Uncategorized

Major education nonprofit, North Carolina New Schools, to close, WRAL reports

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bSurprising news from WRAL today about a theoretically well-funded education nonprofit that is shutting its doors. 

The news station reports that North Carolina New Schools, a group that helps to train teachers and administrators across the state, will be closing, although no reason was provided.

From WRAL:

A spokeswoman for the group said it is a “difficult day” and that more information would be released this afternoon after conversations with staff.

On Thursday morning, NC New Schools’ President Tony Habit sent an email announcing that he resigned Wednesday after nearly 13 years as the organization’s founding president. WRAL News reached out to Habit, as well as other employees with the organization, but they have not responded.

NC New Schools is based in Research Triangle Park and has received millions of dollars in donations and federal grants since it began in 2003, including nearly $26 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a $20 million grant in 2014 and a $15 million grant in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Education.

Policy Watch has reached out to some supporters of the program, which is generally well thought of in the state. We’ll let you know when we learn more.

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Uncategorized

Virtual charter leaders dispute state’s attendance, testing data

virt-chartLeaders with North Carolina’s pilot virtual charter schools are disputing a report presented Wednesday to the N.C. State Board of Education that marked soaring dropout numbers and lower-than-expecting testing in the new programs.

Wednesday’s report counted withdrawal rates at both N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy at about 26 percent, an increase on the programs’ already troubled numbers we reported in January.

This week’s report also includes data that would seem to show the schools are not meeting state accountability standards either, at least as far as third-grade testing is concerned.

Tammy Howard, director of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) accountability division, reported both schools have a target this year of administering the Beginning of Grade 3 test to 95 percent of their students.

But Howard said N.C. Connections Academy tested just 105 of 140 students, about 75 percent, and N.C. Virtual Academy tested 134 of 147 students, or about 91 percent.

Both schools moved quickly to dispute the data, blaming incomplete calculations by the state, discrepancies between the school and the state’s enrollment records, and rapid fluctuations in enrollment for the problems.

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NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

NCGA reminded that many “business climate” rankings paint an overly rosy picture

Last Thursday, members of the Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee saw evidence that many “business climate” rankings overstate how well North Carolina is actually doing.Abernathy Slide - Rankings and Econ Performance

Respected economic expert Ted Abernathy, formerly the Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies board and now with Economic Leadership, an economic development and analysis consultancy, briefed the committee on a range of economic dynamics from growing wage gaps between urban and rural North Carolina to factors that influence our competitiveness on the global market.

Abernathy also examined how North Carolina’s economic performance compared with how we fared in several business interest group and media publications. This analysis shows that North Carolina’s economic performance has fallen short of its stature in many of the rankings. As can be seen in the graph, North Carolina is in the top 20% in performance (“Statistical Ranking”), but is a top 5 state in the “Best States” rankings. Our economy is doing better than many states, but not nearly as well as many state rankings would imply. Read more

News, Uncategorized

Atkinson: “We have used the facts” about charter schools

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Expect very little to change in the state’s controversial demographic assessment of North Carolina’s burgeoning charter school population if N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has her way.

Atkinson told Policy Watch Friday that, despite Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s objections this week to a report on the increasingly white charter population, her office has a responsibility to avoid massaging the data.

“I don’t see how (the report) could be different,” said Atkinson. “We have used the facts.”

During this week’s monthly State Board of Education meeting, Forest pulled a draft of an annual report on charter schools due for the N.C. General Assembly that included population statistics he deemed overly “negative.”

Included in the report, authored by DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, state staff noted that, while the charter student population is relatively similar to traditional public schools, they differ in a few major ways.

Most importantly, while traditional schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, charters are bucking the trend in North Carolina. More than 57 percent of the students in the state’s 158 charters are white, the report states, compared to more than 49 percent in traditional schools.

Additionally, only about 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, about half the percentage reported in traditional schools.

Also, over the last 15 years, North Carolina charters’ share of minority students has declined. In traditional schools, it’s the opposite, the report said.

This week, Adam Levinson, interim director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools, attempted to assure state board members that the report is purely data-driven, but Forest, a charter advocate, worried aloud that the media and charter critics would use the numbers to fuel opposition.

Atkinson, however, tells Policy Watch that the report used data pulled from the system’s accountability statistics, numbers used to report students’ academic growth rate and proficiency.

So what should we expect from a Forest-approved version of the charter report? Atkinson says she’s not sure.

She says Forest has yet to relay any information to her office about what he would like to see changed. However, she pointed out, state board member Becky Taylor, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, has asked each board member to send her their revisions for review next week, something certainly worth following.

