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After hours of anticipation yesterday as a bill lingered on a House Rules committee agenda that could allow for-profit charter school operators to takeover some of North Carolina’s worst performing schools, Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) told the Charlotte Observer Thursday night that his proposal won’t be taken up by fellow lawmakers this year.

Bryan, a Mecklenburg Republican with a leadership role in education, said in August that he planned to introduce a bill that would force five of the state’s lowest-scoring schools to close or convert to independently run charter schools. But he said Thursday that prolonged work on the budget squeezed out time to deal with the bill in the House education committee.

He said the new plan is to have a House select committee study the proposal and hold public meetings early in 2016, with a vote in next year’s short session. That would still allow schools to reopen as charters in 2017-18, he said.

The plan to create an ‘achievement school district’ (ASD) has been tried in similar ways in Tennessee, Louisiana and elsewhere. It’s a controversial way to attempt to improve student success at low-performing schools because it allows charter operators to fire public school teachers and staff and implement their own curricula and governance standards that are not overseen by locally elected school boards.

And the data don’t paint a clear picture of success in other locales where ASDs have been tried.

NC Policy Watch also uncovered out of state ties to pushing the ASD legislation. A wealthy Oregon businessman who has a history of pushing school privatization initiatives around the country financed lobbying efforts for the bill.

Proponents of the bill say the status quo isn’t working for disadvantaged students, and efforts like an achievement school zone where charter operators can pull up low-performing schools should be considered.

Rep. Bryan worked on his legislation with various stakeholders behind closed doors, producing 40+ versions of the proposal before it would have made it to a public hearing this week.

But Bryan says many politicians and educators weighed in on the idea to create a charter school takeover district.

“It’s been way more vetted than most other bills we do,” he said Thursday.

For more background on ASD, check out the following stories:

News

The controversial gutted-and-amended SB95, which has seen 40+ versions behind closed doors and would create a charter-managed Achievement School District comprising some of North Carolina’s lowest performing schools, looks to be on the move for public debate in the waning days of the 2015 legislative session.

The House withdrew SB95 from the Education K-12 committee this morning and placed it into the Rules committee. No word yet on when a House Rules committee will take place, but given the last few days’ unpredictable scheduling, it’s possible it could be calendared at any time.

See the end of this post for a recent version of the ASD proposal.

For more background on ASD, check out the following stories:

News

This just in: members of the House and Senate who were appointed to a conference committee appear to have brokered a deal to keep the Office of Charter Schools administratively within the Department of Public Instruction, despite Senator Jerry Tillman’s (R-Randolph) initial efforts to move that office under the State Board of Education. A final vote on the proposal is expected Monday.

According to a conference committee report filed late Thursday, “the Office of Charter Schools shall be administratively located in the Department of Public Instruction, subject to the supervision, direction, and control of the State Board of Education.”

While the charter school office would continue to be housed within DPI, according to the conference report, it would appear that the State Board of Education could exercise more oversight over that office—but how that would practically work isn’t yet clear.

The report also stipulates that Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest would head a three-person search committee to appoint a new Office of Charter Schools director. That position is currently vacant; its former director, Joel Medley, vacated his position this summer to go work for the new K12, Inc.-backed online virtual charter school NC Virtual Academy.

Other items of note in the proposed legislation:

  • Raises the statutory minimum number of students enrolled in a charter school from 65 to 80;
  • Offers more opportunities for charter school applicants to make corrections to their applications along the way;
  • Includes an anti-nepotism policy;
  • Allows a charter school board member to have a conflict of interest so long as they comply with the school’s conflict of interest policy;
  • Members of a charter school board may reside outside of North Carolina;
  • Charter schools may charge extracurricular fees consistent with what the LEA charges;

Notably, the conference report also contains a provision that is unrelated to charter schools. Section 10 deals with disability vouchers, which currently require eligible students to be reassessed by their LEAs every three years to ensure they still qualify for the special needs scholarships, which allow students to use state funds at private institutions.

The conference report appears to allow recipients of the disability vouchers to be reassessed for eligibility not only by the LEA, but also by a “licensed psychologist with a school psychology focus.”

Let me know if I missed any key provisions in H334.

 

Commentary

Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan, whose open letter critiquing a legislative plan to turn struggling public schools over to for-profit charter school operators got a great deal of deserved attention last month, has penned another “must read.” This one is a detailed and lengthy response to a recent essay by State Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County in which Hardister attempted to argue that the state’s conservative political leadership has not been waging “a war on public education.”

After debunking several of Hardister’s claims about education spending (which, as Egan notes, continues to fall when one accounts for enrollment growth), Egan offers the following list of recent state actions vis a vis public schools:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private schools.
  • The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.
  • The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, MSLs, CCs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).
  • The appointment of non-educators to leadership roles in writing new curricula.
  • The engagement with profit-motivated companies and no-bid contracts with entities like Pearson that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed.

All in all, Egan’s essay is a powerful, if sobering, read. Click here to read it in its entirety.

Commentary

It’s bad enough that North Carolina will be turning over the future of thousands of its children and tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to a predatory Wall Street company in the name of “school choice,” but this morning’s report from NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner that state officials have waived attendance taking requirements for the state’s new “virtual charter schools” is simply and absudly beyond the pale. This is from Wagner’s story:

“The North Carolina State Board of Education quietly approved a policy last month that could allow the state’s two brand new virtual charter schools to avoid recording and reporting daily student attendance, and stipulates that the virtual schools would only lose their state funding for a student if he or she fails to show any “student activity,” —as defined by the for-profit charter operators—for at least ten consecutive days….

Previously the online virtual charter schools, which are taking part in a pilot program authorized by the legislature last year and set to begin this fall, would have had to record daily student attendance using the state’s online reporting software—like traditional brick and mortar public schools—to comply with compulsory attendance laws.

Via conference calls before the start of school in late August, both the Charter School Advisory Board and the State Board of Education quickly approved a new policy that doesn’t require the virtual schools to record and report daily student attendance to the Department of Public Instruction.

That change came at the behest of officials with the North Carolina Virtual Academy, the school backed by controversial for-profit online school operator K12, Inc., who complained to state officials that recording and reporting daily student attendance through the online reporting software that traditional schools use didn’t work for them, according to DPI’s interim director of the state’s charter school office Adam Levinson.”

The story goes on to explain that while schools will be required to monitor “student activity,” the requirement is vague and basically left up to the schools themselves. In Michigan, where such laissez faire policy was in effect, the results were predictably dreadful.

The bottom line: The move to sell off our public schools to the privatizers and corporate vultures continues apace. Read the entire story by clicking here.