Commentary

Western NC advocates weigh in against charter school funding bill

With lawmakers on the verge of passing controversial legislation to expand funding for charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools, yet another voice is speaking out against the proposal.

Proposed charter school bill masks true budget issues

By Amy Wamsley and Lynn Michie

There are few things that stir a dust-up among education advocates like the issue of charter schools. Even among our own board of directors and members of Western North Carolina for Public Education (WNC4PE), we don’t agree on the value and role of charter schools in our communities and our region. But one thing we all can and do agree on is that making our state’s public education budget a scrap heap for different viewpoints to fight over is not just bad public policy – it’s very bad for our children.

That’s exactly what HB539 does. It once again pits traditional public schools and charter schools against one another for funds that are hard-earned and precious. In a nutshell, HB539 would redirect a portion of funds used by traditional public schools to public charter schools during a time when all of North Carolina’s public schools are inadequately funded to meet the diverse needs of all our students.

There is no doubt that there will be vehement argument and outcry on both sides of the debate about HB539, and that debate will mask the true issue at hand: public schools, traditional or charter, in North Carolina are still woefully underfunded.

Yes, the budget just passed included some tiny gains, such as the promised raise for first-time teachers and a stay of execution for thousands of teacher assistant jobs. But the fact remains that North Carolina’s leadership have yet to step up and fulfill their obligations to the taxpayers of the state to provide “a sound basic education.” Not making additional cuts is not the same as making investments.

Let’s put it in perspective. Read more

News

Observer: Charter takeover of low-performing schools not happening this year, says Rep. Bryan

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

Achievement School District (ASD) bill on the move

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

House and Senate conferees agree to keep Office of Charter Schools within DPI

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 teacher responds to lawmaker’s claims about education spending

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.