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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.

Commentary

A lot of people are justifiably outraged at the House budget provision that gives $1 million (and delegates public duties) to the conservative school privatization lobby group, Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina (PEFNC). As Rep. Rick Glazier — who tried to amend the budget to shift the money to fund teacher assistants — said yesterday (as reported by Raleigh’s News & Observer):

“This is the first time that I believe in the history of the legislature that we’ve done what this is asking. We’re giving $1 million of taxpayers’ money to an entity to then choose the charter schools to fund. … It is not our job to take away public funds and give them to a private entity to make public decisions.”

In addition to the idea of giving public money to a right-wing lobby group, however, the whole thing is rendered even more remarkable by the circumstances that surround PEFNC’s employment of its executive director, Darrell Allison. Mr Allison, who, according to his group’s website, directs a staff of five, including himself, brings home quite a handsome — even stunning — salary. As Lindsay Wagner reported in January in 2014:

“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.”
A check of the PEFNC Form 990 tax return for 2013 reveals that his compensation for that year was $167,085. The 2014 report is not yet available. By way of comparison, Gov. Pat McCrory’s salary is $142,265 and State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson’s is $125,676.
News

WBTV reported Monday that thanks to a loophole in state law, dozens of school buses serving students at charter schools in the Charlotte area go uninspected, prompting serious safety concerns.

State law only requires that charter schools ensure transportation isn’t a barrier to a student attending their school. There is no requirement to offer transportation services.

Because of that, charter school administrators said, the state does not provide any money for transportation.

Public schools, on the other hand, are provided buses for student transportation to and from school. Those buses also come with state-supported maintenance. Along with that funding from the state come requirements that each public school bus be inspected every 30 days.

Unlike public schools, charter schools are not required to conduct any inspections on their buses and there are no standardized maintenance requirements. Despite that, NCDPI offers free courtesy inspections to all charter schools once a year.

In spite of the fact that courtesy inspections are provided, only two of the twelve charter schools in the Charlotte area offering transportation took the state up on its offer.

Records examined by WBTV show that Sugar Creek Charter School has had repeated issues with the safety of its school buses.

There are nearly 150 charter schools statewide, none of which are required to comply with any safety standards when it comes to busing students.

Read the full story from WBTV here.