News

Attorney General Roy Cooper files suit against eastern North Carolina charter

604-chartN.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has filed suit against an eastern North Carolina charter school, contending that leaders of the now-closed Kinston school mismanaged public funds.

Cooper’s office released the details of their complaint against Kinston Charter Academy Tuesday, which named the school, CEO Ozie L. Hall and the school’s board chairwoman, Demyra McDonald-Hall, as defendants.

“Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars to educate students and they have a duty to spend them wisely,” Cooper said in a statement. “There are many excellent charter schools but North Carolina needs more tools to protect families who choose charter schools.”

From Cooper’s statement:

Currently state law fails to adequately provide how North Carolina can fully recover taxpayer dollars from charter schools that fail or become insolvent.  Legislators should put safeguards in place to protect public education resources, Cooper said.

The complaint filed today in Wake County Superior Court alleges violations of North Carolina laws on deceptive trade practices, non-profit management and false claims. Cooper is asking the court to freeze the defendants’ assets and order them to repay misspent state funds as well as pay damages and civil penalties.

As alleged in the complaint, Hall and McDonald-Hall:

  • Falsely inflated the number of students Kinston Charter Academy would enroll so they could get more tax dollars, even though they knew the school would not be able to stay open for the 2013-2014 term.
  • Failed to disclose the school’s problems to students and their families, recruiting new students to enroll in the school while on the verge of closing it.
  • Took out risky loans with exorbitant fees and interest rates, borrowing $170,000 for less than two months at a cost of $60,000 which put the school in worse shape financially.
  • Used public money intended for educational purposes to enrich themselves and their family.

A January, 2015 report released by the State Auditor revealed many of the financial improprieties alleged in the lawsuit, including more than $11,000 in payments made to the defendants for unused vacation time and unspecified reimbursements and $2,500 to a daughter for a website that didn’t work—all while Kinston Charter Academy owed $370,825 for teacher salaries, insurance, retirement and other payroll obligations.

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Commentary

Two powerful news stories explain why NC’s disinvestment in public ed is a big problem

WRAL TV will debut a new documentary tonight about North Carolina’s dwindling commitment to funding public education entitled “Grading Teacher Pay.” This is from a lengthy article summarizing the program:

“At the start of his fourth term in 1997, North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt asked a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate to raise the state’s teacher pay to the national average in four years in an effort to attract and retain more teachers.

By the time Hunt left office, North Carolina had risen in the national rankings and moved closer to the country’s average teacher salary. During the 2001-02 school year, the state ranked 19th in the U.S. for average teacher pay, less than $2,000 from the then-national average of $44,655, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But in the years since Hunt left the governor’s mansion, the state’s ranking has plummeted. In 2013-14, North Carolina hit its lowest rank in more than a decade – 47th in the nation, with teachers paid nearly $12,000 below the national average of $56,610.

When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina’s average teacher salary has dropped more than 13 percent since 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The U.S. average teacher salary has dropped 1.8 percent in that same timeframe.”

The article goes on to make a compelling case that falling teacher salaries and education investments lead to a predictable outcome for students.

Also make time to listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s recent radio interview with Clay Johnson, the documentary producer of “Grading Teacher Pay.

Meanwhile, a story on NPR this morning explores the flip-side of North Carolina’s ongoing disinvestment in public schools. In “How Massachusetts became the Best State in Education,” reporter Kirk Karapezza explains that in 1993, Massachusetts embarked upon an ambitious upgrade in its funding for public schools — especially in lower wealth communities.

“I really think that the funding was like winning the World Series,” says Karen English, a teacher of 36 years in Revere, a town just north of Boston where nearly 80 percent of students are low-income. “Everybody embraced [the extra funding], and just to have the curriculum and the books and the space made you wanna be here.”

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News

Governor’s budget press conference short on details when it comes to teacher pay

26514179491_2290925c45_zWe’re still largely short on details when it comes to Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed $22.8 billion budget plan. But when it comes to teacher pay, those who were critical of the governor’s overtures for a raise plan that again targets beginning teachers rather than the state’s veteran educators are likely to find more fuel after today.

In this video posted over at The News & Observer, you’ll get some explanation from McCrory’s budget chief Andrew Heath on the governor’s proposed plan. The full budget proposal should be released sometime next week, although most observers expect significant changes from the legislature, which reconvenes Monday.

As we reported earlier this month, the governor’s plan will focus on raises for beginning teachers that will bring the state’s average teacher pay up to about $50,000. Veteran teachers, it seems, can expect a $5,000, one-time bonus.

“Every teacher will get at least a bonus of 3 percent,” Heath said during Friday’s budget press conference. “For the younger teachers we’re getting them bigger pay increases and they’re getting the bonus on top of that. With the veteran teachers, we want to recognize their service by giving them a higher percentage of the one-time bonus, and that will be about $5,000.”

Of course, that explanation isn’t likely to soothe some critics like Christine Fitch, the N.C. State Board of Education’s local school board advisor, who lambasted the governor’s pay plan for veteran teachers earlier this month.

“Let’s not call this a raise,” said Fitch. “Call it what it is: a bonus. Tell them that you’re giving them a one-time bonus.”

