House Education Committee backs bill to transform Innovation School District’s selection process

The state’s Innovative School District (ISD) would not get a new school this year under a bill backed by the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

But the school district created to turnaround low-performing schools would get a new school each of the next three years afterward, and more could be selected by the State Board of Education in subsequent years, if the bill becomes law.

The bill is a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) to Senate Bill 522, which initially made changes to state law affecting charter schools.

It has been revived as a vehicle to change the way ISD schools are selected, and how they operate.

The PCS, for example, changes the definition of a qualifying school. A school must be among the lowest 5 percent of Title 1 schools when it comes to school performance grades to qualify for the ISD.

The bill could help state officials avoid the messy ISD selection process that has led to boisterous protests in communities by first placing schools on a qualifying list, a watch list and warning list before it could be swept into the ISD.

State law currently requires officials to look at a school’s performance the past three years before it can be considered for inclusion in the ISD. The ISD superintendent shouldered much of weight of selecting a school, which was then sent to the State Board of Education (SBE) for approval.

The PCS calls for the SBE to automatically transfer the lowest performing school into the ISD from 2020-21 through the 2022-23 school.

It also called for a low-performing school to spend one year on a watch list and another on a warning list, and if the school is one of the five lowest qualifying schools on the warning list, the SBE would be required to transfer the school to the ISD.

But an amendment brought forward by State Rep. Ashton Clemmons, (D-Guilford), was approved that gives local school districts one more year to right the ship before being swept into the ISD.

Schools would first be placed on a qualifying list, then spend a year on a watch list, and another on a warning list if academic achievement doesn’t improve.

Clemmons noted that the extra year was included in House Bill 798, the House’s earlier attempt to transform the ISD selection process. The bill did not make it out of the Senate.

“When we are talking about schools and families and communities having the three-year process provides time for them to get their strategies in order, to get their interventions in order,” Clemmons said. “To do the work that needs to be done to turnaround a school, we know that research is very clear, it takes three years to show progress in turnaround efforts.”

State Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, (R-Wilkes). Co-chairman of the committee, said he had mixed feelings about the added year.

“There’s advantage and disadvantages to how we had it before,” Elmore said, referring to HB 798. “When you consolidate, the positive is that state level interventions can come quicker.”

Leeanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the N.C. School Board Association, said it’s important to give local education officials time to do the work needed to improve struggling schools.

“You’ve also demonstrated this in your budget,” Winner said. “You put in place a $30,000 bonus for principals to go to low-performing schools for three years. To only give them two of those three years to do that work seems not to fit together.”

The discussion about the proposed rules and administrative changes comes as the ISD looks for new leadership.

Former superintendent LaTeesa Allen’s last day on the job was June 28. N.C. Department Department of Public Instruction officials have not shared any details about Allen’s departure. She was appointed to the post only nine months ago.

Bruce Major, the principal of the ISD’s only school, Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County, also departed, effectively resigning July 1.


Commentary, Education

Editorial blasts ‘double standard’ on charter school accountability

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record (“Coddling charter schools”). In it, the authors do a fine job of summing up the way state lawmakers have allowed the charter school experiment to stray from its original stated goal of creating “incubators of innovation” and how they’re currently attempting to do even more harm. As the editorial notes:

“A bill passed by the state Senate would lower standards for charter schools, allowing them to operate even if their students are performing worse than children in traditional public schools. The bill says that charter schools should be renewed for 10 years unless the percentage of their students who are proficient on end-of-grade tests is more than 5 percentage points worse than students in the local district.

This continues an unacceptable double standard in accountability for charter schools. Remember, the premise was that charter schools would provide sound educations for their students while leading the way in innovative approaches that might be models for all schools. Instead, they would be allowed to fall behind and hurt the cause of education across the state.

If that’s not bad enough, the bill also would eliminate the enrollment cap on two struggling online charter schools, Connections Academy and North Carolina Virtual Academy. Both are virtual schools that have consistently received “D” grades on the state’s performance report cards for schools, and their students are not meeting growth expectations.

The editorial rightfully calls for rejection of the proposed changes and concludes this way:

It’s hard not to think that lowering standards and expanding charters is related to legislators’ support of vouchers that give parents tax dollars to send their children to private schools. Both programs give lip service to “choice,” and both have contributed to a disturbing resegregation of schools….

Charter schools were supposed to improve education across the state, not undermine it. And they certainly weren’t supposed to roll back the progress that’s been made over the last half century by helping to resegregate the schools.

This misguided bill should not become law.

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Senate bill would put the brakes on charter school expansion

State Sen. Dan Blue, (D-Wake), discusses Senate Bill 247 during a press conference on Wednesday.

