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The national nonprofit news site Pro Publica has a lead story out of North Carolina this morning about Baker Mitchell — the arch-conservative political operative who runs a chain of charter schools. This is the lead from the story, which is also front-paged this morning on Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.”

The story goes on to explain in great detail (much of it previously reported on NC Policy Watch) about how Mitchell has figured out a way to merge his right-wing political views with a skill for making boatloads of money at the public trough.

All in all, it is another powerful indictment of how the originally benign phenomenon of charter schools has been largely captured by the far right and money grubbers and thereby corrupted and perverted.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary

In case you missed it, the Associated Press is reporting new and disturbing news (click here to see the article in the Greensboro News & Record) about the impact that the nation’s mushrooming economic divide between the rich and everyone else is having on education:

Education is supposed to help bridge the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. Ask the experts, and they’ll count the ways:

Preschool can lift children from poverty. Top high schools prepare students for college. A college degree boosts pay over a lifetime. And the U.S. economy would grow faster if more people stayed in school longer.

Plenty of data back them up. But the data also show something else:

Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures.

Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.

“People at the top just have so much income now that they’re easily able to spend more on their kids,” Kornrich said.

The article continues:

The disparity in spending patterns creates a hurdle for reducing income inequality through additional education — the preferred solution of many economists.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose exploration of tax data helped expose the wealth gap, has argued that education “is the most powerful equalizing force in the long run.”

In short, the article provides a sobering confirmation of what critics have long been saying about the conservative movement’s successful, decades-long campaign to disinvest in and privatize our public education system — namely, that it’s expediting the demise of our middle class society.

Commentary

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.”

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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.

Uncategorized

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