More details on the governor’s budget as it becomes available.

News

Three new plaintiffs, including transgender high school student, join the legal challenge to House Bill 2

2e1ax_simplistic_entry_IMG_8183The backlash against North Carolina’s highly controversial House Bill 2 continues.

The ACLU of N.C. announced Thursday morning that three new plaintiffs have been added to the legal challenge to the anti-LGBT law. The new plaintiffs include a transgender high school student and a married lesbian couple.

From the ACLU’s statement:

Hunter Schafer is a seventeen year-old young woman and high school junior at University of North Carolina School of the Arts High School in Winston-Salem. Hunter was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in the ninth grade. By her sophomore year she was using the girls’ restroom and feminine pronouns, and that year was elected to the Queens Court. This year, because of her talent as a visual artist, Hunter attends UNCSA-HS where she stays in the girls’ dorms. Because of the passage of HB 2, Hunter could be forced to use the boys’ restroom, which would cause her serious anxiety and expose her to threats of harassment and violence.

“I just want to be able to concentrate on school, grow as an artist, and have fun while doing that,” Hunter said. “I’m not a man. I have always felt more comfortable in the girls’ dorm at school and the girls’ restroom and using them has never been a problem. It’s humiliating and scary that there’s now a law that would force me to go to a boys’ bathroom when I clearly don’t belong there.”

Beverly Newell, 45, a realtor, and Kelly Trent, 39, a registered nurse, are a married lesbian couple who live in Charlotte.  As alleged in the amended complaint, Beverly and Kelly recently experienced discrimination first-hand, when a fertility clinic where they had scheduled an appointment called the couple to cancel the appointment saying that they do not serve same-sex couples.

“It’s unnerving to know that we could be turned away by any business for being a same-sex couple and have no recourse because of HB 2,” Beverly said. “HB2 has encouraged this type of conduct and we no longer have the ability to file discrimination complaints when this type of thing happens in our home city of Charlotte.  The bill has made it OK to harm LGBT people. The state of North Carolina is better than this.”

“High school students like Hunter should be able to go to school to learn and thrive. She should have the same privacy and respect that every student in North Carolina has and she shouldn’t be treated differently simply because she’s transgender,” said Tara Borelli, Senior Attorney with Lambda Legal. “HB 2 is an attack on some of the most vulnerable members of our community, transgender young people. A law like this has devastating effects on transgender students who already feel vulnerable and alone.”

“Beverly and Kelly deserve to feel secure in knowing that when they go about their daily lives in Charlotte and interact with businesses open to the public, any discrimination they encounter is illegal. HB 2 robs them of that,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “This law gives people the green light to discriminate against LGBT people and sends a daily message that LGBT people across the state are not worthy of dignity and respect.”

The other plaintiffs in this case are: Joaquín Carcaño, 27, a UNC-Chapel Hill employee from Carrboro; Payton McGarry, 20, a UNC-Greensboro student who was born and raised in Wilson; and Angela Gilmore, 52, a North Carolina Central University law professor. The ACLU of North Carolina is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

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News

Following court victory, ACLU reaffirms warning that House Bill 2 could threaten billions in federal education dollars

HB2As we reported earlier today on this blog, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a major ruling today in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager from Virginia who challenged his school system’s policy banning transgender students from using the bathroom that correlates with their gender identity.

As we noted at Policy Watch, this case could have major implications for House Bill 2, as it might eventually settle the question of whether the legislation imperils the state’s share of federal Title IX funding, more than $4 billion, for public schools. 

Today’s ruling overturns a previous district court decision made against Grimm last year. That district court decision was a key component of Gov. Pat McCrory’s defense of the bill. Read Policy Watch’s exclusive interview with Grimm’s lawyer, Joshua Block, here. 

It’s likely that the appeals court decision will be challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but, in the meantime, the ACLU of N.C., which filed a legal challenge to House Bill 2 in North Carolina, and Lambda Legal have responded by reaffirming their statement that the controversial bill clashes with federal directives from President Obama’s administration.

From the ACLU and Lambda Legal’s statement:

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit marks the first time that a federal appeals court has determined that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use sex segregated facilities that are consistent with their gender identity, and therefore could have major implications for North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which forces transgender individuals to use the wrong restroom in schools and other government buildings. North Carolina is in the Fourth Circuit.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal released the following statement:

“Today’s ruling makes plain that North Carolina’s House Bill 2 violates Title IX by discriminating against transgender students and forcing them to use the wrong restroom at school. This mean-spirited law not only encourages discrimination and endangers transgender students – it puts at risk billions of dollars in federal funds that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools. House Bill 2 exposes North Carolinians to discrimination and harm, is wreaking havoc on the state’s economy and reputation, and now more than ever, places the state’s federal education funding in jeopardy. We again call on Governor McCrory and the General Assembly to repeal House Bill 2 and replace it with full nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.”

Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of North Carolina recently filed a lawsuit challenging House Bill 2. The lawsuit argues that through HB 2, North Carolina sends a purposeful message that LGBT people are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state. The complaint argues that HB 2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and invading the privacy of transgender people. The law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.

We’ll continue to follow this important case as it develops.