Education, News

State Board of Education’s Greg Alcorn to become fourth board resignation this year

From L-R: Bill Cobey, Becky Taylor, and Greg Alcorn will all step down from the State Board of Education next month.

Greg Alcorn, a Rowan County resident serving on the State Board of Education, will become the fourth member of North Carolina’s top school board to step down this year, Policy Watch has learned.

Policy Watch received a copy Friday of Alcorn’s resignation, dated Aug. 7, from the state board. In the letter, Alcorn says he intends to leave following next month’s board meeting. Alcorn added that he wants to focus on ApSeed, the early childhood nonprofit he started.

But it’s worth noting that Alcorn, like departing members Bill Cobey and Becky Taylor before him, was set to watch his term expire in March. A fourth board member, former Vice Chair A.L. “Buddy” Collins, also stepped down this spring in order to run for a county commission seat in Forsyth County.

Republican state lawmakers have voted on partisan lines to deny replacements for board members appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Cooper’s appointments will not require legislative confirmation to serve out the rest of Cobey, Taylor and Alcorn’s terms.

“With the legislature not approving the governor’s appointments, really the only way that a board member’s seat gets filled appears to be the way that Bill and Becky are going,” the board’s vice chairman, Eric Davis, said in a Policy Watch report this week. “That’s the only way a new member gets appointed.”

As this week’s report noted, board members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt watched their terms expire in March 2017, but both have remained on as lawmakers first delayed and then voted down Cooper’s replacements.

From Alcorn’s resignation letter:

This letter is to inform you that I am resigning from the North Carolina State Board of Education at the conclusion of the Thursday, September 6 board meeting. I have shared my decision of resignation with my fellow board members and I would like to serve through the September board meeting.

The primary reason for resigning is to spend more time with my ApSeed early childhood education non-profit. ApSeed is designed to provide “Kindergarten-ready” children to our fine public schools in North Carolina. I firmly believe that ApSeed can have a generational, positive impact to help eliminate achievement gaps. My belief in ApSeed and its impact compels me to devote my community service time to this non-profit.

It has been my pleasure and honor to serve on the NC State Board of Education, during the past 5+ years. My service on the Board has informed me of the many challenges in education and has been invaluable. I firmly believe in the constitutional responsibilities of the State Board of Education and am sure your new appointee will continue to deliver on those responsibilities.

It has been an honor to serve with such an outstanding group of board members who have faithfully made their first priority the interest of our public school children. I will miss serving with them.

Education, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration, Betsy DeVos, slash for-profit college regulations

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have made no secret of their support of for-profit colleges.

Today, they’re taking the next step to cut regulations for such controversial programs, Politico reports.

According to the report, DeVos will do away with an Obama administration rule.

From Politico:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Thursday to eliminate Obama-era regulations that were meant to cut off federal funding to low-performing programs at for-profit schools and other career colleges.

The Education Department unveiled a proposal to rescind the “gainful employment” regulation, which was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s crackdown on for-profit education companies.

The goal of the rule, which took effect in 2015, was to make sure that students who graduate from for-profit schools or other career-oriented programs make enough money to repay their student loans. But the schools, and congressional Republicans, have long criticized the regulation as unfair and overly burdensome.

DeVos’ proposal to kill the regulation goes further than other draft plans circulated by the Trump administration. Previous proposals would have gutted the penalties associated with the rule, but they would have kept mandatory consumer disclosures by colleges to prospective students.

The Trump administration said it plans to update the Education Department’s College Scorecard website with expanded data about the outcomes of students who attend all colleges and universities receiving federal aid. The department plans to calculate and publish the earnings and debt levels of graduates broken down by individual academic programs.

The Scorecard website is not required by any law or regulation, so the Trump administration’s promise to expand the data published on it isn’t binding on the department.

Consumer groups and Democrats have already sharply criticized the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the rule as a giveaway to the for-profit college industry. They say they’re worried DeVos’ plan will open up billions of taxpayer dollars to low-performing colleges.

Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia are suingDeVos over her previous delays in enforcing the “gainful employment” rule.

The Education Department said it would accept public comments on the proposed elimination of the regulation for 30 days.

The department must publish a final regulation by Nov. 1 for it to take effect in July 2019.

Higher Ed

Former UNC BOG members speak out on good governance, take current members to task

In a rare move, a group of ten former members of the UNC Board of Governors penned a letter this week taking current board members to task for what they describe as “clearly bad governance.”

The letter, posted Wednesday on the Higher Education Works website, criticized the board for disregarding the UNC President’s recommended candidate for the Chancellor’s post at Western Carolina University. Instead current board member Tom Fetzer, who had some interest in the WCU job for himself, sought out a third party to do a background check on the recommended candidate.

Former members also expressed their displeasure in ongoing efforts to micromanage and undermine the decisions of system President Margaret Spellings.

Here’s an excerpt:

A lot of very smart people have judged our University System to be the most valuable asset this state has. Our system of higher education is respected nationally as one of the best. It is what has set this state apart for decades. It has helped make us the forward-thinking state we have always been considered. Without it, we would not have the Research Triangle Park, one of the most successful research parks in the world, fostered by visionary leaders in business and academia.

