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State Sen. Jerry Tillman

State Sen. Jerry Tillman

See below for note about correction in earlier version of post.

A legislative proposal backed away from requiring the state’s charter schools are under state public record and open meetings laws.

The Charlotte Observer reported today that a Senate education committee moved Thursday to reject earlier endorsements of open government provisions in the charter school law, rules that the publicly-funded schools currently have to follow but are not codified. Charter schools are public schools that are run outside of traditional school districts by private, nonprofit boards but given authorization by the appointed members of the State Board of Education.

State law (N.C. GS 115-288.29A addresses charter schools) does not currently state that charter schools are subject to open meeting and public record laws, but the State Board of Education, which drafts rules for charter schools, has made it a requirement as part of their authorization process.

The proposed Senate legislation offered by state Sen. Jerry Tillman does not appear to immediately change that arrangement, but could potentially open the door for revisions by the state board or legislature in the future.

From today’s Charlotte Observer article:

A bill introduced last month, which focuses mainly on an appeals process for applicants rejected by a screening panel, specified that charter schools face the same disclosure requirements and privacy protections as traditional public schools. It was sponsored by Sens. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

However, a substitute version was introduced Wednesday in the Senate education committee, which Tillman chairs. The substitute would “remove the provision that the charter school and its board of directors are subject to the public records and open meetings laws,” according to a document distributed at the meeting.

 

Tillman, a retired school administrator, did not return calls to the Charlotte Observer about his proposal. Click here to read the entire article by Observer education reporter Ann Doss Helms.

The N.C. Press Association is monitoring the bill, the Observer reported.

North Carolina taxpayers sent $304.7 million in state money to the schools this year, with additional funds drawn down from federal education funds and local school boards.

State law does not currently specify that the publicly-funded schools are subject to both the state’s public records and open meeting laws, but the State Board, in agreements with charter schools, have made it a requirement. That means parents, reporters or others with interest in the charter school currently have the right to examine financial and operational details about the schools and attend board meetings.

Public records frequently offer insight into the operation of schools that aren’t readily disclosed. An investigation last year from Raleigh television station WRAL investigation into perks included in contracts held by the 115 state school superintendents prompted the Granville County school board to reexamine how top school employees received large pay raises without the school board’s knowledge.

N.C. Policy Watch used public records laws last year to obtain documents about Quality Education Academy, a Winston-Salem charter school that recruits basketball players from around the world to play and attend a school paid for by North Carolina taxpayers.

 Note: An initial version of this post misstated the current law regarding public records and charter schools. The law does not specifically address the requirement, but the State Board of Education has made it a requirement in the agreements schools have with the state board.

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Looks like North Carolina lawmakers from both the left and right want to see a reconvening of a Constitutional Convention of the States – but for very different reasons, as you’d imagine.

For those in need of a U.S. history refresher, the Convention of the States last met in 1787 and the Constitution has language to reconvene the group to amend the Constitution if enough states are on board.

Several Democratic ( and one Republican) state lawmakers filed a resolution today that would seek a reconvening of the long-dormant constitutional convention  to  plug the floodgates of campaign money from corporations that have flowed into elections since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Hat tip to @CarolinaMercury for first reporting on the resolution. )

You may recall we reported in late May about a similar resolution by a group of Republican House members also interested in resurrecting this group, but in order to limit the federal government’s spending.

The anti-Citizens United resolution introduced today was sponsored by state Rep. Marcus Brandon, Nathan Baskerville and Marvin Lucas, all Democrats, as well as state Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican who made waves earlier this session when he left the Republican caucus over a split with leadership.

“The removal of those [campaign finance] restriction has resulted in the unjust influence of powerful economic forces, which have supplanted the will of the people by undermining our ability to choose our political leadership, write our own laws, and determine the fate of our state,” the resolution states.

It remains unseen if either resolution will go anywhere during this year’s short (and fast-moving) legislative session.

Below is a copy of the resolution, and then scroll down even further watch video of N.C Policy Watch director Chris Fitzsimon’s recent appearance on MSNBC about the federal spending resolution.

