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Charter schools in the Charlotte area tend to pay teachers less than if they worked for traditional public schools, while the administrators of the privately-run schools make similar salaries to what public school principals earn.

The Charlotte Observer, in an article published Saturday, analyzed salary information from 22 charter schools in Mecklenburg County, a request that touched off a brief controversy about whether salaries for the state’s privately-run but publicly-funded schools could be disclosed.

Ultimately, the N.C. Department of Public Instructions’ Office of Charter Schools reiterated that salary information is public.

Charter schools have more flexibility when it comes to pay, and aren’t beholden to the state salary structure that made North Carolina teachers among the least-paid in the nation. A controversial state Senate plan unveiled last week would dramatically increase North Carolina teacher salaries but also cut teacher assistants and force teachers interested in a salary boost to give up tenure protections.

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A Winston-Salem public charter school is continuing its efforts to bring in elite basketball players from around the nation and world, and recently saw three of its out-of-state players recruited to play next year at Division 1 colleges.

All three of the players who signed collegiate letters of intent came from outside North Carolina to attend Quality Education Academy, a charter school that is part of the state’s growing system of schools that are privately run by non-profit boards but funded with local, state and federal education dollars.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools, which monitors the 127 charter schools in the state, has previously raised concerns about QEA’s controversial basketball program, but neither DPI nor the N.C. Board of Education have taken any significant steps to curtail or stop the out-of-state recruitment. The school and it basketball team were the subjects of an N.C. Policy Watch investigation last year (scroll down to read more about that report).

June Atkinson, a Democrat elected to head the state’s K-12 public education system, said last year that charter schools have to accept students from North Carolina but the laws governing charter schools are silent as to whether that means the school is open to only North Carolina residents.

Meanwhile, the  basketball program’s efforts to look outside North Carolina don’t appear to be slowing.

Isaac Pitts, the basketball coach for Quality Education Academy, recently referred to his ongoing efforts to pull in players from overseas on his  Instagram account.

“Evaluating overseas talent and liking what I see! Wow,” Pitts wrote on March 28 as a caption to a screenshot of several youth playing on an outdoor basketball court.

QEAoverseas

QEA basketball coach Isaac Pitts comments via Instagram on overseas recruiting efforts.

In another photo of what appears to be the same video, Pitts wrote, “Just sitting here looking at game film of kids we’re interested in.”

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School testsAt the risk of committing education policy world heresy by saying something positive about the Department of Public Instruction and the federal Department of Education, let’s hear three cheers for the following announcement from the NC Public Schools website:

“Thanks to a grant and supplemental funds from the U.S. Department of Education, every eligible North Carolina high school student who took an Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exam last year will have his or her test fees covered.

As a part of the federal Advanced Placement Test Fee Program, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) will receive more than $880,000 to cover AP and IB exam fees for all low-income students who qualify. The Department will use the funds to reimburse districts for the IB exam fees and pay College Board directly on behalf of districts to cover outstanding balances they incurred for eligible students. Read More

Since publishing our investigation about a Winston-Salem public charter’s school’s international basketball team earlier this week, Quality Education Academy has added another person to its basketball staff.

Felix Taylor is listed as a “recruiting coordinator” for the basketball team on the team’s website, which was updated after the publication of our investigation Monday.

The N.C. Policy Watch investigation,  “’A factory of excellence’?” , found that QEA recruits nationally and internationally for a basketball team subsidized by North Carolina taxpayers that have sent $13 million in education dollars to the school. The investment appears to have paid off for the team – they’ve won national championships in recent year, sent more than a dozen players on to play for Division 1 schools and are ranked the 11th best team in the state by Maxpreps.com, a CBS Sports website that tracks players for at the preparatory level.

The investigation also found that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction failed to follow up on its own concerns about the school’s unusual athletics program, and and granted the school’s chief executive officer Simon Johnson permission to open a new charter this last fall.

The state agency began looking at the charter school’s basketball program when three Serbian students wrote state officials saying they had been put demoted a grade level and were told to pay basketball coach Isaac Pitts $4,000 each. The state found the school was taking in students from all over the world, and used taxpayer dollars to educate them. But the N.C. Department of Public Instruction dropped its investigation when it slipped through the crack as the state agency dealt with a crush of charter school applications that came in 2011 after the cap on the publicly-financed, privately-run schools was lifted.

QEA’s revamped website shows that Taylor has worked for the public charter school for two years, but his name did not appear on a payroll provided to N.C. Policy Watch on Jan. 16 as part of a public records request. He joins four basketball coaches for the high school team, compared with only five high school teachers the public charter has for the less than 100 students enrolled in high school there.

Johnson, the school’s CEO, did not respond to a request for comment made Wednesday afternoon. The school has yet to respond to requests made Tuesday for Taylor’s date of hire and salary.

To read our investigation, click here.

A Winston-Salem public charter school has agreed to pay back $52,000 after state education officials accused the school of mishandling federal lunch program funds last year.

Quality Education Academy, which opened as one of the state’s first charter schools in 1997, had initially denied any wrongdoing but agreed to a settlement Thursday to repay the funds.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction had initially asked the school to repay more than $94,000 stemming from breakfast, lunches and snacks that the staff at Quality Education Academy served from August 2011 to February 2012 to students at the school, where approximately 80 percent of students qualified for free and reduced lunches last year.

The state, in a July 2 letter sent to QEA director Simon Johnson, said the school was not counting how many meals it actually served, and relied on outdated school rosters to estimate that meant that the school may have been over-claiming how much it should be compensated in federal funds.

N.C. Policy Watch obtained a copy of the letter through a public records request. Read More