Commentary

New report underscores false promise that North Carolina’s Achievement School District takeover plan is better than Tennessee’s

Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, is a chief supporter of the bill.

Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, is a chief supporter of the bill.

A new report from researchers at George Washington University provides a qualitative analysis of the reasons why Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) – that state’s efforts to turn around low-performing schools by handing the schools over to private charter operators – has failed.  The report, based on 140 interviews with leaders of the ASD and nine operators, identifies the myriad problems facing the Tennessee ASD schools in an attempt to explain why the schools have failed to come anywhere near approaching the goal of moving schools from the state’s bottom 5% to the top 25% within five years.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed its own version of the Tennessee program this past Session.  HB 1080 currently sits on Governor McCrory’s desk, awaiting his expected signature (see the North Carolina Justice Center’s letter to Governor McCrory urging the veto of HB 1080 here).  The bill, which would turn five low-performing North Carolina elementary schools over to private charter operators in the 17-18 school year, was shepherded through the General Assembly by Rep. Rob Bryan and Sen. Chad Barefoot.  Both assured fellow legislators that – unlike Tennessee – North Carolina’s ASD program will be successful due to unspecified “guardrails.”

But are there “guardrails” in North Carolina’s ASD program that will protect it from the pitfalls experienced in Tennessee?  Read more

Commentary

New “business-friendly” rankings: NC scored higher under Perdue than McCrory; HB2 holding us back

There are lots of good reasons to take the rankings of “top states for business” or “most business-friendly states” put out each year by various media outlets with huge grains of salt. The rankings are almost always packed full of subjective criteria, often fail to take into account the lives of real people and exist as much as excuses to sell online ads as they do to convey meaningful information. That said, the rankings always get a lot of attention and usually prove irresistible to politicians looking to brag.

Take, for example, today’s unveiling of “America’s Top States for Business” from the cable business network CNBC. North Carolina is ranked fifth in the new 2016 list (up from ninth last year) and Governor McCrory is already claiming full credit for the rise and citing it as validation of his policy agenda.

Here’s the thing, though: North Carolina has been ranked highly by CNBC throughout the 10 year history of the list. Indeed, the state averaged a slightly better ranking during the four years of Governor Bev Perdue’s administration (during which it averaged a ranking of 5.0 despite the devastating impact of the national Great Recession) than it has during the years of the McCrory administration (during which the average ranking has fallen to 7.75).

In addition, consider the following less-than-rosy take on the current environment in North Carolina from today’s release:

“This is North Carolina’s sixth appearance in our Top 5, with its best finish in 2011, when it ranked No. 3.

However, North Carolina was hit hardest in the Quality of Life category, where it landed in 30th place. The so-called bathroom law has drawn major criticism from business, and North Carolina is also one of only five states with no discrimination protections for non-disabled people using public facilities. Last year, North Carolina ranked at No. 9 on our list, and it had the potential to be higher this year, but the ‘bathroom bill’ controversy dragged down its ranking. (Emphasis supplied.)

And although job growth was healthy last year, unemployment remains above the national average at 5.1 percent. North Carolina’s individual income tax rate is 5.75 percent and the corporate tax is 5 percent. The state and local sales tax tops out at 7 percent and the largest employer in the state is Wal-Mart.”

The bottom line: To the extent the new rankings are valuable, they are hardly an endorsement of conservative policies. To the contrary, it’s clear that the state’s high score this year comes in spite of the policies of its elected leaders, their systematic under-investment in core public services and structures and the disastrous international publicity that they continue to attract.

Commentary

Racial diversity survives and thrives: The Supreme Court rules in United States v. Fisher

Supreme courtLast month, the United States Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy as constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause in Fisher v. University of Texas. The decision is a big win for proponents of admissions policies that foster racial and ethnic diversity in the university setting.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, held that “considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.” The Court determined that the race aspect of UT’s policy was really only “a factor of a factor of a factor” within UT’s extensive holistic approach to evaluating applicants. The court further ruled that the university’s objective of providing an academic environment that offers a “robust exchange of ideas, exposure to differing cultures, preparation for the challenges of an increasingly diverse work-force, and acquisition of competencies required of future leaders” is a compelling interest. As highlighted in the amicus brief filed in Fisher on behalf of 823 social scientists from 237 educational institutions and research centers across 44 different states, research shows that, compared to race-neutral policies, UT’s holistic admissions process better leverages the educational benefits of diversity, such as reducing isolation and stigmatization of admitted students and improving race relations by allowing for better cross-campus racial integration.

The decision provides somewhat of a legal framework for universities seeking to create a diverse education environment, but the court did note that the UT policy was unique compared to policies it has previously considered. For 75% of its admissions, UT uses a “Top Ten Percent” policy that does not take race into consideration at all—any student who graduates in the top ten percent of their high school class is guaranteed a spot at UT. The other 25% of applicants are evaluated through a “full-file” review, where race, as the court put it, is a “factor of a factor of a factor” within the holistic evaluation.

To what degree other universities’ policies need to mirror UT’s to be constitutionally permissible is a question still to be decided. However, the court did opine that “public universities . . . can serve as laboratories for experimentation” when attempting to strike the “sensitive balance” between the pursuit of diversity and equal treatment in the nation’s education system. Such language indicates that future challenges to admissions policies will likely be fact-intensive reviews of the policies and their effects on promoting diversity, but it also indicates that universities are afforded some lee-way in how they approach fostering racial diversity in the university setting.

