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School-vouchers1. State’s highest court upholds school voucher program despite lack of accountability and standards

In a 4-3 decision that defies principles of accountability to taxpayers and students alike, the elected Republican justices of the state Supreme Court today upheld a school voucher program that allows taxpayer dollars to fund tuition for private schools having virtually no obligation to provide North Carolina students with even a basic education.

Chief Justice Mark Martin, writing for the majority and joined by Justices Robert Edmunds, Paul Newby and Barbara Jackson, couched the opinion in terms of judicial restraint and deference to the legislature, saying that the court’s role was “limited to a determination of whether the legislation is plainly and clearly prohibited by the constitution.” [Continue reading…]

Tillman_edu2. Senate bill proposes ending DPI control of charter school oversight

Administration and oversight for public charter schools has been handled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for years — but Senator Jerry Tillman, a longtime supporter of charter schools, wants to change that.

“DPI was never in love…with charter schools,” Sen. Tillman (R-Randolph) said in a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday as he introduced to fellow lawmakers a gutted version of House Bill 334, which would transfer the Office of Charter Schools out of the Department of Public Instruction, placing it under the State Board of Education. [Continue reading…]

ff-723153. Still no urgency in Raleigh with budget almost a month late 

At first glance, it seemed like just another disturbing week at the General Assembly.

A Senate committee approved a plan to give homebuilders a tax break that will cost local governments millions of dollars a year, another Senate committee passed a bill to weaken the state’s already anemic gun laws, and another panel considered a proposal to block state environmental officials from developing plans to cut carbon emissions in response to forthcoming rules from the EPA.

That’s all sadly business as usual these days in the legislative halls. And it didn’t stop there. [Continue reading…]

budget-pie4. State government shutdown ahead? Budget office gets ready for possibility

A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.

The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.[Continue reading…]

wb-721B5. A $60 million rip-off
The state Treasurer combats a stunning money grab by the insurance industry

If there’s a single most maddening and nonsensical argument regularly advanced by the far right, so-called “free market” think tanks funded by the Art Popes and Koch Brothers of the world, it’s probably this: the ideology-over-common sense contention that the “genius of the market” makes most consumer protection laws unnecessary.

Whether it’s airplane pilot rest, meat inspections or 400% “payday” loans, it’s generally the position of the market fundamentalists that “the market” and “consumer choice” will pretty much take care of everything. Put bluntly, once a cut rate airliner or two goes down (or a few hundred folks contract salmonella or Mad Cow Disease) consumers will wise up and take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

News

Private charter school operators that include for-profit companies could be in line to inherit low-performing schools in North Carolina, prompting changes that could result in mass firings of teachers and staff at some of the state’s most struggling schools.

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg)

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg)

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) is pushing a bill that would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools out of their local school districts and put them into a state-controlled ‘achievement school district.’

This new achievement district would be able to fire all teachers and staff and enter into five year contracts with private charter school management companies to handle the schools’ operations.

“I don’t think perpetually failing schools are acceptable,” said Bryan, who described the draft proposal as a small pilot only open to charter school operators with experience in serving turnaround schools.

A draft version of the legislation that was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch is inserted into a gutted Senate Bill 95, which originally directed local boards of education to adopt performance-based reduction in force (RIF) policies.  (Read the new bill at the end of this post)

Modeled after similar efforts in Memphis, New Orleans and in other locales, the concept of an achievement school district has met considerable push back by teachers, politicians and the general public in those areas. [For more background, read my story from Wednesday titled “Is North Carolina next in line for New Orleans-style takeovers of failing schools?] Read More

News

Two charter schools hoping to open up shop in North Carolina in 2016 have abandoned partnering with a troubled management company that had planned to operate the schools, according to the News & Observer.

The questions surrounding Newpoint Education Partners [a Florida-based education management company] caused the State Board of Education earlier this month to refer Pine Springs Preparatory Academy in Wake County and Cape Fear Preparatory Academy in New Hanover County to an advisory board for further review. Both schools have since submitted letters announcing they’re severing relations with Newpoint, according to Adam Levinson, interim head of the state Office of Charter Schools.

At a meeting of the State Board of Education earlier this month, the applications of Cape Fear Preparatory (New Hanover) and Pine Springs Preparatory (Wake) were kicked back to the state advisory board that reviews charter school applications so that they could further investigate allegations and charges of grade tampering and other abuses at some of Newpoint’s Florida charter schools.

A formal investigation by the Florida State’s Attorney into these allegations resulted in criminal charges handed down in early June—just as the charter school management company had hoped to nose its way into doing business in North Carolina (for more background, click here).

