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UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently requested and reviewed hundreds of emails that UNC President Tom Ross received Jan. 16, the day he was forced out of his job by the UNC Board of Governors.

Ross, who had been the head of the UNC system since 2011, has said he hoped to stay on with the university system, but a board appointed by Republican leaders opted instead to replace him in 2016, a move that many by surprise.

Ross plans on staying on as president until January 2016 or until his successor is selected, whichever is later.

Among the messages Ross received on the day he was dismissed were notes from another former UNC president, Erskine Bowles, as well as Fred Eshelman, a former Board of Governor member and prominent Republican fundraiser.

You can read more of the email snippets over at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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K12, Inc.As expected, the State Board of Education gave its blessing Thursday to two virtual charter schools applying for a new pilot program set up by the state legislature.

The new public schools will allow students to take their entire course loads remotely, and stand to send millions in public education dollars to two companies that will manage the daily operations of the virtual schools.

N.C. Policy Watch has been covering the push by K12, Inc., the company behind the N.C. Virtual Academy, since 2011 to open a virtual charter school in North Carolina. The company has been criticized in other states for its aggressive lobbying of public officials to open schools, as well as low academic results from many of the public schools it manages.

On Thursday, the state board also decided to drop a requirement that would have required schools to provide or pay for learning coaches for students whose parents can’t serve in that role.

Here’s more from my article earlier today:

Get ready to add “attend third-grade” to the growing list of things you can do over the Internet in North Carolina, after ordering pizzas and watching cat videos.

The State Board of Education, which oversees public education in the state, is expected to approve two charter schools today that will teach children from their home computers in schools run by Wall Street-traded companies.

Daily monitoring would be in the hands of “learning coaches,” a role that’s been filled by parents, guardians and athletic coaches in the more than 30 other states that offer publicly-funded virtual schooling options.

Today’s anticipated vote of approval (click here to listen to an audio stream of today’s meeting) will be a significant change of the state board, which fought an attempt in the courts from the N.C. Virtual Academy to open up a virtual school three years ago.

If approved, the N.C. Virtual Academy (to be run by K12, Inc., NYSE:LRN) and N.C. Connections Academy (to be run by Connections Academy, owned by education giant Pearson, NYSE:PSO) will be able to enroll up to 1,500 students each from across the state, and send millions in public education dollars to schools run by private education companies.

You can read the entire piece here.

 

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The State Board of Education will be making its final decision about whether to give a green light to two online-based charter schools that hope to open their (virtual) doors this fall.

It seems all but certain the state board will approve the schools, where students from kindergarten through high school work from home computers while being supervised by a “learning coach,” which usually is a parent. The schools are seeking to each serve up to 1,500 students statewide in the first year, which would send millions in state, local and federal education dollars to the schools.

K12 logoRepublican-led legislature slipped a provision into last summer’s budget bill mandating the creation of a four-year pilot program for two of the online-based charter schools.

Several public education groups, including the N.C. Association of Educators and N.C. School Boards Association, have expressed concerns about the schools, saying the charter schools will divert scarce public education dollars to hand off to for-profit companies while delivering a subpar education to students.

Proponents have said that North Carolina, which offers no full-time virtual education, needs to offer the public education choice for children that don’t do well in traditional schools, because of health issues, full extracurricular or athletic schedules, bullying or in need of remedial help or advanced learning.

Both of the publicly-traded companies behind the two schools now applying to open, K12, Inc. and Connections Academy (which is owned by education giant Pearson), has had teams of lobbyists at the N.C. General Assembly paid to push their cause.

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Here’s a glimpse of life in Detroit, far from us in North Carolina, but where the circumstances may ring familiar for thousands also trying to figure out how to get to work without much reliable transportation around.

James Robertson, a machine operator from Detroit, works 23 miles from his home, in a metropolitan area where public transportation is spotty.

His solution has been to walk – a combined 21 miles a day – in order to get to and from work every day. He’s been doing the four to six-hour commute, which also includes taking two buses, since his car broke down a decade ago.

 

 

Detroit also leads the nation in auto insurance rates, with the average driver shelling out $5,941 a year for auto insurance, compared to the average $1,022 bill that North Carolinians pay.

Amazingly and incredibly, Robertson has never missed a day of work because of his commuting challenges.

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When the former Secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources sought a way to boost employee’s morale last summer, his agency ordered up several hundred commemorative coins engraved with both his and the agency’s name.

DENR commemorative coin

DENR commemorative coin

The environmental agency spent $1530 in June buying 500 coins engraved with former DENR Secretary John Skvarla’s name etched on them, in addition to the agency logo and the state seal on the back.

The coins, also referred to as challenge coins, were outdated within a few months.

Skvarla left the agency in December at Gov. Pat McCrory’s behest to lead the N.C. Commerce Department. Donald Van der Vaart, a longtime DENR employee, how heads the state environmental agency.

John Skvarla

Commerce Sec. John Skvarla (formerly DENR)

A number of the coins, but not all, were handed out to DENR employees as a way for Skvarla to recognize exemplary performance, said Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the agency.

Elliot said he did not know how many of the coins remained. N.C. Policy Watch has requested, but not yet received, a copy of a spreadsheet detailing how the coins were distributed under Skvarla’s leadership.

The $1,530 purchase of the coins this June comes as the agency has had to trim many of its programs and lay off environmental regulators in response to deep budget cuts, including 225 jobs lost between 2011 and 2014, according to this February 2014 news article. Some environmental groups say the cuts have left the state unable to protect its natural resources and prevent future disasters like last year’s toxic coal ash spill in the Dan River.

Challenge coins like the ones ordered by DENR are a well-known tradition in the nation’s military branches, as explained in this Mental Floss article. The coins are sometimes handed out by secret handshakes, as they were during a 2011 visit to Afghanistan by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates who passed them out to servicemen and servicewomen.

Probably one of the most popular uses of the coins in the military is to settle up bar tabs.

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