Unfortunately, it appears our Board of Governors has become increasingly politicized, and some members are conflicted. Politics has no place in the selection of members, and any conflicts of interest must be avoided. Boards must have a high level of independence and professionalism to be effective.

What we saw last month was not good governance. Our state, our President, our faculty, our students, our entire University System deserve better. What we witnessed will negatively affect the quality of people willing to come to our Universities as Chancellors, faculty and staff.

Good governance has many positive aspects. Maybe the most important is to attract and retain great talent and leadership. We ask our legislators and our Board of Governors to remember that they serve the people of North Carolina. They can and should do better.

The letter is signed by the following former members of the UNC Board of Governors: Paul Fulton, Ann Goodnight, Fred Eshelman, Derick Close, Brad Wilson, Jim Deal, Peaches Gunter Blank, Leroy Lail, Phil Phillips and Jim Babb.

You can read the full letter here.

Current Board Chair Harry Smith tells the Raleigh News & Observer’s Jane Stancill that the assessment is unfair:

“I thought it was very unfortunate that they decided to take the attack route,” Smith said, adding, “I don’t think Paul Fulton and Higher Ed Works should chastise 28 members that are working hard, based on a handful that got into a tiff.”

For more on recent actions by the Board of Governors, follow reporter Joe Killian’s coverage here.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings

Commentary, Education, News

Editorial: Bill Cobey stands up for state board and public schools

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

In case you missed it this this morning, Capitol Broadcasting Company published an editorial over at WRAL that takes aim at state legislative leaders following the news that State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey is stepping down from the board next month.

Cobey, a longtime North Carolina Republican who once chaired the statewide GOP and served in Congress, has often been at odds with the Republican-controlled legislature in recent years.

The editorial notes the reaction from Republican lawmakers, or rather lack of reaction, to Cobey’s departure is telling.

From the editorial:

Last week Chairman Bill Cobey, announced his resignation from the State Board of Education six months before the end of his term. “I want to move on so that others can lead,” he said.

We hope he’d serve his entire term, but we are not surprised that he is leaving.

Who could blame Cobey, at 79, for taking a break from the daily attacks on our public education system by Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. They have been unrelenting in their efforts to dismantle the State Board of Education. Cobey fought the good fight on behalf of the board and is still fighting.

There are few North Carolinians who can claim Cobey’s conservative Republican pedigree. In 1982 (when Speaker Moore was 12 years old) he was Jesse Helms’ Congressional Club choice to unseat a four-term Democrat in the Fourth Congressional District. He fell short that year, but won the seat two years later.

Cobey was Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources under Gov. Jim Martin. He served as chairman of the state Republican Party. He was on the board of a private school and vice chairman of the Jesse Helms Center in 2013 when Gov. Pat McCrory named him to the State Board and he was elected its chairman.

It is certainly curious that, upon his resignation, Cobey received public words of appreciation for his service from Gov. Roy Cooper and former Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson while Republicans, including Berger, Moore and former Gov. McCrory who appointed him, were uncharacteristically muted.

It is the fact that Cobey isn’t a pushover; that he stands up for his principles and also works with Democrats to find common ground to strengthen public education; that he stands up for the constitutional role of the State Board of Education in the face of legislative efforts to weaken it. That infuriates Berger and Moore.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has been acquiescent to the legislative leadership and with newly-enacted powers from the legislature, worked to subvert the state board’s authority.

The current leaders of the General Assembly see every exchange as an opportunity for a confrontation, every issue is reason for ideological combat. Anyone who might have the moxie to suggest an alternative solution or competing idea is the enemy. Cobey has been under attack for several years. He fought hard.

Make no mistake about it, Bill Cobey believes in the strength of his ideas and positions. But he also has the confidence to let others challenge them and discuss them.

Most significantly, he has the patience to listen and work with those with different perspectives to seek common solutions. That’s not being a push over or liberal. That’s leadership.

It’s about putting the interests of the state, public schools and children first.

Cobey has the right priorities. They are sorely lacking among many members of the General Assembly.

We extend our admiration for, and thanks to, Bill Cobey and his service to North Carolina.

Higher Ed

Texas selects Milliken to lead university system

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to include comment from a UNC system spokesman.

James Milliken

On Saturday, the University of Texas System named James Milliken, the former chancellor for City University of New York, as the sole choice to lead their system.

“We are honored to announce Mr. Milliken as our sole finalist for this critical leadership role,” Regents’ Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said. “His experiences in higher education leadership are deep and broad, and he has very effectively guided university systems that have many of the characteristics and strategic aspirations embedded throughout UT’s academic and health institutions. Moreover, he has enjoyed strong support from elected officials, students, and campus leaders in his previous posts, all of whom described him as someone they could count on in times of great opportunity and challenges.”

Under Texas state law, the university governing boards must name finalists for chancellor at least 21 days before making the appointment final.

The Austin American-Statesman reported last week that UNC System President Margaret Spellings’ name was floated for consideration.

On Sunday, Josh Ellis, Associate Vice President for Media Relations for the UNC system, denied reports that Spellings was ever a candidate for the position in Texas.

Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil and President Trump’s one-time Secretary of State, was another name on UT’s short list, according to published reports.

Spellings, became president of the UNC system in March of 2016, and has been focused in recent months on data modernization and talent retention among faculty and staff of the 17 campus UNC system.