant Lacy Autry. “In Robeson County, every one of our schools has three, four outside classrooms already. Where are you going to find room? We’ve taken janitorial supply closets to make classrooms. We just don’t have the room to reduce the sizes.”

Teacher assistants at the General Assembly on Wednesday also explained that a lot more is expected of them now than ever before, thanks to increased testing requirements and cuts to school nurses—and without their service, students will suffer.

“So if you don’t have that extra help in the classroom while teachers are pulling students out to work on testing requirements, children will just be doing a lot more busy work,” said TA Andrea Cranfill from Davie County.

And in Bladen County, the entire district has just four nurses to share among 13 schools.

“I’m the first responder in my school,” said Johnston. “We have a nurse maybe one day a week. So what happens the other four days a week if I’m not there?”

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TAs visit the office of Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph)

Many TAs administer medications, serve on crisis response teams and even administer catheters and feeding tubes, according to those who came down to the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Senator Andrew Brock, a member of the Senate budget committee, seemed sympathetic to the TAs’ concerns.

“I’ve got some issues with that,” Sen. Brock said in response to the prospect of the state losing TAs.

The teacher assistants also visited the offices of Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) and Senate budget writer Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville).

The Senate plans to pass a final budget this week, then set to work on a final compromise with the House this summer.

Watch TAs explain to Sen. Harry Brown’s staff the importance of keeping them in the classroom.

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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.