Commentary, Education

Civil rights advocates: This is the face of school re-segregation

In case you missed it earlier this week, there was a powerful op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer that explained in painful detail how charter schools are abetting and expediting the re-segregation of our public schools. As civil rights advocates Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix of the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights explained, the most recent case involves the conversion of a private academy in long-troubled Halifax County.

In February, the state’s Charter School Advisory Board approved the conversion of Hobgood Academy, a private school in Halifax County, to a publicly funded charter school. The decision, which will result in the school receiving up to $2 million in taxpayer money that would otherwise go to the already underfunded public schools in the county, sadly ignores the racialized history of the school and the continuing legacy of segregated education in Halifax. It also contradicts school choice advocates’ purported reliance on a market-based theory of education.

In the late 1960’s, as desegregation was finally coming to North Carolina, a number of private schools — ”segregation academies” —were opened to allow white parents to pull out of integrating public schools. Hobgood Academy, founded in 1969, is a textbook example of these attempts to preserve segregated education, and has maintained that profile throughout its existence, with a student body that is 88 percent white. Halifax County Schools, the public school district in which Hobgood is located, is just 4 percent white.

The decision to approve a charter for Hobgood demonstrates the state’s steadfast refusal to consider the issue of racial segregation in charter schools. The willingness to provide millions of taxpayer dollars to support Hobgood’s survival ignores not only its legacy as a white educational enclave in Halifax, but also the reality that the entire county continues to struggle with the challenges of racially divided schools. Three public school districts serve the county’s approximately 6000 students. In addition to the county district, Weldon City Schools is 3 percent white, while Roanoke Rapids Schools is 60 percent white. Additionally, these districts are already handicapped by the significant diversion of funds to existing charter schools.

If Hobgood had been a public school, it would have been legally required to take affirmative remedial measures to address its segregative practices and create a racially diverse student body. It never did so. In its charter application, Hobgood promises to recruit “students who will reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the town of Hobgood and Halifax County Schools.” But how realistic is it to believe that any significant number of African American or Latinx parents would choose to send their children to a school that was designed to, and for decades has, excluded them?

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, News

What this week’s court order means for N.C.’s unpaid $730 million tab to school districts

Running out the clock, it seems, is not an option for remedying North Carolina’s $730 million technology tab to local school districts.

That’s the takeaway from Wake Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier’s order this week extending a hefty judgement against the state for civil penalties unconstitutionally diverted from schools from 1996 to 2005.

A judge sided with local districts in their case against the state in 2008, but that order was set to expire last year until school board leaders filed a new suit.

Meanwhile, the state — which is not contesting its lingering bill — has been non-committal in addressing their debt. Funds would be used exclusively for school tech.

At least 30 percent of school districts say they don’t have the money to meet the state’s goal for replacing mobile devices every four years, according to the N.C. School Boards Association, which advocates for local boards of education.

Minnie Forte-Brown

“In this ever-changing, high-tech world, that’s unacceptable,” Minnie Forte-Brown, immediate NCSBA past president, said in a statement this week.

The 2008 ruling set the bill, but the courts agree they do not have the power to direct the state in the manner of how they repay their debt. State agencies have only paid about $18 million of the original $750 million ruling.

That leaves school boards waiting to see if and when North Carolina lawmakers take action, no sure thing when state school leaders regularly wage bruising battles with legislators over K-12 cash.

At the very least, the expired ruling means lawmakers won’t get a pass by virtue of the clock.

Read Ed NC‘s report on the ruling below:

A Wake County Superior Court Judge extended a nearly $730 million judgment against the state today for failing to give money received from civil penalties to school districts.

A 2008 court decision said the state owed the public schools almost $750 million in civil penalties collected by state agencies. Since the decision, the state’s public schools have only received about $18 million.

The crux of the issue revolves around the time period between 1996 and 2005, when the state held back money that the courts later said was owed to the state’s public schools under the state constitution. While schools have been receiving the money they’re owed since then, districts are still trying to collect on money owed prior to 2005.

Back in August, The North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) and other plaintiffs refiled the lawsuit because the original judgment was only valid for 10 years and a second lawsuit had to be filed to keep it alive.

“We are pleased that the court extended the judgment against the state,” said Billy Griffin, president of the NCSBA and chairman of the Board of Education in Jones County, in a press release. “These funds are vitally important to public schools across the state because there is certainly no shortage of needs for technology.”

The money from the judgment is meant to be spent on technology, because that is what it was originally meant to be used for.

