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During a presentation about how to position North Carolina as a global leader in education to Governor Pat McCrory’s education cabinet members today, new gubernatorial education advisor Eric Guckian called for an aggressive K-12 charter school environment in the state.

Today’s meeting was the second of McCrory’s recently-formed education cabinet, which is tasked with developing concrete policies to improve education in North Carolina and ultimately promoting those policies to the 2014 legislative session.

Guckian, a Teach for America alum and former director of the New Leaders program in Charlotte,laid out his own vision for the state’s education system, in which he called for North Carolina to become the “education leader of the world.” Read More

An advocacy group behind a controversial push to bring private schools vouchers to North Carolina would benefit from a new initiative to  encourage charter school growth in North Carolina’s rural counties.

The House’s latest budget proposal, revealed Sunday night and available here, seeks to give Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina nearly $1 million over the next two years to encourage public charter schools to open up in rural areas of the state.

No such provision existed in the Senate version or  Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget.

PEFNC has largely been known in the state for its backing of a tax credit scholarship program which would allow taxpayer dollars to fund scholarships for low-income children to attend private and religious schools. The House budget also funds that proposal and would divert more than $50 million from public schools to the private educational market over the next two years, according to House budget documents.

PEFNC’s “public charter school accelerator” program seeks in increase the number of charter schools, which are public schools funded by taxpayers but operate outside the traditional public schools system. Supporters of charter schools say the charter school model allows families more educational choices while avoiding the bureaucracy that mires many public schools while critics say the schools are less diverse than traditional public schools and drains public schools of needed resources.

The $1 million proposed in the House budget ($464,000 each year) would allow PEFNC to issue $100,000 grants to schools but is limited to counties that have lagged behind the state in student achievement (where less than 65 percent of a county’s students have passed end-of grade or end-of course tests). It’s not immediately clear how many counties in the state meet those criteria.

It also requires PEFNC to match the state funding with outside grants.

PEFNC and DPI officials did not immediately return calls for comment.

The House budget also included several cuts that will affect the rural (and non-rural) public schools, including cuts to teacher’s assistant funding by $53 million over the next two years and the elimination of pay bonuses for new teachers with master’s degrees.

At a round table discussion for reporters and policymakers, hosted today by the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, new State Board of Education chair William Cobey expressed his discontent with the state of teacher pay in North Carolina.

“I want our teachers to be paid better and I want the best public school system we could possibly have,” said Cobey. “But we have to get a handle on Medicaid. It limits our choices.”

Cobey, recently appointed to his post by Gov. Pat McCrory, also pointed to reducing North Carolinians’ tax burdens and improving the state’s unemployment rate, which is the 5th highest in the nation, as additional ways to increase investment in public education.

Today’s discussion coincided with the release of the House budget proposal, which includes provisions for a school voucher program that would siphon $50 million from public schools over the next two years.

“My personal view is I’m for it,” Cobey said about vouchers. “Over time, you will save tax dollars for having a voucher system. There is a net savings.” Cobey said that he and NC State Superintendent of Schools, June Atkinson, disagree on the voucher program, saying that she has a problem with the accountability aspect of the program. Read More

The NC Public Charter Schools Association came out today in opposition to legislation the Senate passed last month that would create a new oversight board for charter schools.

SB 337, NC Public Charter School Board, would considerably weaken the State Board of Education’s authority over who receives approval to set up charter schools in the state.

Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph) proposed the bill thanks to, in part, alleged dysfunction within the current Charter School Advisory Council, which currently approves or denies charter school applications and sets policy.

Most members of the proposed charter board would be handpicked by Gov. Pat McCrory.

New Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bill Cobey, has publicly opposed SB 337, declaring it unconstitutional.

In a statement released today, the charter school group explained that “a new charter body was not necessary given the anticipated fundamental shift in North Carolina’s political leadership, especially with a new constituency of the State Board of Education.” Read More

After considerable debate, members of the House Education Committee passed HB 735, “Student Organizations/Rights & Recognition,” (previously titled “Protect Religious Student Groups”) on a roll call vote, 30-20. The bill is a companion to Sen. Dan Soucek’s SB 719, passed by the Senate last week.

The bill would provide that religious or political student organizations on UNC and community college campuses have the right to determine the organization’s core functions (such as selecting leaders and members and defining doctrines) and resolve disputes within the organization, in accordance with their own core beliefs and values.

A campus would be prohibited from discriminating against any student organization or group that it has granted recognition to if the organization or group exercises its rights of determining its core functions and dispute resolution.

Rep. Henry Michaux raised the possibility of discriminatory outcomes as a result of the legislation, asking the bill’s sponsor what would happen if a student organization discriminates against a group of people even though the university has an anti-discrimination policy. Would this bill force the university to fund the student group anyway? Read More