Archives

Commentary

School-vouchersIf it strikes you as odd and troubling that North Carolina has started bestowing “failing” grades on public schools even as it writes checks to unaccountable private schools which teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on the planet at the same time, you’re not alone. The idea of school vouchers remains enormously controversial in our state and rightfully so.

For better or worse, however, at this point, the only opinions that really matter on the issue are those of the seven members of the state Supreme Court. In less than two weeks, the justices will hear arguments in the case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s voucher scheme and, presumably, issue a final judgment sometime in the coming months.

If you’d like to understand where things really stand and what may happen, please join us next Tuesday February 10 as an expert panel addresses: “The constitutional challenge to school vouchers: Where do things stand? What happens next?”

Click here to register.

The luncheon will feature

Read More

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More

News

Civil rights groups as well as a long list of academic scholars have joined the fight to end the state’s new school voucher law, which allows families to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools over which the state exercises almost no oversight.

The opponents of school vouchers, who filed amicus briefs with the N.C. Supreme Court late last week and on Monday in support of the taxpayers and school boards that are suing to end the program, present arguments that range from school vouchers don’t help poor black children as they are intended to contesting the validity of using public dollars for private, religious education.

“The voucher plan will harm the great majority of children of color who will remain in the traditional public schools,” according to the NC NAACP’s amicus brief, filed Monday.

Further, the NAACP brief adds that “[the voucher plan] will undermine North Carolina’s public education system, not just by drawing resources away from the public schools, but also by turning those schools into “discard zones” where only the poorest children remain, and by subsidizing hypersegregated private schools that are at liberty to discriminate against at risk students.”

Duke University public policy professor Helen Ladd heads up a long list of education scholars as well as the Duke Children’s Law Clinic in their friend-of-the-court brief, filed Monday, asserting that a dedicated body of scholarly research indicates that school voucher programs do not produce positive educational outcomes for students.

“While it is possible to cherry-pick a few studies that show occasional modest benefits to students using vouchers – typically those done by advocacy groups rather than independent scholars – the overwhelming thrust of the evidence is that voucher programs do not foster academic gains for children,” asserted the scholars in their brief.

The ACLU along with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State argue in their amicus brief that the state’s voucher program violates the state constitution because no public purpose is served by funding with taxpayer dollars religious education at private schools that discriminate on the basis of religion.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, also filed an amicus brief late Monday opposing North Carolina’s voucher program.

Last year, a Wake County Superior Court judge found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional, although the program has been allowed to continue while its fate is decided. The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the school voucher case on February 17.

News

Next week, the Department of Public Instruction will release for the first time letter grades for each school in North Carolina. The letter grades will largely represent how well a school’s students performed on standardized tests at one given time (that will be 80 percent of the grade), and, to a lesser degree, how much students’ performance on those tests has improved over time (20 percent of the grade).

When the A-F school grades website goes live (it will be accessible at www.ncpublicschools.org/src on February 5), you can view any school’s letter grade as well as a detailed explanation of how the grade was calculated.

This is a screen shot (built with dummy data by staff at DPI) of how the grades will appear.

school grades

If you’re wondering why North Carolina has joined 15 other states on the A-F school grades bandwagon, you can thank Senate leader Phil Berger, who began championing this legislation back in 2011. And you can also thank former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who pioneered A-F school grades in the late 1990s.

Read More

News

Kinston Charter Academy closed its doors back in September 2013 after years of financial mismanagement. Today, the state auditor released a report investigating the school’s financial practices.

The audit reveals allegations of fraud and abuse that took place on the watch of the school’s CEO and Principal, Ozie Hall Jr. Some of the most eyebrow-raising findings include:

School overstated attendance estimate which inflated state funds received by more than $300,000.

School employed Chief Executive Officer/Principal’s (CEO) unqualified relatives, at a cost of $92,500 in the School’s final year.

Despite ultimately owing more than $370,000 in payroll obligations, questionable payments of more than $11,000 were made to the CEO and his wife.

Despite the School’s dire financial situation, the board approved several expenses already paid by cashier’s check and often with limited supporting documentation. These expenses included vacation leave payouts to the CEO and his wife, who was serving as the board chair, and a new laptop computer for the CEO.

Investigators also had trouble verifying Hall’s past experience running a school:

Although the CEO received degrees in education and administration, his background lacked key qualifications for the position as specified in the School’s 2004 charter. He told investigators that he “ran an alternative school” in Wilmington, Delaware from 1986 to 1990. However, the CEO provided no documentation (no information on students, teachers, curriculum, address, hours of instruction) to support that claim. The Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Public Archives could not verify the school’s existence.

And then there’s this finding:

The CEO’s daughter was hired as the School’s academic officer despite a lack of teaching or school administration experience. She received $40,000 in salary during the 2012-13 school year. The CEO said her duties included monitoring lesson plans for elementary school classes and helping with implementation of Common Core standards. The daughter was a recent college graduate with a degree in American Studies. The CEO told us that she had never worked in a school previous to her employment at the School. She replaced the associate principal who had over 20 years of experience in public schools with her most recent job as “an assistant to the Superintendent” according to the CEO.

Reached by phone, Hall, who is now head of Anderson Creek Club Charter School in Harnett County, said the auditor’s report reflects basic incompetence.

“The fact that they couldn’t find it [the Wilmington, DE alternative school] is another reflection of incompetence,” said Hall. “The report contains outright fabrications.”

State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey says the board will be seeking a legislative fix this session to allow them more authority in dealing with financially troubled charter schools.

Click here to read the full report.