Historically, the General Assembly has taken no action to repay the money from the judgment, but that appears to be changing. A provision in the House construction bond bill filed by Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, addresses the issue. It says that funds used from the construction bond for school technology shall be credit against that $730 million judgment.

“NCSBA continues to stress to the General Assembly the need to develop a payment structure to return the funds due to the public school students of this state for technology. We are encouraged by the inclusion in Speaker Moore’s bond proposal that any funds used for technology will be credited against the judgment. This is the first of several steps necessary to address the judgment for several years,” said Leanne Winner, NCSBA director of governmental relations, in a press release.

Commentary, Education

Teacher protests helped, but North Carolina still has ways to go to restore school funding

On May 16, over 20,000 teachers descended upon Raleigh to encourage legislative leaders to increase funding for North Carolina’s public schools. The impressive labor action – which shut down 40 school districts across the state – came on the heels of teacher-led protests in other states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.

According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), these protests helped: in four of the five states with large-scale teacher protests, including North Carolina, legislators responded by increasing school funding. According to the report, per-student, inflation-adjusted state funding rose 3 percent in North Carolina.

While educators and other public school advocates deserve praise for pressuring legislators to increase school funding last year, North Carolina’s school budgets have a long way to go to make up for prior-year budget cuts.

Analysis of state budget documents shows that per-student state funding for public schools remains 5.4 percent below pre-Recession levels when adjusted for inflation. However, that number understates the actual budget pressures facing our schools. Recent-year funding increases have targeted teacher pay raises and covering rising retirement and health care costs. While such investments are important, they don’t ensure that North Carolina students have every tool they need for educational success.

North Carolina funds its schools via specific funding allotments. Dollar allotments provide districts a fixed pot of funds for certain activities. Position allotments provide districts with a given number of positions, with the state taking responsibility for paying the appropriate salary for the given position.

Of the 20 largest dollar allotments in FY 2008-09, 15 remain below their pre-Recession levels.

The General Assembly has massively slashed funding for supplies and materials (down 55 percent), textbooks (down 40 percent), central office staff (down 39 percent), and teacher assistants (down 35 percent). Funding for professional development and mentor programs for beginning teachers have been eliminated entirely.

The story is no better for the state’s position allotments. Of the four position allotments that existed in FY 2008-09, three remain below their pre-Recession levels.

Compared to before the Recession, the state is providing schools with fewer teachers, instructional support personnel (nurses, librarians, counselors, psychologists, etc.), and school building administrators (principals and assistant principals).

According to the CBPP report, North Carolina is among the minority of states that still finds its school funding below pre-Recession levels. And the report notes that North Carolina sits alongside Arizona and Oklahoma for using deep school funding cuts to pay for corporate and personal income tax cuts that have mostly benefited the wealthy. As a result, North Carolina faces a budget shortfall of $1.2 billion in 2020, increasing to $1.4 billion in 2022.

We’re already seeing the negative impact austerity budgets are having on North Carolina’s public schools. Other states are increasingly passing us by, and students of color and those from families with low incomes are increasingly paying the price. An alternative path – one which adequately funds our public schools – can improve educational outcomes for students and boost long-term growth. The report highlights that investments in public schools have tremendous long-term impacts, particularly for children from families with low incomes.

Commentary

Tillis: Skillfully manipulating the media with symbolic gestures

Sen. Thom Tillis has garnered himself a smattering of national attention recently by making some modest gestures of opposition to one of Donald Trump’s most outrageous actions — the plan to fund his border wall via a declaration of national emergency. (As an aside, isn’t it interesting that he chose to speak out in the Washington Post rather than a home state news outlet?)

And while any opposition that can be mustered to the policies of the Great Prevaricator is certainly better than nothing, it needs to be pointed out that:

a) Tillis’s opposition is purely symbolic (the votes simply aren’t there to override a Trump veto on the issue), and

b) on the fights that really do matter, Tillis continues to vote and act in lockstep with Trump.

In other words, any talk of Tillis being some kind of “maverick” is just plain silly.

