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A registered sex offender who worked at a Fayetteville private Christian school that has received more than $100,000 in publicly-funded school vouchers is now facing criminal charges—and the head of the school that hired him has taken a leave of absence, WRAL reports.

Paul Conner, 50, of Mosswood Lane in Fayetteville, is charged with three counts of violating the sex offender registry guidelines and one count of conspiracy, according to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

The school’s [Freedom Christian Academy] principal, Joan Dayton, submitted a leave of absence to school officials Friday amid an investigation into claims that she allowed Conner to work at the school and that administrators changed student grades.

Dayton has not been charged, but is named in Conner’s arrest warrant as a co-conspirator.

Last week, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant to determine if Dayton, who employed Conner to do handyman work at Freedom Christian Academy, knew beforehand that he was a registered sex offender.

The detective working on the investigation concluded that there was probable cause that Dayton knew of Conner’s status thanks to emails she sent and interviews with teachers, staff and parents.

Dayton has not been charged, but she was named ‘co-conspirator’ in Conner’s arrest warrant, according to WRAL.

The investigation is also looking into allegations that school officials changed the grades of favored students and athletes.

Freedom Christian Academy has received $108,254 in public school voucher funds to date—the state’s fifth largest voucher recipient. Twenty-six of its 500+ students have each been able to use up to $4,200 in public funds to pay for tuition at the private religious school.

—>For more background: Private Christian school receiving $100,000+ in publicly funded school vouchers accused of knowingly hiring registered sex offender

Parents have posted multiple comments on Freedom Christian Academy’s Facebook asking for more answers.

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Stay tuned for further developments.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

A powerful new initiative aimed at reducing childhood hunger will be available to around 1,200 high-poverty schools in North Carolina this upcoming school year. This initiative, known as community eligibility, allows qualifying schools to serve meals free of charge to all students, ensuring that children whose families are struggling to put food on the table have access to healthy meals at school.

Last year, North Carolina got off to a good start with nearly 650 schools using community eligibility to feed more than 310,000 kids. This upcoming school year, hundreds more schools are eligible to participate.

Results show that more NC children are eating school meals because of community eligibility, with a particular increase in the number of children eating breakfast. This means that more children are fueled up and ready to learn at school each day.

When children arrive at school hungry, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and do well in the classroom. By providing schools meals to all of our children free of charge, we are both reducing hunger and increasing their chances of student success. Read More

News

A private Christian school in Fayetteville that has received more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded school vouchers is now the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that the head of school knowingly allowed a registered sex offender to work on campus. No criminal charges have been filed in relation to the case.

The offender, whose wife was also a teacher at Freedom Christian Academy, was on that school’s campus doing handyman work during the 2011-12 school year, occasionally coming into contact with students, according to a report filed by the Fayetteville Observer.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s office executed a search warrant Wednesday to determine if the head of school, Joan Dayton, knowingly allowed the sex offender, Paul Conner, to work at the school.

Conner was found guilty in 2001 of taking indecent liberties and committing a sexual offense with an 8-year-old child. The offense occurred in 1994, when Conner was 30, and he served two years in state prisons from 2001-2003, according to the N.C. Department of Corrections.

“Yes, it’s a long story they obviously don’t want out,” said Dayton in a February 2012 email response contained in the search warrant that was addressed to another teacher who pointed out that Conner was a registered sex offender. “I have had many talks with him and he like lin [sic] were falsely accused. Do you want to hear the story from me?”

The sheriff’s office also investigated complaints that school officials changed grades for athletes and other favored students.

In a statement emailed to parents Wednesday evening and reported on WRAL.com, Dayton said Conner was simply helping his wife with her classroom after school hours and building some shelving for the school.

Ronnie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office, says the complainants in the investigation—a parent, teacher and former administrator—say otherwise, noting Conner was on the campus multiple times. Search warrant records also indicate Conner was paid for his work.

Based on the findings of the investigation to date and the affidavit in the search warrant, Mitchell said Dayton did conduct a criminal background check on Conner and knew that he was a registered sex offender, but employed him anyway. Once it was revealed to others that he was a sex offender, she terminated his employment, according to the search warrant.