After 25 years in the charter school business, North Carolina needs a “recess” from granting new charters while a proposed legislative committee studies their impact on traditional public schools, Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue said on Wednesday.

Describing himself as a strong supporter of charter schools, Blue said lawmakers must begin to hold charters accountable for how they spend public dollars.

Blue noted that state spending on charters grew from $16.5 million in 1997 to more than $580 million last year.

“When the legislature is directing that level of increased spending, it is our responsibility, first as legislators, but I think as protectors of the public purse, to make sure that those dollars are being spent wisely.”

Blue’s remarks came during a news conference Wednesday to discuss Senate Bill 247, which would prohibit the State Board of Education from granting final approval of any charter applications once the bill is approved.

SB 247 would also establish a 10-member Joint Legislative Study Committee to study the impact of charter schools on traditional public schools and student academic performance.

The SBE would presumably resume granting charters after the new committee issued its report and recommendations. Current charters in the pipeline would not be affected.

The bill’s primary sponsors are Blue and Senators Jay J. Chaudhuri (D-Wake) and Mujtaba Mohammed, (D-Mecklenburg).

Blue said state dollars available for education spending are at a premium due to Republican tax cuts that cost North Carolina $3.5 billion annually.

“So, now we have more schools vying for these resources and it’s our responsibility to make sure that every single public dollar that we spend, whether in education or elsewhere, is spent wisely,” Blue said. “Taxpayers expect it and students deserve it.”

Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools, said SB 247 makes several false assumptions.

She said charters already provide a “full accounting” of the state dollars they receive.

“These audits are conducted by an independent auditor approved by the Local Governance Commission and the findings must be published on the school’s website,” Dillingham said. “Schools that are considered non-compliant in any area are subject to potential closure.”

Dillingham said charter’s test scores are also readily available like those of traditional public schools.

She said SB 247 would deny families educational opportunities.

“There are over 50,000 students’ names on [charter school] waiting lists across the state,” Dillingham said. “These families are seeking an alternative to the public school assigned to them by their zip code.”

Christine Kushner, a member of the Wake County Board of Education, said her district passed through nearly $36 million year to area charters last year.

“That figure has been escalating,” Kushner said. “Last year’s increase alone was $5 million and there is no clear oversight for the spending of those local funds. That’s why I think we need a pause on charter school expansion so we can improve the oversight for these taxpayer dollars.”

When families enroll their children in charter schools, educational dollars follow them. They are passed to charters through local school districts.

Natalie Beyer, a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, said Durham County had the foresight to merge its predominately white county schools and majority black city schools in the 1990s.

“Sadly, North Carolina’s charter school legislation is recreating a new separate and unequal system in our community,” Beyer said.

Since the cap on charters was removed in 2011, the number of charters in Durham has grown to 14, including two virtual charter schools.

Beyer said the increase in charters has reduced the level of services Durham Public Schools can provide students.

“As a taxpayer, I’m concerned about the rapid expansion of charter schools across our state,” Beyer said.

The number of charters across North Carolina exploded to 184 after lawmakers lifted the cap. And over a 10 year span, enrollment increased by 200 percent.

In 2017-2018, charter school enrollment accounted for 6.6 percent – 100,986 — of the state’s 1.43 million students

This year, the number of students enrolled in charters climbed to 109,389, which is about 7.3 percent of the state’s 1.5 million students.

Of the $8.93 billion in state funding for public education, 6.5 percent — $580 million — was allotted to charter schools.

School districts in rural parts of the state have been particularly hard hit by the growth in charters.

In Granville County, for example, the school district was forced to close and consolidate schools after losing hundreds of students to area charter schools.

If SB 247 is approved, the new legislative study committee would exam and make recommendations on the following items:

  • The history of charter schools in North Carolina, including the original intention behind their authorization.
  • The impact of charter schools on local school administrative units and the benefits and harms of expanding charter schools.
  • Innovative ideas for improving local school administrative units.
  • Proposed transparency and accountability standards for charter schools, including, but not limited to, public audit procedures, compliance with open meetings laws, accessibility to meetings and minutes from the meetings of the boards of directors of charter schools.
  • Metrics used to measure academic success of students in charter schools and processes used to admit and reject students’ applications to charter schools.
  • Charter school student and teacher attrition rates and the impact of charter school student and teacher attrition on local school administrative units.
  • The extent to which charter schools are able to provide a sound basic education to their students and inhibit the ability of local school administrative units to provide a sound basic education to their students.
  • The State’s system of funding charter schools and a complete financial analysis of how State and local funds allocated to charter schools impact funds made available to local school administrative units.
  • The impact of the termination of a charter school’s charter on students.
  • The extent to which charter schools serve children with disabilities and students with other special needs.
  • The academic performance of all charter school students, as compared to students in local school administrative units, including children with disabilities.
  • The extent to which charter schools have an impact on segregation and racial isolation in local school administrative units and charter schools.
  • The extent to which charter schools employ best practices in teaching and administration.
  • Suspension and expulsion rates in charter schools as compared to local school administrative units.
Education, News

After backlash, North Carolina lawmakers give a reprieve to school targeted for takeover

After a swift backlash, North Carolina legislators approved a handful of changes to state law Thursday that would offer a reprieve to one struggling Wayne County elementary targeted for takeover by the Innovative School District.