Take, for example, the critical issue of the ongoing right-wing assault on the federal courts. Just yesterday, Tillis continued his knee-jerk support for Trump’s parade of unqualified ideologues by supporting Allison Rushing of North Carolina, who will join the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is from a statement issued by the nonpartisan Alliance for Justice on Rushing (a lawyer with only nine years’ experience who once interned for a far right group backing the “recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S.”):

“In confirming Allison Rushing, the GOP-led Senate is reaffirming that political partisanship matters much more than experience when it comes to judicial nominations under the Trump Administration. Rushing graduated from law school in 2007, so her resume is short — but it’s already packed with the kind of hard-right activities and affiliations that are de rigueur for Trump judicial nominees, including membership in the Federalist Society and work for the Alliance Defending Freedom – an extreme anti-LGBTQ group. Sadly, Rushing now has a lifetime seat on the federal bench, where she could have the opportunity to adjudicate the rights of millions of Americans for four or five decades.”

Right after that, Tillis voted to support Trump’s dreadful nomination of anti-Affordable Care Act crusader, Chad Readler. Again, here’s the Alliance for Justice — this time from a powerful post entitled “Chad Readler’s lack of conscience”:

“In his role at DOJ, Readler filed the government’s brief in the case, in which the Trump Administration argued that key provisions of the ACA were unconstitutional. Tellingly, Readler was then nominated to a highly influential federal judgeship in the Sixth Circuit – on the very same day he filed his brief.

Readler’s decision to file the brief was so striking that three Justice Department lawyers refused to sign it, and a veteran Justice Department lawyer resigned in protest. Chad Readler, in contrast, apparently could sleep at night knowing that if his legal argument was successful, over 50 million Americans, including cancer patients, people with disabilities, and pregnant women, would lose health insurance.

Should we have expected anything different from Readler? The answer, sadly, is no.

Like almost all Trump judicial nominees, Readler has a record of working to undermine constitutional rights and legal protections for all Americans. He has attacked voting rights and rights for women and LGBTQ Americans; worked to eliminate the right to public education in Ohio; defended attacks on immigrants; and sought to weaken protections for workers and consumers.”

And, of course, even as Tillis makes feints designed to win over the national media, he continues to inundate voters back home with pleas for money to help him “stand with President Trump,” fight for “border security” and “keep our country safe.”

The bottom line: Tillis is continuing to do what he’s always done — present himself to the public as a modern, affable and seemingly reasonable conservative while, at the same time, doing virtually everything in his power to advance the agenda of the far right. Let’s hope his constituents catch on soon.

Commentary

National absentee ballot expert: Five things NC needs to fix

Amber McReynolds is executive director of the National Vote at Home Institute, the former election director for Denver, Colo., and was recognized as a “Top Public Official of the Year” by Governing Magazine for her work to reform and improve the voting process. Yesterday, she published an op-ed in the Washington, DC newsletter, The Hill, (“Here’s how North Carolina can prevent election fraud from happening again”) in which she explained what North Carolina needs to do to fix it’s flawed absentee ballot system. Here are her recommendations of the issues that need to be addressed:

Burdensome witness requirements: In virtually every other state, a voter need only sign his or her ballot return envelope. Election officials compare that signature with the official signature on file before validating the ballot. In the West, we use 100 percent signature verification at the elections office, with bipartisan judges and immediate notification with a reasonable timeline to “fix” any questionable signatures.

But in North Carolina, the voter must get the ballot witnessed by two persons, 18 years or older, or by a public notary (NC Gen Stat § 163-231). This undue burden can confuse voters and leave them reliant upon someone else to help. This was the opening exploited by political operatives last fall.

Insufficient drop-off options for voters: If a North Carolina voter has not mailed the absentee ballot back soon enough, state law requires hand delivery to a county election office, which may be many miles away (NC Gen Stat §163-231). And by law, that person must be a close relative.  But for those who have trouble meeting the delivery requirements, or don’t know the rules, it opens a door that others can walk through.

In contrast, in Colorado we supplement returning ballots via the U.S. mail with ample secure drop boxes, available, 24/7 until the official close of voting. In addition, we operate staffed “vote centers” where voters can receive assistance or replace lost ballots. That makes voting by mail convenient throughout the cycle, and keeps the door closed to those who would take advantage of a North Carolina-like model.

Lack of a ballot tracking system: In Western states, voting by mail has been widely used over time and systems are advanced. There are proven tools that provide voters with superb customer service, the ability to track their ballot (as you would a package), and to confirm that it was properly received (examples: Ballot TRACE or Ballot Scout).

Many states and local jurisdictions now utilize ballot tracking that notifies voters by text or email about the status of their ballot, from the time it is mailed to when it has been received by the election official, verified and sent to the counting room. This provides voters and election officials complete visibility of the mail ballot envelope at each step in the process, which is key to deterring and detecting interference. Read more