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Tennessee’s education commissioner has ordered the closure of a struggling K12, Inc.-operated online school, as lawmakers here at home debate a budget proposal that could pave the way for K12 to finally set up shop in North Carolina.K12 logo

Tennessee Virtual Academy began operating in 2011 and struggled to produce positive academic results from the get go, according to The Tennessean. Three years of low student growth at the K12-managed school prompted Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, to order the school’s closure at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

K12, Inc. has a history of producing low performance and graduation rates across the country, most recently prompting the NCAA to announce that it will no longer accept coursework from 24 virtual schools that are affiliated with the company.

The company has also been compared to subprime mortgage lenders, pulling in and churning out a disproportionate amount of students who are not well prepared for the online learning model–all in the name of big profits from taxpayer budgets.

A spokeswoman for K12, Mary Gifford, told members of a study committee considering virtual charter school options here in North Carolina that the poor results simply reflect the fact that their company tends to attract low performing students, and the home-based system of education can do little to help that demographic.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group in February. “Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

K12, Inc. has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to land in North Carolina, and is currently waiting on the state Supreme Court to hand down a decision on their appeal to open a virtual charter school in the state.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have acted on the recommendations of a virtual charter school study committee and have inserted language into the proposed 2014 budget to direct the State Board of Education to establish a Virtual Charter School Pilot Program, which would authorize the operation of two virtual charter schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

The provision would allow the virtual charters that show positive academic outcomes to become permanent institutions at the discretion of the State Board, without having to go through a formal application process.

There does not appear to be criteria set forth in the proposed legislation for how the State Board of Education should vet and select the two virtual charter schools that would take part in the pilot program.

Notably, at least 90 percent of all teachers employed by the virtual charter schools must reside in North Carolina.

To read the virtual charter school study committee’s report to the legislature, click here.

To read the language for a virtual charter school pilot program in the state budget proposal, click here and read section 8.35.

North Carolina’s public universities can’t keep turning to tuition revenues to fund need-based aid for lower-income students, a move could lessen how much aid is available for coming classes and lead some to take on more student loans.

The university system’s Board of Governors unanimously passed a four-year tuition proposal Friday that puts a 15 percent cap on how much tuition money schools can use for need-based aid to help lower-income students.

The need-based aid proposal also freezes the dollar amount that goes to need-based aid at five campuses that are at or exceed the 15 percent mark – Elizabeth City State University ($470,584), Fayetteville State University ($328,869), N.C. State University ($7.3 million)and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ($19.1 million) and Winston Salem-State University ($190,089). Read More

Bettina Vinson has driven a school bus in Wake County for 17 years, and when she learned that after years of frozen pay she would receive a $500 raise according to the budget proposal state legislators are debating now in Raleigh, she was shocked.

“It was like a slap in the face,” said Vinson.

Lawmakers have included in their 2014 budget proposal a $1,000 raise for most public employees, but non-teaching public school workers – teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other non-certified and central office staff—will only see a $500 salary increase, if lawmakers pass the budget as it is currently written.

“Why are the N.C. State bus drivers, who are doing the same job and are driving older kids who are easier to manage getting a $1,000 pay raise when we’re driving small kids and doing the same work they are doing and getting $500?” said Vinson.

“I think it’s wrong because what people are not realizing is that we are the first ones that these children see in the morning,” said Vinson. “And we set the tone for the teachers. Sometimes you have kids who’ve had nothing to eat, and I buy food to keep on the bus because you know the ones who get on the bus without breakfast or supper the night before, and so I feed them.”

So far, not one lawmaker who has had a hand in crafting the budget proposal has explained why public school employees are getting the shaft. Read More

Last week’s unanimous Fourth Circuit ruling in King v. Burwell, upholding the availability of Affordable Care Act tax credits to health insurance purchasers on both state exchanges and the federal exchange, may be heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yesterday, attorneys for challengers to that ruling filed a petition asking the high court to take the case next term.

Read the full petition here.

 

 

The notion that the state should have a three-judge panel at the trial court level to decide constitutional challenges to state laws was the brainchild of the Senate, appearing in its budget back in May.

Although the House had no similar language in its draft budget, the provision is back in the latest (and supposed final) budget which the Senate approved twice during the last 24 hours and is now before the members of the House.

If the House passes the budget with the three-judge panel provision included and the governor signs it into law, North Carolina will be the one and only state in the country with such a provision, as Bill Raftery at Gavel to Gavel reported here.

“No state provides for a mandatory three judge panel at the trial level for constitutional challenges to state laws,” he said.

We wrote back in early June that the impaneling of three-judge trial courts to decide any and all constitutional challenges to state laws was just a bad idea — one that had been rejected elsewhere as often unworkable and unnecessary.

And judges at the appellate level disliked them because of the provision — as is included in the current proposal here — making decisions from the panels directly appealable to the Supreme Court.

As one federal judge in western North Carolina wrote in 1995, when referring to similar panels at the federal level:

The legislative history of the repealing bill shows a thorough dissatisfaction with the operation of three-judge courts, finding the procedure to be confusing and inefficient. The Senate report states that “three-judge court procedure has recently been termed by one scholar, `the single worst feature in the Federal judicial system as we have it today.’ It has imposed a burden on the Federal courts and has provided a constant source of uncertainty and procedural pitfalls for litigants. 

Here’s more from our earlier post :

Judges didn’t like them. And it became increasingly difficult to empanel three judges.

“Consuming the energies of three judges to conduct one trial is prima facie an egregious waste of resources,” David Currie, then a professor at University of Chicago Law School wrote years before the repeal.

Supreme Court justices didn’t appreciate lawmakers interfering with the Court’s long-held discretionary right to select the cases worthy of review. And they felt inundated by the number of appeals they were required to hear because of the automatic direct appeal.

“Members of the court were very vocal about it in the 60s and 70s,” Solimine said. “Warren Burger and others were just openly hostile to the three-judge courts because of the mandatory appeal aspect and they unabashedly urge Congress to modify the statute.”

And many people thought the three-judge courts had become unnecessary, he added. The single-judge district court and ordinary avenues of appeal worked fine for most constitutional challenges.

For litigants, working their cases through the courts proved more troubling.

Upon the filing of a lawsuit, a single district court judge determined whether the case was properly in federal court and whether it otherwise fit the parameters for assignment to a three-judge panel.

As pointed out by scholars, those initial rulings set in motion an appellate review process that played out in a number of confusing ways and led at times to inconsistent results.

What if the initial judge was mistaken? What if similar judges across the country were ruling differently? And where did an appeal of those initial rulings go – to the Circuit Court of Appeals, to a three-judge panel, or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Similar problems exist with the proposed North Carolina law, which will require a judge to determine initially whether a case presents “a challenge to the validity of an act of the General Assembly on its face” before any transfer to a three-judge panel.

That may be a larger number of cases than the senators anticipate, given that, as the state bar noted in its statement opposing provisions of the senate budget, constitutional challenges often arise in suits between private citizens too, not just in direct lawsuits against the state.

How will “on its face” be determined? Does that mean simply any case that crosses the clerk’s desk alleging that a state law is unconstitutional? Or does that mean the more nuanced constitutional interpretation of a “facial” as opposed to an “as applied” challenge?

Solimine suspects even that initial determination might breed confusion and litigation.

“If it does pass, North Carolina’s bill will probably suffer some of the same problems as occurred in the federal system,” he said, “leading some people to ask, as they did with that system, “Is this really necessary?”