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.

Education

Charlotte Learning Academy leader “seeing red” over comment comparing graduates’ video to ‘dirt sandwich’

Charlotte Learning Academy leaders left Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting visibly shaken and “seeing red” over a comment made by Steven Walker, vice chairman of the Charter School Advisory Board, who awkwardly compared ­­videos from former students of the struggling charter school to a marketing strategy that can make a “dirt sandwich” look good.

“I’m not trying to compare the school to a dirt sandwich or anything like that but what I’m saying is that if you market something you can make it look real good,” Walker said.

The Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) has recommended that Charlotte Learning Academy’s (CLA) charter not be renewed due to poor academic performance. The school serves mostly at-risk, economically disadvantaged students in grades 6-12 who find it difficult to succeed in a traditional school setting.

Successful graduates, some now in college and others serving in the military, made videos to share their CLA experiences with members of the State Board of Education (SBE). The SBE is expected to decide Thursday whether to close the school.

During an interview, CLA Principal Stacey Rose appeared on the verge of tears.

“Did you hear what he said,” Rose asked? “He compared them [students] to dirt sandwiches.”

Rose’s husband, Andre Rose, who sits on the school’s Board of Directors, said CLA will make a complaint to the SBE about Walker’s choice of words.

“If that’s the view, then the fix was in by the time we showed up here,” Rose said. “The kids who sent those videos sent them from college or from the military, which further shows the point that we’re reaching our goals.”

When asked about Walker’s comment, SBE member James Ford called it “inelegant and dehumanizing.”

“There are certainly better ways to communicate,” Ford said.

Nearly 20 CLA parents, teachers and other supporters attended Wednesday SBE meeting. Many of them appeared stunned after Walker made his “dirt sandwich” remark.

The CSAB made a strong case against renewing CLA’s charter during last month SBE meeting.

Walker noted then that only 17.9 percent of the school’s 260 students were proficient on state tests last year, the school has been rated an “F” school five consecutive years and students only met expected growth once in five years.

He continued to make a case against charter renewal on Wednesday.

“I’m sure the passion is there for the school,” Walker said. “I’m sure there are good people at the school who want to see the school succeed. They’re just not getting it done.”

Walker said he is concerned that if CLA is allowed to continue to operate, it will be difficult to shut down any charter, regardless of performance.

Despite its academic struggles, Charlotte Learning Academy [CLA] has a 73 percent, four-year graduation rate and a 93.5 percent, five-year graduation rate, which is slightly higher than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Andre Rose said CLA narrowly missed its growth marks, and noted that few charters have been closed after five years due to students’ academic performance.

“They were given the opportunity to continue to grow and meet some of the challenges they had,” Andre Rose said.

CLA leaders acknowledged the school’s academic struggles. They have requested a three-year charter renewal.

“We asked for time to pull it together,” Stacey Rose said. “I know Mr. [Steven] Walker stated that there are schools out there like ours, serving students like ours who are getting A’s and achieving, but those schools have been opened pretty much 20 years and they were not that way in the beginning.”

Ford asked if CLA could be considered for what is essentially a charter for alternative schools, a designation that would allow the school to remain open under a different accountability a model.

Walker said CLA does not qualify for the alternative school designation.

Education, NC Budget and Tax Center

New report: Legislation to address NC’s school building crisis would only begin to address school facility needs

North Carolina lawmakers are debating two proposals that would direct state money to fund long overdue public school construction needs, but both fall short of offering sustainable solutions for the state, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center. Ultimately, rolling back tax cuts made in the last several years could completely address the state’s school building needs without undermining funding for education.

“Where students learn matters for their educational outcomes,” said Kris Nordstrom, Senior Policy Analyst with the Justice Center’s Education & Law Project and co-author of the report. “Leaving children to learn in unhealthy, unsafe environments will have a negative impact on their well-being now and in the future as well as our state’s educational goals.”

North Carolina has a massive backlog in needed investments such as school construction and repairs, the report said, across a range of projects in communities facing very different demographic and fiscal challenges. Rapidly growing populations in some urban parts of the state drive needs for construction, while economically struggling communities lack the tax base to fix aging and dilapidated school buildings.

Moreover, the state of our schools is a self-inflicted wound, the report said, due to tax cuts passed by lawmakers since 2013, which have reduced state revenues by approximately $3.6 billion per year. Between changes to the corporate income tax and failures to deliver on promised education lottery funding, lawmakers have diverted nearly $2.5 billion from school construction funding since 2006.

“Even compared to the depths of the Recession, North Carolina schools today have fewer teachers, assistant principals, instructional support personnel, teacher assistants, and supplies,” Nordstrom said. “Had leaders chosen a different path that did not undermine state funding, we could have kept pace with both school construction and operating needs.”

Read the full report.

The new legislation proposed to help close these gaps – House Bill 241 (which would issue bonds to fund school capital needs) and Senate Bill 5 (which earmarks General Fund revenue to public school capital) – differ in how they would pay for increased school construction but share two common features: Read more