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slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

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News

Just weeks after passage of a bill that allows publicly-funded charter schools to hide the salaries of their for-profit education management companies’ employees, State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey requested all charter school boards to disclose the salaries of their for-profit operators by September 30, or face the possibility of being shut down.

In a letter requested by Cobey to all charter school boards dated August 13, N.C. DPI’s CFO Philip Price explains that the new legislation, SB 793 or “Charter School Modifications,” does not change the fact that charter schools must abide by North Carolina’s Public Records Act as well as requirements set forth in their charters that demand them to disclose all employees’ salaries associated with the operation of their schools – whether they be employed by for-profit companies or not.

“After we looked at the law with lawyers, they ensured me it was our [the State Board of Education] authority to ask all charter schools, even for-profit education management organizations, to send all the salary info to us,” said Cobey.

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Uncategorized

Governor McCrory approved a controversial charter schools bill today that some had speculated might be the only veto of the 2014 session. As NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner reported last week in a story entitled “Less transparency, fewer protections hallmarks of latest charter school legislation,” the bill provides a means for supposedly public charter schools to keep compensation paid to employees secret and opens the door to discrimination against LGBT students.

In his signing message, McCrory said that the salary secrecy issue had been adequately addressed  in the bill.

“I am pleased the Legislature responded to my concerns and required full transparency for the names and salaries of all charter school teachers and employees. I have also asked Chairman Bill Cobey and members of our State Board of Education to ensure that contracts with private entities also provide transparency on salaries and other personnel information. Consistent with the State Board of Education’s authority to oversee the successful operations of public charter schools, Chairman Cobey has assured me that he will direct agency staff to collect information from charter schools, including all financial and personnel records, necessary to achieve that goal.”

As Wagner’s story noted, however, the Governor may be missing an important point:

“The bill, SB 793 Charter School Modifications, stipulates that the salaries of charter school teachers and those who sit on charter schools’ non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure.

But many charter schools in North Carolina contract with for-profit companies that manage them—and the salaries of the employees of those private organizations would not be required to be made public.”

Not surprisingly, the Governor left the issue of discrimination against LGBT children completely unaddressed in his signing statement.

Read the rest of Wagner’s story – including critiques of the bill by various experts – by clicking here.

Uncategorized

Last week, I wrote about a bill that the General Assembly passed that would allow private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

That bill, SB 793, or ‘Charter School Modifications,’ also ended up with no protections for LGBT students at charter schools, even though an earlier version of the legislation did have that language in there.

So where’s the bill now? It’s currently waiting on Gov. McCrory’s signature, who has until Friday to sign it.

Previously he said he’d veto any bill that shielded charter school employees’ salaries from the public eye, but last we’ve heard from Gov. McCrory, he was working with his legal counsel to review just how good (or bad) a job this legislation does at keeping charter schools as transparent as their traditional public school counterparts.

Recently, eastern North Carolina charter school operator and profiteer Baker Mitchell has pushed back hard against having to disclose the salaries of his charter school employees, repeatedly batting away requests from local media and the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

He is also a frequent campaign contributor, having given $8,000 to Gov. McCrory’s campaign and $5,000 to Sen. Jerry Tillman, a principal sponsor of S793.

Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board and has a heavy hand in steering state-level charter school policy, submitted his resignation for his board seat to Senator Phil Berger last week, citing time constraints associated with too many commitments.

Along with fellow Board member Paul Norcross, who also submitted his resignation with a much more colorful letter, Mitchell has been a target of recent ethics complaints (see here and here), though no violations of state ethics law have been confirmed.

Stay tuned as we track this legislation.

Uncategorized

Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) sent a letter on Monday to Gov. Pat McCrory, asking him to veto legislation sent to him last week by the General Assembly that allows private, for-profit charter school operators to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds. 

“While this bill requires that charter schools disclose the salaries of direct employees, including teachers, it creates a dangerous loophole that would allow Charter School Management Companies to take advantage of taxpayer funds by hiding payments to the very people and entities for which disclosure is most necessary,” Cotham wrote to McCrory.

Governor McCrory has previously said he would veto any legislation that shielded charter school salaries’ from the public eye.

“I still share my previous concerns with transparency for charter schools, not just for teachers, but for board members and all employees. Lawyers are currently reviewing the interpretations of this new law and I won’t take action on the legislation until we have a clear interpretation on transparency,” McCrory said in a statement last Friday.

Rep. Cotham delivered an impassioned plea to fellow House lawmakers last week to reject SB 793, ‘Charter School Modifications’. Not only did the bill suddenly contain a provision that shielded the salaries of charter school staff who are employed by the parent for-profit company of a school, it also jettisoned an earlier version of the bill that contained protections for LGBT students.

The additional provision to SB 793 comes following months of fighting between prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., and local media outlets that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools—teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy. Mitchell has refused to disclose his for-profit employees’ salaries.

In addition to operating four charter schools in eastern North Carolina, Mitchell is also deeply involved in charter school politics at the state level. He sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, which approves and monitors new charter schools across North Carolina. 

Mitchell has also given thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph), a key proponent of charter schools.

In her letter to McCrory, Rep. Cotham asked McCrory to keep his word about transparency.

“Now is not the time to play politics, to play word games, or to only listen to donors. Now is the time for ethical leadership and for unwavering commitment to the principles you earlier said you support. I call on you to keep your word and veto this bill.”