News

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction received 40 applications this month to open up new charter schools in 2016, down from last year’s applicant pool of 71.

N.C. Office of Charter Schools director Joel Medley acknowledged the applicant numbers are down this year.

“It may be the application fee was raised from $500 to $1000. It may be that the timeline was moved forward a couple of months. It may be that some groups are waiting to submit using the new Fast Track Replication process,” Medley told N.C. Policy Watch, adding that he couldn’t give an accurate reason for why the numbers are fewer this time around.

Fourteen of this year’s applicants (click here for a spreadsheet listing the applicants) have indicated they plan to contract with education management organizations (EMO). For-profit EMOs were thrust into the spotlight during last summer’s legislative session, when the General Assembly approved legislation that allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

At least ten of the forty applicants are re-submissions from prior years, Medley told N.C. Policy Watch.

According to the Office of Charter Schools, there are currently 148 charter schools in North Carolina—a figure that expanded quickly when lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on how many charter schools could operate in the state back in 2011.

But last year, the pace of charter school approvals slowed down considerably. While the State Board of Education approved 23 charter schools to open in 2013 and 27 schools to open in 2014, only 11 out of 71 applicants were green-lighted to open in 2015, a figure that prompted a heated debate between Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) members tasked with reviewing the applications.

According to the Charlotte Observer, CSAB board member Alan Hawkes of Greensboro emailed his fellow members to chastise them for being “judgmental and punitive” in rejecting plans that would have expanded charter school enrollment.

“The plan was to have operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity,” said Hawkes, a founding board member of two Guilford County charter schools run by the for-profit National Heritage Academies. Hawkes also indicated that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Reviewers of charter school applications may prove to be more cautious now, in light of the fact that a few charter schools have abruptly closed thanks to poor financial management and other governance problems.

Most recently, Concrete Roses STEM Academy in Charlotte shut down 20 days into the school year. The school had its funding frozen by the state after the school failed to submit required financial forms. The school’s sudden closure left families of the school’s 126 students scrambling to find new schools, while taxpayers likely lost the $285,170 the school already withdrew from the state’s coffers.

For some who wish to open a charter school in North Carolina, there’s still another option for submitting applications for 2016. Thanks to legislation passed last summer, a fast-track process has been put in place for successful charter schools wishing to replicate themselves and for charter chains wishing to expand their presence in the state. The State Board of Education must adopt rules for the fast-track replication process no later than December 15, 2014.

Commentary

Some seats still remain for tomorrow’s Crucial Conversation luncheon - “Dirty money, dirty water: The end of judicial campaign public financing in North Carolina.”

The event will feature Billy Corriher, the Director of Research for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., where his work focuses on state courts and the influence of political contributions on judges.

Corriher will be joined by Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies and one of North Carolina’s best-known muckrakers. When: Tuesday, September 30, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

News

Supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t officially open its new term until Monday October 6, but the justices are already at work, opening this week with two items of interest:  an Ohio-based voting law challenge that’s before Justice Elena Kagan on an emergency petition for a stay, and a conference scheduled for this morning to review several petitions for review on same-sex marriage.

At issue in the Ohio case is a recent law cutting back early in-person voting from thirty-five to twenty-eight days, barring voting on most Sundays in the coming weeks and eliminating voting in the early evening on any day.

A federal district court and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both found those voting changes unconstitutional, and the state is now asking the nation’s highest court to stay those rulings pending a review of the underlying merits — the upshot of which would be curtailed voting under the new law for the upcoming elections there. A decision is expected any time from Justice Kagan, who is the justice assigned for emergency relief in the Sixth Circuit.

A similar path is likely ahead for North Carolina’s challenged voting law, which is under review by the Fourth Circuit.  A decision on whether voting changes here will be in effect for the upcoming election is also expected at any time and then will head on an expedited basis to the Supreme Court, to be reviewed by Chief Justice John Roberts, who presides over requests for emergency relief from the Fourth Circuit.

For more on the Ohio case, read here.

Also before the court in conference today are seven petitions for review of lower court decisions on same-sex marriage — including three from the Fourth Circuit’s decision tossing Virginia’s marriage ban.

To read more about those petitions and the likelihood of the Court taking a same-sex marriage case this term, read here.

Commentary

As reported here and on several other news sites in recent days (click here and here), the conservative, win-at-all-costs ideologues over at the Koch-Pope group, Americans for Prosperity, have been distributing misleading voter registration materials in recent days. A Charlotte Observer editorial over the weekend charitably described the situation this way:

With all the confusion around controversial new N.C. voting laws – laws being challenged in court that could be stayed before the November election – voters didn’t need a partisan group mucking up things even more. But that’s what has happened.

According to the N.C. Board of Elections, Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative group, has created quite a headache by sending out incorrect voter registration information, including what was dubbed an “official” voter registration form. But the form was fraught with errors and conflicting information, including the deadline to register, whom to send voter registration information to, and who answers queries about voter information.

The State Board of Elections says it has received hundreds of complaints from people receiving the forms. “It’s caused a lot of confusion,” said Joshua Lawson, a public information officer for the board. He noted that the board of elections works with political groups to prevent just this kind of misinformation, but Americans for Prosperity didn’t contact the board about the mailings.

The paper went on to say that the least the Koch-Popers could do is apologize, but true to form, the conservative crusaders are unrepentant. On Friday, the group issued a statement saying it “stands behind” the misleading and deceptive effort.

Of course, if you think about it, such a stance makes sense. If Americans for Prosperity started apologizing for every deceptive or misleading thing it produced, the group wouldn’t have much time to do anything else.

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This week the Budget & Tax Center released a new report on North Carolina’s 2015 fiscal year budget. While other states across the country are beginning to reverse the worst cuts made during the Great Recession, North Carolina continues to underfund crucial public investments in order to pay for tax cuts that took effect this year. Lawmakers failed to provide a high-quality education for all children, protect natural resources, support community-based economic development, or provide adequate health and human services to North Carolina residents.

Under the final budget, state investments are 6.6 percent below pre-recession levels five years into the official economic recovery. The new budget for the 2015 fiscal year is the 7th budget enacted since the Great Recession hit, and North Carolina has yet to bounce back to its pre-recession investment level. This is in contrast to spending during previous economic recoveries – spending did not dip after the 1981 and 2001 recoveries and state lawmakers restored investments to the levels that were in place when the 1990 recession hit within three years. Read More