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North Carolina’s economic development efforts took a turn for the worse last night, when the Senate passed a bill that privatizes the state’s business recruitment, retention, and development activities. A similar proposal will likely pass the House today, and while the lower chamber’s privatization plan is marginally better than the Senate’s scheme, both leave a lot to be desired in terms of ensuring more effective job creation and protecting taxpayer dollars.

Privatizing job creation efforts is hardly a new idea, although it’s proven to generate more scandals than results in the sixteen states that have experimented with this approach. According to the General Assembly’s own Fiscal Research Division, the kinds of economic development public private partnerships envisioned in the House and Senate bills haven’t proven themselves any more effective at boosting job creation in the states that adopted them than in those states that simply kept their job recruiting efforts inside agencies of state government.   At the same time, FRD and other researchers have found that these privatization schemes have been marked by financial mismanagement (Wisconsin), conflicts of interest and pay-to-play incentive-granting (Texas and Florida), and the inability to raise private funds, leaving taxpayers on the hook (Missouri).

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School-vouchersAs an excellent essay in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by veteran education policy expert Greg Malhoit makes clear, North Carolina is on the verge of commencing a long, slow-motion disaster with its wrongheaded plunge into the world of school vouchers.

As Malhoit explains in some detail, two of the Wake County schools likely to receive significant public funds if the program goes ahead — Victory Christian Center and  the Al Iman School — make no pretense of offering a secular education. These are explicitly religious schools with specific missions of teaching and indoctrinating students into very specific religious belief systems. Moreover, as he notes: Read More

041211_1720_Publiceduca1.jpgIn a rare happy development in the North Carolina General Assembly, a study committee decided yesterday to table a proposal (for now) that would have brought radical and disastrous upheaval to North Carolina’s public education system by letting students enroll at any school in the state. The proposal was so extreme that even Rep. Edgar Starnes — once one of the most conservative lawmakers in Raleigh — derided the idea as one that would have caused “utter chaos.”

Good for Starnes and other members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee who apparently recognized the proposal for the nightmare that it was and would have brought about. Let’s hope the idea remains dead and buried. Here’s, however, why that may be wishful thinking: Read More

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right in its characterization of the push by state legislative leaders to plow ahead with their school voucher scheme despite the certainty of lengthy litigation over the issue and the existence of a court injunction against it:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.

There’s a long list of actions that demonstrates their disregard for what defines the truly conservative. They hand out extravagant amounts to the wealthy in tax cuts and leave the state strapped for basic services. They turn down billions of dollars in federal support for the jobless and the health needs of the working poor. They ignore the principles of sound investment by cutting spending on public schools and higher education. They trample constitutional ideals regarding voting rights and civil rights. They shirk their obligations to be careful stewards of the environment.

The list could go on, but the case is concisely illustrated in the latest turmoil over school vouchers.” Read More

There is another powerful example this week of why privatizing public education is a lousy idea. As has been reported by the Charlotte Observer, 270 K-8 students are being dumped from the ironically named StudentFirst Academy charter school next week because the school is broke and will close. As the Observer reported:

“That leaves about 270 K-8 students scrambling to find schools less than two months before the school year ends. Parents who gathered at the school Thursday said they fear their children will fail state exams and could be forced to repeat a grade.”

And, of course, as is always the case with these charter failures, the traditional public schools will be left to clean up the mess since they will do their duty and admit the kids left out in the cold.

None of this is to say that all charters are inherently bad. Read More