State law says that registered sex offenders cannot come onto school grounds, regardless of whether they would or would not have arranged contact with students in the form of instruction or caregiving.

Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till said this would never happen at the district’s public schools.

“It wouldn’t be allowed. We screen all of our people and the principal does not have discretion,” said Till, with regard to hiring registered sex offenders.

Some with criminal backgrounds of lesser offenses are considered for school-based positions, like those who may have shoplifted in the past, said Till.

“But once you abuse a child, there’s no second chance. You’re finished,” Till said, adding that if Freedom Christian’s head of school somehow made it past the elaborate screening process the public schools use, he’d fire her.

Freedom Christian Academy is one of the top five private schools that have received taxpayer-funded school vouchers, formally known as Opportunity Scholarships.

The private religious school has received $108,254 in public dollars to date—the state’s fifth largest voucher recipient. Twenty-six of its 500+ students have each been able to use up to $4,200 in public funds to pay for tuition at the school.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the “Opportunity Scholarships” beginning last fall. The vouchers, worth $4,200 per student annually, funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions. Teachers at private schools do not have to be licensed, and, as noted before, do not have to undergo criminal background checks.

The private voucher schools are also free to pick and choose who can attend their schools, in spite of the fact that they receive tax dollars. Freedom Christian Academy requires its applicants to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord, have at least one parent be a follower of Christ and provide a pastoral reference as part of the admissions process.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the state’s new school voucher program to be unconstitutional last year, but the program has been allowed to proceed while a court battle over the program’s legality continues.

The state Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision on the constitutionality of school vouchers within weeks, as the House debates a budget bill that could expand the program significantly, adding nearly $7 million to its coffers.

*Investigative reporter Sarah Ovaska contributed to this report.

News

The nation’s top teachers say family stress and poverty are their students’ biggest hurdles when it comes to learning in the classroom, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Jennifer Dorman, Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, told The Washington Post that helping her students cope with these outside-of-the-classroom barriers to academic success is the most important part of her job.

“But on a national level, those problems are not being recognized as the primary obstacles,” said Dorman.

Scholastic, Inc. partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers to survey the 2015 state Teachers of the Year. All but ten of the 56 TOYs responded.

Other barriers to student success? Learning and psychological problems, English language challenges, substance abuse, bullying and inadequate nutrition, in that order, were other problems ranked by teachers.

Another finding from the survey, highlighted by WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton, was teachers’ dissatisfaction with analyzing data.

The unpopularity of data is surprising in an era when schools and teachers are urged to adopt data-driven instruction.

Mark Mautone, New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year, relies heavily on data to fine-tune his work with autistic students at an elementary school in Hoboken.

“At the same time, there are other things that do drive instruction — poverty, family stress, all those multiple measures that could affect the outcome,” Mautone said. “Data is important, but if a kid doesn’t have clothes to wear or a pencil to do their homework, the main concern becomes the well-being of the child.”

Read the survey here.

News

House lawmakers unveiled their 2015-17 biennial budget Thursday morning—and education proposals were longer on policy pitches than big figure changes, including measures that would affect student assessment & classroom staffing models as well as seven different pilot programs aimed at teacher preparation, workforce development and remediation, among other ideas.

The budget also did not include a much anticipated announcement on teacher pay — that’s to come at the beginning of next week.

Read on for a list of highlights.

K-12 House Budget

School vouchers: Provided the Supreme Court allows the Opportunity Scholarships program to proceed, which provides students with state funds to attend private schools, House lawmakers propose a $6.8 million increase for 2015-16—bringing the annual cost of program to $17.6 million

Disability vouchers: Students with disabilities would be able to use up to $8,000 state funds annually to attend private schools—that’s up from $6,000 annually in prior years. Families could also get tuition funds up front versus having to wait for reimbursement.

Teacher assistants: Lawmakers added $88.9 million compared to the base each year — but the move is just to backfill the loss in lottery receipts and other nonrecurring funds. So the takeaway is that there’s no real change here–funding levels remain the same as ’14-15.

Textbooks & digital resources: $50 million (for textbooks) compared to the base each year, with a cumulative increase during the biennium of $100 million. Textbook funding has been obliterated in recent years. Read More