The changes emerged from a conference report on a technical corrections bill approved Thursday by House and Senate lawmakers.

The bill is bound for Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, and it’s unclear whether or not the Democratic governor will sign off, given its inclusion of a controversial allowance for municipal charter schools — like those in the works in the Charlotte suburbs — to opt into the state’s retirement and health system.

Such an allowance clears a major hurdle for the prospective schools, which critics say will exacerbate segregation in Charlotte-area schools, already one of the state’s more divided districts.

Even if Cooper vetoes the bill, Republican lawmakers still hold a veto-proof majority, at least until the newly-elected members of the General Assembly take office in January.

This week’s revision to the Innovative School District law would appear to head off a confrontation with Wayne County school leaders, one of which would not rule out a lawsuit in an interview with Policy Watch this week.

Local district leaders blasted state officials’ process in selecting the school, Carver Heights Elementary, which would now be allowed to follow through on its application to join the state’s “Restart” program. Under the program, struggling schools can be cleared for charter-like flexibility.

This week’s bill also nixes a requirement that the ISD take over at least two schools by the 2019-2020 school year, potentially setting up an even busier Fall 2019 for the program. Under state law, the initiative would have to take over another four schools going into 2020-2021.

State leaders approved the program’s takeover of a Robeson County school last year.

Wayne County school leaders applauded the news Friday.

“The positive support from State Board of Education members and State legislators about Wayne County Public Schools improvement efforts currently underway at Carver Heights Elementary has been absolutely tremendous,” Wayne County Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said in a statement.

“We are extremely pleased with this legislation that is now on its way to the Governor’s Office. Our school district is highly appreciative of our local legislative delegation and the bi-partisan support that led to the passing of this legislation in both the House and Senate. Their actions speak volumes, and further affirm our district’s ability to change the academic trajectory of this school.”

The ISD was created by state lawmakers in 2016, potentially allowing charter operators to pilot operations in lagging traditional schools.

Education, News

Test scores in North Carolina public schools decline

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

This time of year is always a nervous one for North Carolina public school leaders.

With state testing results going public, K-12 officials will talk about their successes and their struggles. This week may focus on the struggles, though, with new testing results showing declines on state exams.

From The News & Observer:

Fewer North Carolina public school students passed state exams this year, with the decline increasing over time for students in third grade despite a state push to get young children reading at grade level.

New state results from the 2017-18 school year released Wednesday also show that the state’s 12-year streak of rising high school graduation rates has ended. But state leaders say the graduation results can’t be compared to previous years because of changes in how the rates are now calculated.

State education leaders pointed to positives Wednesday about how the majority of schools are meeting growth expectations on state exams and that the number of low-performing schools has dropped.

But the new test results also showed several areas of decline.

“We have some things to celebrate,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday. “We also have things that will make us pause and have concerns.”

Go to for a Charlotte Observer/News & Observer searchable database of results for every North Carolina public school. Results are also available at on the state’s website.

One example of a decline is how the percentage of students passing the state reading, math and science exams dropped to 58.8 percent in the 2017-18 school year. It was 59.2 percent the previous school year.

Even when the drop is small, Johnson said it still reflects that a lot of students declined. He said state test results seem to be plateauing.

“When we dig into the data, we see that some results go up, some results go down,” Johnson said. “But consistently the trend is that we are not where we want to be for students.”

An area where the scores seem to be going in reverse is performance of third-grade students on the state’s end-of-grade reading exam. State legislators created the Read To Achieve program in 2012 with the goal of trying to get students proficient in reading by the end of third grade.

The passing rate on the third-grade reading exams is now at 55.9 percent. It was at 60.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year and 57.8 percent in the 2016-17 school year.

Johnson said he hopes that efforts he’s pushed for such as reallocating state Read To Achieve funding to buy supplies and iPads for K-3 literacy teachers and reducing the amount of required assessments will improve performance.

It’s worth debating whether devices alone will make a difference. Recent research suggests the jury’s still out. 

Johnson’s iPad purchase has also been mired in controversy. As Policy Watch reported last week, the purchase came months after the superintendent and influential state budget leaders had their expenses, including dinner and lodging, paid for by Apple reps at their Silicon Valley headquarters.

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