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slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

Read More

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The Charlotte Observer:

In striking down the state’s new school voucher law on Thursday, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood laid out a cogent, compelling constitutional case against the bad law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt…,” he said from the bench, “the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from taxpayer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution….”

Voucher advocates say they will appeal, noting that parents need choices other than traditional public schools. But Hobgood correctly notes that the state is constitutionally obligated to provide a sound, basic education to N.C. students, and lawmakers can’t delegate that obligation to “unregulated” and “unaccountable” private schools.

The Greensboro News & Record:

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s opinion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was blunt.

“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” he said Thursday in ordering an immediate halt to the voucher plan.

That was not a political statement. Hobgood, a veteran judge holding court in Wake County, cited several provisions of the state constitution violated by the voucher program….

Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office will appeal to higher courts, but Hobgood’s interpretation of the state constitution seems sound.

It was the legislature that went off track in enacting a program that diverts millions of dollars from public schools and contradicts good judgment. At a time when more accountability is demanded of public schools and educators, this program asks almost nothing of participating private schools. It just sends them money.

Bad idea. And, according to the judge, it violates the state constitution.

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school-bus-stop-armIf there’s one giant mistake that both Democrats and Republicans have made down through the years when it comes to improving North Carolina’s public schools it’s the repeated attempts to impose gimmicks and quick fixes. Rather than simply giving the experts the resources they need, standing back and pointing in the desired direction, politicians of both parties have displayed a never-ending affinity for cutesy programs with politically-motivated names and tactics.

One of the most recent and worst examples of this unfortunate fixation for politicians is the new and fatally simplistic plan (thanks, Senator Berger!) to affix letter grades on public schools to characterize their supposed performance levels. A new editorial in the Charlotte Observer succinctly explains why the whole plan should be consigned to the circular file:

The N.C. legislature, in a budget Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week, has delayed until after Jan.15 the issuance of new report cards with A-F grades for academic quality at each public school in the state. Instead of a delay, lawmakers should take this pause in implementation as an opportunity to ditch the idea entirely. It’s unwise and problematic. Read More

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Voices of concern are growing louder as more and more individuals and institutions directly impacted by the new state budget signed by Gov. McCrory yesterday come to grasp what is actually in the 260 page document. As reported in the post immediately below and in this story by Sarah Ovaska on Wednesday, the list of changes buried in the fine print is long and full of significant policy decisions.

And as this story in today’s Charlotte Observer details, one of the most important and worrisome changes involves how the state funds public education:

A provision of the state budget that changes how schools are funded will put Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at a disadvantage in recruiting talented teachers and make planning much more difficult, Superintendent Heath Morrison said.

As part of the budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday, the state legislature will no longer automatically fund growth in public school enrollment. Districts had long used that assumption to plan their staffing ahead of the North Carolina budget debate each summer. Now, they will have to wait until after the legislature adjourns, or later, to learn how much money they’ll receive.

“We view it as a very radical change,” Morrison said Thursday.

Charlotte-Meck isn’t the only system worried. This is from Sarah Ovaska’s story: Read More

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MedicaidNorth Carolina doctors pulled no punches in their review of the Medicaid “reform” (i.e. privatization) plan adopted by the state Senate today. This is the official statement from the NC Medical Society:

“Today the Senate had a clear choice between the health of our state’s most vulnerable citizens and the health of Wall Street corporations, and they chose the corporations. Despite strong alternative proposals from the North Carolina House, Governor McCrory and the health care community on the best way to improve patient care and quality and provide budget predictability, Senators voted against this consensus. These outside managed care companies have a dismal history of success (see the examples below). The Medical Society would like to recognize and appreciates the bipartisan support for the consensus plan of the health care community, the House and the Governor today on the Senate floor. It appears that the 28 senators who voted for managed care are not aware or don’t care about the negative history of managed care and are welcoming them to North Carolina.”

For instance,

• Kentucky moved 550,000 of its Medicaid patients to three national managed care corporations in 2011. Since then, a 2012 evaluation by the Urban Institute found that patients faced delays in getting care, and there was an adversarial relationship between the managed care plans and the medical community. State legislators continue to be flooded with complaints and passed a bill to set up an appeals process at the Department of Insurance to mediate disputes between the medical community and the plans. One of the managed care plans pulled out of the state last year, suing the state saying it lost money and forcing 125,000 patients into the other two plans.
• In Illinois, a federal judge awarded over $334 million in a fraud lawsuit against the Medicaid HMO Amerigroup Illinois and its parent company, Amerigroup Corporation, for systematic and extensive fraud for discriminating against pregnant women and those with expensive medical conditions.
• In Georgia, their Medicaid program was fined $3.7 million for consistently refusing to pay for authorized care.