Resolution Citizens by NC Policy Watch


Fitzsimon on Al Sharpton’s PoliticsNation:

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Update: Both the Senate and House passed versions of the bill Thursday on second readings, with the House tacking on language placing the economic development partnership back under state ethic rules. The proposals will be back next week for final passage in each chamber.

Parallel bills to privatize pieces of the state’s economic development work is on the path to approval at the state legislature, with changes emerging Tuesday that lower the private fundraising requirements and restrict some of the transparency measures.

The Senate is supposed to consider the bill on the floor today.

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

The most reason versions of the 19-page House Bill 1031 and Senate bill 743 would also reduce the required amount the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina must raise from private funders, leaving the group to raise $6 million from private funders over the next five years.

(To read the entire bill, click here.)

Taxpayers are expected to contribute $90 million over that same period. That’s if Gov. Pat McCrory’s request to transfer 67 positions and an estimated $18 million next year to the new group from the Commerce Department is endorsed by lawmakers in budget negotiations.

Draft legislation had initially put the group on the hook to raise $10 million from private sources immediately, but the language endorsed by House and Senate committees will lower that to $6 million over five years, a move that Republican sponsors is more realistic for a startup group.

The privatization proposal would set North Carolina on a path of its economic development that a dozen other states have embarked on, with mixed results. The public-private partnerships, sometimes referred to as PPPs, have come under fierce criticism in other states with accusations that the private setups have wasted taxpayer money, exaggerated job claims and been used to reward political campaign donors and supporters.

The current form of the bills also remove provisions putting members of the nonprofit’s board and top employees under state ethics rules, which require an annual public disclosure of financial interests as well as put in varied prohibitions on accepting gifts and performing favors. The ethics law also attaches criminal penalties for accepting money or gifts from those looking to s curry favor from public servants. (Click here for a background story). Read More

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Among the many, many things going on at the state legislature today, lawmakers of both parties will be meeting to discuss overhauling the state Commerce Department and shifting the agency’s economic development duties to a new public-private group.

The privatization proposal is a central piece of McCrory’s economic agenda, and the move could shift up to $18 million to a nonprofit group headed by a board of directors appointed by political and business leaders. The setup has had mixed results in the dozen other states that have the public-private partnerships (sometimes referred to as PPPs) with criticism in several states over unrealized job numbers, pay-to-play scenarios and other conflicts of interest.

Supporters of the groups say that moving economic development functions outside of state government, the state could respond more quickly and effectively to

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

businesses looking to grow or move to the state.

The House is expected to take up their version of the legislation at an 11 a.m. hearing, in room 544 of the Legislative Office Building while the Senate will discuss their version at a 2:30 p.m. committee meeting in room 1027/1128 in the Legislative Building on Jones Street.

(I’ll be at both meetings, and giving updates via my Twitter account, @SarahOvaska)

Both legislative houses are working off of draft legislation (click here to read) that requires the new nonprofit to raise $10 million from private donors, a dollar amount that many involved with or watching the process say is too high. Decisions about the often-controversial financial incentives offered to incoming companies would state with state commerce officials.

State lawmakers have also previously said they want the public-private group to comply with transparency measures (the state’s public records, open meetings and state ethics laws) that Commerce officials have been wary about endorsing completely, arguing that strict disclosure rules could undermine the group’s primary mission of recruiting companies to North Carolina.

In related news, I published this investigative report yesterday about Richard “Dick” Lindenmuth, the Raleigh businessman hired by the McCrory administration on a $120,000 annual contract to transition and head the proposed setup.

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Charter schools in the Charlotte area tend to pay teachers less than if they worked for traditional public schools, while the administrators of the privately-run schools make similar salaries to what public school principals earn.

The Charlotte Observer, in an article published Saturday, analyzed salary information from 22 charter schools in Mecklenburg County, a request that touched off a brief controversy about whether salaries for the state’s privately-run but publicly-funded schools could be disclosed.

Ultimately, the N.C. Department of Public Instructions’ Office of Charter Schools reiterated that salary information is public.

Charter schools have more flexibility when it comes to pay, and aren’t beholden to the state salary structure that made North Carolina teachers among the least-paid in the nation. A controversial state Senate plan unveiled last week would dramatically increase North Carolina teacher salaries but also cut teacher assistants and force teachers interested in a salary boost to give up tenure protections.

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