Atkinson said she may suggest adding copies of the school systems’ accountability forms to the report in order to provide further confirmation of the data.

“We go the second mile of asking our schools to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the way it is. In the report our goal was actually to not have much of a narrative other than stating the facts. There are no policy recommendations.”

One other interesting point from the state report. Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charters in 2011, North Carolina has added another 58 operating charters, including two hotly-debated virtual charters, which seem to be facing a troubling dropout problem.

DPI staff expect to have a rewrite of their annual charter report prepared for the state board in February.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Top 10 state budget missteps in 2015

The 2015 year brought plenty of budget missteps on Jones Street—from another round of tax cuts to state investments that are mired at historic lows. Here’s a look at the top 10 missteps that state policymakers should address in 2016.

  1. State lawmakers once again chose to cut taxes that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations over meaningful levels of reinvestment. The tax plan will reduce revenue by $1 billion annually when fully implemented, cutting off pathways to greater economic success like early childhood development, public schools, and community economic development while also failing to boost the economy or create jobs.
  2. State lawmakers failed to restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which benefited nearly 1 million families and their 1.2 million children. Yet, they chose to expand the sales tax to new services like maintenance, repair, and installation, effectively further shifting the tax load onto middle- and low-income taxpayers.
  3. The 2015 tax changes make our tax system more upside-down by asking even more from people who are already struggling to pay the bills. Under full implementation of the tax package, the lowest income working families will end up paying a tax increase of $7, on average, whereas millionaires are the big winners again with a tax cut of more than $1,800 on average.
  4. This budget doesn’t address falling wages, just as the last two budgets failed to do. In 2013 an hour’s work in NC earned around $2.50 less than the national average; now that gap has grown to almost $3.00. Allowing the state’s lowest-income families to keep more of what they earn through an EITC is a key way to build a stronger economy, along with a higher minimum wage and collective bargaining rights, but legislators failed to restore the tax credit and raise the minimum wage.
  5. State investment is at historic lows. State lawmakers passed a budget that keeps state spending as part of the economy below the 45-year average. That would be fine if needs have shrunk but they’ve grown. State budgets typically allow spending to grow as the population grows and the economy changes, especially after an economic downturn when revenues plummet and services are frozen or cut.
  6. State investments break an unwelcome modern record as they remain diminished. Lawmakers passed a budget that caps off the only period since 1971 in which state spending declined as a part of the economy for seven and eight straight years while the economy itself grew. Continuing on a tax-cut path means there simply won’t be enough revenue left over to repair critical investments or to position our state to compete.
  7. Eight years later, state investment remains below pre-recession levels despite more children to educate, more older adults to care for, and more citizens to serve and protect. Such long-term disinvestments have translated into significant unmet needs for our state’s growing population—a shortage of K-12 textbooks, school nurses, and community services for older adults.
  8. This budget continues to hold us back from ensuring educational success for every child. For the current school year, lawmakers invested more per student compared to the 2015 fiscal year budget but well below 2008 pre-recession levels—nearly $500 less per student. This will cause real harm to the classroom and educational outcomes. The number of students in North Carolina schools has continued to increase since 2008, yet the amount of funding per student— and, therefore, the resources available to educate each student—has not been state lawmakers’ priority over tax cuts.
    • For example, textbook spending is below half its 2010 peak level, leaving some schools with outdated textbooks or with no textbooks at all.
  9. Continuing down a tax-cut path is deepening cracks in NC’s opportunity structure—and it has left several vital areas of public programs and services inadequate.
    • For example, lawmakers kept year-over-year spending flat for the pre-kindergarten program that serves at-risk 4-year olds. They failed to restore the more than 6,400 slots lost since 2009 or give opportunity to the 7,200 children stuck on the waiting list.
    • For example, tuition at community colleges rose for the seventh consecutive year to $76 per credit hour from $72—an 81 percent increase since 2009—increasing the likelihood of a college education being out of the reach of many.
  10. This tax-cut path—and the revenue losses that come with it—also mean that some investments are completely missing from the budget.
    • For example, there is no cost-of-living adjustment for retired public employees like former state troopers and teachers despite their shrinking purchasing power due to changes in the economy.
    • For example, there is no Medicaid expansion, which means lawmakers denied affordable health care to about 500,000 North Carolinians.
    • For example, there is no support to ensure that all rural communities have reliable high-speed internet access that is increasingly essential to participating in the global economy—which leaves struggling rural communities further behind urban areas.

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