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Barbara Dell Carter

Second grade teacher Barbara Dell Carter

Do you remember Barbara Dell Carter?

She’s the second grade classroom teacher at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in “little” Washington, who I visited late last summer while she dutifully prepared her classroom for the first day of school.

As she straightened up her books (many of which she procured through her own means), Carter told me of her fears of facing yet another year without a dedicated teacher assistant (TA), not to mention how to cope with a state budget that dealt significant cuts to other areas of the classroom.

She is worried. Not the back-to-school jitters kind of worried; she has deep-seated concerns about the challenges she will face this year as educators grapple with a public school budget that spends $500 million less than what was spent in 2008.

Five years ago, the teacher assistant who is now sitting in Carter’s classroom preparing instructional materials would typically spend the entire day, every day, with Carter during the school year. That teacher assistant would help her manage 21 or 22 seven-year-old children who need to go to the bathroom, get fed, learn a lesson at a slightly slower or faster pace, or go to the nurse’s office, among many other possible situations, all throughout the day.

Now, that teacher assistant will be shared among four or five other classrooms. So maybe Carter will have a colleague help her manage her classroom for just an hour each day.

Maybe.

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Gov. Pat McCrory, previously a Common Core supporter, signed a bill into law Tuesday that could set the stage for North Carolina to Common Core picrid itself of the more rigorous academic standards—although he doesn’t quite see it that way.

“It (the legislation) does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards,” McCrory said in a press release indicating his support for the legislation. “It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards.”

Lawmakers began moving toward a repeal of the Common Core standards months ago, which are a set of guidelines that that the state adopted in 2010 which outline what students should be able to know and do in mathematics and English language arts.

The House passed legislation that would repeal the standards and force the State Board of Education to consider alternatives that would not include the Common Core. But the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Tillman, keeps the door open for Common Core, allowing a review commission of mostly political appointees to recommend to the State Board some or even all of the standards currently in place.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which were developed by local stakeholders, the National Governors Association and The Council of Chief State School Officers, of which North Carolina’s State Superintendent, Dr. June Atkinson, is president-elect.

But states have recently begun to step away from the standards. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have repealed Common Core, and numerous other states have expressed their intention to renege on their promise to implement them in various ways.

North Carolina has spent many millions on implementing the Common Core, using mostly federal Race to the Top (RttT) funds. The state has spent at least $72 million of RttT money on transitioning to the Common Core, and an additional $68 million was spent on building local districts’ technological capacity to be able to deliver on the new standards.

Outside of RttT funds, local school districts have also spent their own money on CCSS implementation – and it’s difficult to even put a figure on that cost.

While Sen. Tillman’s legislation seems like a compromise, potentially allowing Common Core to stay — it should be noted that Tillman has been a vehement opponent of the standards, telling some folks at a news conference last May that Common Core is a sellout and “we’ve sold our soul.”

“Well, they dangled $430 million dollars out there, Race to the Top. Good old easy money, bought us off…But we got some powerful people fighting this thing. And so I want us to stop it [Common Core],” said Tillman.

Tillman will likely play a role behind the scenes in suggesting who will sit on the Academic Standards Review Commission, which will comprise four appointees selected by Senate leader Phil Berger, four appointees selected by Speaker Thom Tillis, 2 members of the State Board of Education and one appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory.

Stay tuned to learn who will sit on that commission, which is designed to determine the fate of the Common Core standards in North Carolina.

 

On the heels of its Raleigh job fair in May, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is once again looking to poach North Carolina’s school teachers to come work in Texas for much higher pay. The Texas school district will be holding job fairs this week in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.Houston

The available jobs in Houston, according to Greensboro’s News & Record, are in “critical shortage” areas including bilingual education, secondary math and science, special education and career and technical education.

HISD, which is headed by former Guilford County Schools superintendent Terry Grier, advertises a starting salary for teachers of $49,100. In North Carolina, the starting salary for teachers is currently $30,800. The advertisement says the Houston school district is “prepared to make job offers on the spot.”

North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and there has been no shortage of attention to the fact that teachers, who haven’t seen a significant pay increase in six years, are leaving the state in large numbers.

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in a budget battle over how much more to pay teachers, proposing anywhere from a 6 to 11 percent pay raise and bringing the starting salary for teachers up to $35,000.

But those salary increases may come at the expense of teacher assistants, who could be laid off in large numbers this fall to pay for the pay bumps.

See HISD’s job fair advertisements here, here and here.

School vouchersSchool voucher money could be in the hands of families and schools one month earlier than planned for the upcoming school year—and prior to a court date that could rule the program unconstitutional.

According to an updated schedule published on June 20 on the N.C.  State Education Assistance Authority’s website, funds for the school vouchers, formally known as taxpayer-funded Opportunity Scholarships that are worth up to $4,200 per student annually to attend a private school, are now scheduled to be delivered to schools on August 15.

The money for school vouchers was previously scheduled for disbursement September 15, according an affidavit by Elizabeth McDuffie of the NC SEAA. But a court date that had been scheduled for August 22 could halt the program before school starts if Judge Robert H. Hobgood rules the voucher program unconstitutional.

Attorneys filed a motion late last week to block the early disbursement of funds, concerned about the harm that could result from providing families with potentially worthless vouchers just as they send their kids to private schools this fall. A hearing to consider delaying the disbursement of funds until after the court decides if the program should go forward will take place this Friday at 3:30p.m.

“If funds are distributed to parents and schools to support a program that is going to be declared unconstitutional in late August, then the state is put in the position of having to retrieve that money from hundreds of schools, and parents who are relying on these vouchers are going to find that the voucher is worthless,” said Burton Craige, attorney for plaintiffs who are challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program.

“So this disrupts parents, children, schools, and the state in its use of taxpayer funds.”

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The Wilmington StarNews reports that Baker Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy, the for-profit education management organization that oversees four charter schools Mitchell founded in eastern North Carolina, as well as another company that leases school equipment and supplies both take in considerable sums of money from leasing land, buildings, equipment and supplies to Mitchell’s schools.

For the 2013-14 school year, Charter Day School in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville paid Mitchell’s Roger Bacon Academy about $1.5 million to lease their buildings. As part of their contract, the schools also agreed to pay property taxes and insurance, which totaled another $90,000; and building upkeep, for another $200,000. Douglass Academy, housed in the Peabody Building on North Sixth Street in downtown Wilmington, is leased from the nonprofit Friends of New Hanover County Community Action for $1 per year.

The company plans to open a fourth school, South Brunswick Charter School in Southport, this fall.

Mitchell incorporated both the Roger Bacon Academy for-profit education management company and the for-profit Coastal Habitat Conservancy school equipment and supply rental company in early 1999. He founded the first nonprofit charter school four months later, according to records from the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

Mitchell currently serves as the secretary for Charter Day School Inc.’s board of trustees, is the president of the management company and is the registered agent for the rental company.

That means Mitchell leads the company that manages the schools and the company that rents equipment to the schools and is an officer on the schools’ decision-making board.

Mitchell, who also sits on the state board that reviews and recommends new charter school bids in the state, has come under intense scrutiny lately as he has fought hard to keep the salaries of his public charter school employees secret, even though state law requires that information to be made available to the public.

Mitchell, who he himself has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing charter schools in southeastern North Carolina according to IRS filings, is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, but details of that case have not been made public.

One of Mitchell’s newer charter schools, Douglass Academy in Wilmington, is currently under a warning for low enrollment numbers. The school must boost those numbers to the statutory minimum of 65 early this fall in order to avoid closure.

Read the full StarNews story here.