Either way, the Court reaffirmed that race-conscious policies can strike an appropriate balance. Going forward, the decision will likely have a significant influence on the recent lawsuits brought against Harvard and the University of North Carolina regarding those schools’ admissions policies. The proceedings in those lawsuits were placed on hold until Fisher was decided. To what extent Fisher will influence those specific legal challenges remains to be seen. However, these cases may be the next round of litigation to reach the Supreme Court and provide further guidance to universities seeking to create a diverse education environment.

News

NC virtual charter operator disputes details of California court settlement

Virtual charter schoolsK12 Inc., a controversial for-profit, virtual charter operator running a school in North Carolina, is disputing the terms of a multi-million dollar settlement the company announced late last week with the California Office of the Attorney General.

As we reported Monday, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris touted a $168.5 million settlement with the company, which was accused of inflating student attendance and test scores in its California virtual schools.

From Harris’ statement:

“All children deserve, and are entitled under the law, to an equal education,” said Attorney General Harris. “K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction, and loading nonprofit charities with debt.  As my office continues an industry-wide examination of for-profit academic institutions, this settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements.”

As we’ve reported at Policy Watch, K12, along with British multinational education corporation Pearson, runs one of two publicly-funded virtual charters in North Carolina dogged by high withdrawal rates in its first year.

And virtual charters nationwide have been troubled by reports of poor academic performance, with a Stanford University study last fall finding that virtual charter students trail their traditional school students by as much as a full academic year.

The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., offered an extensive report on the California settlement here, detailing allegations that the operator “used deceptive advertising to mislead families about students’ academic progress, parents’ satisfaction with the program and their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission.”

The report added that California critics of K12 are hoping the settlement sparks state legislation banning virtual charters from operating publicly-funded schools.

However, K12 is claiming that both the attorney general’s office and The Mercury News are incorrectly stating the terms of that deal. According to Harris’ office, the settlement included an $8.5 million payment from the company, as well as $160 million in debt relief to the 14 nonprofit schools that the for-profit company runs in California.

In its release, K12 is packaging the agreement very differently. K12 says the settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing by the company.

And, according to the company, the deal includes a $2.5 million settlement with the state and $6 million in payments for the attorney general’s investigative costs.

From the K12 release:

“The Attorney General’s claim of $168.5 million in today’s announcement is flat wrong,” said Stuart Udell, K12’s Chief Executive Officer.  “Despite our full cooperation throughout the process, the Office of the Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the value of the settlement just as it did with regard to the issues it investigated.  There is no ‘debt relief’ to the CAVA schools.  The balance budget credits essentially act as subsidies to protect the CAVA schools, its students and teachers against financial uncertainties.  CAVA schools have not paid that money to K12 and K12 never expected to receive it given California’s funding environment.”

“K12 never accrued these balance budget credits on its financial statements, and the CAVA schools similarly never incurred financial statement liabilities,” Udell added.

Read more

Commentary

Editorials blast Berger’s latest shameless demagoguery on HB2

Phil BergerJust when you thought the defenders and architects of North Carolina’s disastrous LGBT discrimination law, HB2, couldn’t take things any lower, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has stepped up to the plate with a giant backhoe.

As editorials in the Charlotte Observer and Fayetteville Observer have rightfully highlighted in recent days, Berger has let fly with a new series of outrageous assertions and patently false claims in which he blames the illegal behavior of a fully male man who apparently entered a women’s restroom in Charlotte on — we are not making this up — Democratic opponents of HB2.

Here’s the Charlotte O:

“Phil Berger’s office wanted everyone to know about a Charlotte TV news report on a man who went into the women’s bathroom at the Seventh Street Public Market in uptown, alarming a female patron.

It appeared to be a standard case of a sexual deviant trespassing in the women’s restroom. But Berger said it was much more. He called it proof of how Charlotte’s much-debated non-discrimination ordinance lets a man avoid criminal charges for such an offense simply ‘by claiming he felt like he needed to use the women’s room that day.’

‘Roy Cooper, Jennifer Roberts, and anyone else actively fighting the common-sense bathroom safety bill needs to explain why they think what this man put this woman through in a Charlotte bathroom this week should be legal,’ Berger said in the news release.”

As the editorial went on to explain, Berger’s statement was an utterly outrageous crock of B.S. This morning’s Fayetteville O puts it this way:

“Phil Berger ought to be ashamed. But we doubt that he is. Playing to people’s worst fears and prejudices is working out pretty well for him. Why stop now?

The state Senate leader jumped on a story from Charlotte last week, about a woman who went into a restaurant bathroom and found a men in the next stall, apparently doing lewd things. She and her husband alerted building security officers and the man was later arrested and charged with indecent exposure.

That should have been the end of the story, and it would have been, save for resolution of the case in court.

But Berger had his press aide launch a release that said this is the kind of behavior Attorney General Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts are encouraging by opposing House Bill 2 and by backing measures that would let transgender people use the restrooms of their choice.

Never mind that the man in the stall was dressed in running shoes, shorts and a T-shirt, was clearly living his life as a male, was definitely not transgender, and was arrested under the appropriate statute.

But hey, what are a few little details when you can rile people up – and gain support for a misbegotten law – by pandering to irrational fears and ignorance?”