Other findings of the school district’s own investigation included students not completing curricular requirements; numerous missing or incomplete academic records for the schools’ students; allowing the employment of an individual who had not passed a background check; and teachers drinking alcohol with students on a senior trip/cruise, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

See Cape Fear Preparatory’s letter explaining their intention to cut ties with Newpoint here, which outlines how the board plans to operate the school without the aid of an education management organization.

News

State lawmakers could soon decide to anoint pro-school privatization nonprofit Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) to distribute taxpayer dollars to new charter schools in the state, according to the Associated Press.

From the AP:

The budget proposal being considered by the General Assembly may break new ground in state spending by letting Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina decide which fledgling charter schools get a piece of $1 million a year, N.C. Center for Nonprofits vice president David Heinen said.

“This is probably unique to have a completely independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit having discretion without a lot of criteria,” said Heinen, citing the chapter of federal tax law describing charity and educational groups. “I don’t know of any other that is quite like this.”

If the Senate endorses what is currently a House proposal, PEFNC would be tasked with doling out up to $1 million annually in start-up funds for new charter schools (up to $100,000 each) to set up shop in geographic areas where charter schools are few in number.

When the House rolled out this idea earlier this year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern over the idea that a private group beholden to virtually no public oversight could be tasked with handing out taxpayer dollars.

Legislative efforts have attempted to direct similar responsibilities to PEFNC in years past.

In 2013, lawmakers proposed giving the nonprofit $1 million over two years to develop charter schools in rural parts of the state, but that measure did not pass. A similar bill was filed last year too, but also did not survive.

None of the taxpayer funds can go toward administrative or management fees, according to the current proposal. Darrell Allison, executive director of PEFNC, already receives a large compensation package that has has increased considerably over a short time.

In 2010, Allison received $107,889 for his work running the non-profit; in 2012, Allison reported an income of $156,582—a 45 percent pay increase in just two years. In 2013, his salary bumped up again to $167,085, according to tax records.

PEFNC has received millions of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation (owners of Wal-Mart) over the past several years. The Waltons are known for supporting education initiatives such as vouchers, charter schools and other privatization measures.

For more background on PEFNC, click here.

The Senate begins the process of rolling out their budget later today in committee meetings. I’ll be tweeting from Senate Ed at 4pm — follow me on Twitter @LindsayWagnerNC.

News

A day after lengthy discussion about how a significant number of charter school applicants recommended to set up shop in North Carolina were moved forward along with significant reservations about their ability to accomplish their proposed missions, the State Board of Education voted Thursday to approve 12 out of the 18 charter school hopefuls to open in the Fall of 2016.

The State Board rejected outright two charter school applicants, even though the Charter School Advisory Board had recommended they open — albeit in very close votes.

Town Center Charter School, which had hoped to open in Gaston County, was rejected over concerns that its for-profit education management organization, ALS, Inc. has a poor record in other states and could be stretched too thin by operating several charters at once in North Carolina.

Charlotte Classical School, which had hoped to open in Mecklenburg County, was rejected over concerns about its educational plan and weaknesses in its budget proposal.

The State Board decided to delay votes on four charter school applicants, sending them back to the Charter School Advisory Board for further review and investigation.

The applications of two charter schools that would be managed by the Florida-based EMO Newpoint Education Partners—Cape Fear Preparatory (New Hanover) and Pine Springs Preparatory (Wake)—were kicked back to the CSAB so that they could further investigate allegations and charges of grade tampering and other abuses at some of their Florida charter schools. (For more background, click here.)

The State Board also sent back two other charter school applications to the CSAB for further inquiry and evaluation. Those applications were for Capital City Charter High School (Wake) and Unity Classical School (Mecklenburg).

The twelve charter schools that the State Board of Education approved to open in the fall of 2016 are:

Cardinal Charter Academy at Knightdale (Wake)
Central Wake Charter High School (Wake)
FernLeaf Community Charter School (Henderson)
Gateway Charter Academy (Guilford)
Kannapolis Charter Academy (Cabarrus)
Leadership Academy for Young Women (New Hanover)
Mallard Creek STEM Academy (Mecklenburg)
Matthews-Mint Hill Charter Academy (Mecklenburg)
Mooresville Charter Academy (Iredell)
Peak Charter Academy (Wake)
Union Day School (Union)
Union Preparatory Academy at Indian Trail (Union)

Depending on the outcome of the four delayed charter school applications, North Carolina could see as many as 178 charter schools in operation by 2016.