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We’ve reported on several of the unwise cuts imposed or forced by state lawmakers and Governor McCrory in the past year — from cuts in child care to the courts to basic school supplies. This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer highlights another ill-conceived and likely dangerous decision: the cuts to driver’s education in our schools. As the editorial notes:

“It is one of the most foolish budget-cutting tricks pulled by the Republican-led General Assembly. To help balance the state budget – a budget in serious trouble, thanks to shortfalls in revenue from taxes – GOP lawmakers intend to cut state funds for driver’s education.

The responsibility to pay for the lessons will fall to local school districts, which can ill-afford to make up the difference. Some will have to charge each student $65 for the program, which won’t cover the cost, so districts will have to dig into their budgets for the money. And this for a program required by the state. Districts must offer driver’s ed to every student in public, private and home schools. In Wake County, about 12,000 students a year go through the program.

Offering the training is a no-brainer. Statistics show a higher incidence of fatal collisions for those who don’t take driver’s education. That alone should have made driver’s ed hands-off for lawmakers. But paying for driver’s education also provides a good safety service for families and a reasonable hope that better-educated drivers are better drivers and more familiar with the rules of the North Carolina road….

The problem is that with excessive tax cuts, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. If they stand by their cuts, they’re going to not just have to defend what they’ve already done, they’ll have to find new places to save money, and those places are most likely to be in public education….

So the tax-cutters in the legislature will create tax-raisers in the counties. The people of North Carolina are smart enough to know a shell game when they see one.

School systems and parents will pay for drivers ed one way or the other. But by passing the funding obligation downward, the state fosters a system that will help fewer young drivers.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

school_booksIn case you missed it, there is an excellent article on the main Policy Watch site today that highlights the unfortunate problems with the new history curriculum financed by the arch-conservative Koch family. The Bill of Rights Institute, funded by the Koch family and whose Board includes Koch employees, received a contract to help develop materials for North Carolina public school teachers to use in a course, required for all students, about America’s founding principles.

As Ian Millhiser, Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and author of the article, notes this could have been a great opportunity for North Carolina students to learn about important areas of American history that are often ignored by high schools. However, rather than present a balanced view, the materials push a clear Koch-sponsored agenda.

They present a selective view of history, exaggerate conflicts that have largely been resolved, emphasize subjects congenial to a conservative worldview and ignore entirely major threads of constitutional law and history. The students who learn from these materials are likely to emerge more skeptical of federal power and more sympathetic to a libertarian view of property rights. They are likely, in other words, to emerge more like Charles and David Koch.

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Commentary

K12, Inc.It may be 10 days before Christmas, but there are still a lot of worrisome/controversial policy decisions taking shape in the halls of state government this week. As noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, a state legislative committee will meet this Friday to recommend rolling back some important consumer protections in the mortgage lending industry.

Now, comes word that a special committee appointed by the State Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow to interview two private, for-profit companies seeking to run virtual charter schools in North Carolina — at least one of which (K12, Inc.) has been shown on numerous occasions to be a predatory failure. As Bloomberg Business Week reported last month:

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”

Of course, K12, Inc. isn’t an unknown to the State Board of Ed. To its credit, the Board has been holding the troubled company and its whole scam at bay for years. Unfortunately, K12, Inc. lobbyists prevailed upon the privatizers at the General Assembly to slip a provision into the state budget bill this past summer which directs the Board to approve two virtual charters as part of a “pilot” program. Now, low and behold, there are only two applicants for those slots.

Whether this means that the State Board will roll over and approve K-12, Inc. or show some backbone and tell the company and its buddies in the legislature to stuff it remains to be seen. Let’s hope for the latter eventuality.

Lest you have any doubts about the appropriateness of such a response, Read More

Commentary

NC Policy Watch contributor Betsey Russell recently forwarded a story from the Akron Beacon Journal that raises further doubts about for-profit charter schools. It turns out that the Beacon-Journal has been conducting a months-long study of charters in Ohio and discovered that for-profit charters were consistently among the worst performers. As the article notes:

“Ohio’s charter schools have a national reputation for hiring for-profit companies that produce poor academic results.

Only three of 26 states had lower performing charter schools, according to a Stanford University study of states with schools in operation long enough to compare results.

After a year in a charter school, Ohio students typically lag behind district school students by weeks in reading and months in math, the study finds.

In most states, it’s the opposite.

A factor in the difference appears to be the motivation to make money.

Tennessee, New York and Rhode Island, which the study reckons have the highest-performing charter school sectors, are among the six states that ban for-profit companies.”

The story goes on: Read More

Commentary

Today’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News speaks the truth about the controversy manufactured by some on the Right about the AP history course taught in our high schools. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Students learn from the time they are in grade school that America is special, that it is a force for good in the world, that its people cherish the “inalienable rights” with which their creator endowed them. But history is not an exercise in black and white. It involves many shades of gray, and complex, often conflicted human beings. The struggles that our nation went through over its 238 years are an important part of that story, and the story of how the nation grappled with and addressed those problems collectively represent the pluck and “American exceptionalism” the state law emphasizes.

AP History is not taught in a vacuum. Most students who take the course should be familiar with the basics; some concepts are covered or reinforced in other courses, such as civics and world history. Most advanced-placement teachers are among the best in their school; their students are among the best and brightest. At this level students should be considering a variety of perspectives on a single event and shaping their own conclusions based on the facts and opinions presented.

If the state board believes the course doesn’t spend enough time on the founding principles, it could mandate American History I as a prerequisite, although that would require eating into other electives that also enrich students’ education and could be redundant. But neither the board nor the General Assembly should seek to dilute a college-level course that is designed to promote critical thinking, a skill important not only in job seeking but in being an informed United States citizen and well-rounded adult.

Before meddling with a well-respected history course, perhaps legislators should go back to school and sit in on a few AP History lessons. It could be a good refresher.

Amen. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.