Archives

News

After hours of anticipation yesterday as a bill lingered on a House Rules committee agenda that could allow for-profit charter school operators to takeover some of North Carolina’s worst performing schools, Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) told the Charlotte Observer Thursday night that his proposal won’t be taken up by fellow lawmakers this year.

Bryan, a Mecklenburg Republican with a leadership role in education, said in August that he planned to introduce a bill that would force five of the state’s lowest-scoring schools to close or convert to independently run charter schools. But he said Thursday that prolonged work on the budget squeezed out time to deal with the bill in the House education committee.

He said the new plan is to have a House select committee study the proposal and hold public meetings early in 2016, with a vote in next year’s short session. That would still allow schools to reopen as charters in 2017-18, he said.

The plan to create an ‘achievement school district’ (ASD) has been tried in similar ways in Tennessee, Louisiana and elsewhere. It’s a controversial way to attempt to improve student success at low-performing schools because it allows charter operators to fire public school teachers and staff and implement their own curricula and governance standards that are not overseen by locally elected school boards.

And the data don’t paint a clear picture of success in other locales where ASDs have been tried.

NC Policy Watch also uncovered out of state ties to pushing the ASD legislation. A wealthy Oregon businessman who has a history of pushing school privatization initiatives around the country financed lobbying efforts for the bill.

Proponents of the bill say the status quo isn’t working for disadvantaged students, and efforts like an achievement school zone where charter operators can pull up low-performing schools should be considered.

Rep. Bryan worked on his legislation with various stakeholders behind closed doors, producing 40+ versions of the proposal before it would have made it to a public hearing this week.

But Bryan says many politicians and educators weighed in on the idea to create a charter school takeover district.

“It’s been way more vetted than most other bills we do,” he said Thursday.

For more background on ASD, check out the following stories:

News

The controversial gutted-and-amended SB95, which has seen 40+ versions behind closed doors and would create a charter-managed Achievement School District comprising some of North Carolina’s lowest performing schools, looks to be on the move for public debate in the waning days of the 2015 legislative session.

The House withdrew SB95 from the Education K-12 committee this morning and placed it into the Rules committee. No word yet on when a House Rules committee will take place, but given the last few days’ unpredictable scheduling, it’s possible it could be calendared at any time.

See the end of this post for a recent version of the ASD proposal.

For more background on ASD, check out the following stories:

News

If you thought the dust had settled in Raleigh now that lawmakers have agreed on a final budget for 2015-17, think again—late Monday afternoon, Senate lawmakers gutted a House bill and inserted language that would divert money intended for use at traditional public schools over to charter schools.

Sen. Chad Barefoot spoke in support of the measure, arguing that public school money should follow a child, wherever he or she attends school. But Katherine Joyce, a lobbyist for the North Carolina School Administrators Association, said the changes will “have a significant, negative impact on your school districts.”

“This is making lots of changes in the delicate balance between funding for your public schools and funding for your charter students,” Joyce said. “Your LEAs will be strongly opposed to it.”

Many Senators appeared to be taken surprise by the move. A similar version of the bill was introduced back in March, which passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Currently public and charter schools all share per pupil funding given to school districts by the state. But it’s possible for districts to carve out certain funding streams to keep within traditional public schools—which includes sales tax revenue. The proposed charter school funding change would no longer allow that practice of reserving sales tax revenue for traditional public schools..

The funding change for charter schools would have additional impacts, some of which include:

  • Public schools would have to share federal monies with charters that support nutrition and transportation programs—even though charter schools are not required to offer students lunch or transportation.
  • If a district has a supplemental property tax intended for public schools, those funds would have to follow a child—even if he or she attends a charter school outside of the taxing district.
  • Districts may have to separately designate gifts and grants in order to keep them within the traditional system.
  • Federal appropriations made to school districts would have to be equally shared with charter schools.

Back in May, I talked with Guilford County Schools’ Chief of Staff, Nora Carr, about the proposed measure, as it stood in HB 456.

Tillman acknowledged that with his proposed measure, districts would have to separately designate those gifts, grants or reimbursements in order to keep them with traditional public schools—and that practice, says Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr, is what’s actually calling into question the issue of fairness.

“The thought of trying to add yet another level of paperwork [to earmark restricted funds], at a time when we’re cutting staff right and left because of other legislative actions going on,” said Carr, “and to paint this as fairness is just really misleading.”

Carr explained that, for example, Medicaid reimbursements for exceptional children (EC) by and large should go to traditional public schools, which serve the lion’s share of that student population. In order to make sure the reimbursements are directed to the schools serving EC students, the district would have to create yet another separate fund, creating more bureaucracy when the district is already dealing with very tight resources.

It’s important to note that the latest version of the bill may exclude Medicaid reimbursements, allowing those to stay with traditional public schools by default—but the language isn’t totally clear, so that’s a provision worth tracking.

And grants, as Carr noted back in May, are often sought out for specific activities at traditional public schools during a time of waning revenues. Having to then share the grant awards with charters who did not seek those funds would be unfair, said Carr.

Read the latest version of the charter school funding bill here, and a bill summary written by legislative staff here. The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, then, if approved, on to the House for a concurrence vote.

Commentary

Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan, whose open letter critiquing a legislative plan to turn struggling public schools over to for-profit charter school operators got a great deal of deserved attention last month, has penned another “must read.” This one is a detailed and lengthy response to a recent essay by State Rep. Jon Hardister of Guilford County in which Hardister attempted to argue that the state’s conservative political leadership has not been waging “a war on public education.”

After debunking several of Hardister’s claims about education spending (which, as Egan notes, continues to fall when one accounts for enrollment growth), Egan offers the following list of recent state actions vis a vis public schools:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private schools.
  • The underfunding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.
  • The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, MSLs, CCs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).
  • The appointment of non-educators to leadership roles in writing new curricula.
  • The engagement with profit-motivated companies and no-bid contracts with entities like Pearson that dictate not only what teachers are allowed to teach but also how students are assessed.

All in all, Egan’s essay is a powerful, if sobering, read. Click here to read it in its entirety.

News

Having worked through the Labor Day weekend, lawmakers are indicating that budget talks have been productive and that we could see a budget agreement hammered out—2.5 months late—between House and Senate leaders by week’s end.

It’s been a very long seven (?) months since the start of this year’s legislative session, so in case you’ve gotten so weary you’ve lost track of what’s at stake for public education, here are seven big issues.

Teacher assistants. Yes, once again, TA jobs are on the line and serve as one of the biggest sticking points between the House and the Senate. The House wants to preserve their jobs (of which there are already far fewer than pre-recession levels), while the Senate wants to do away with more than 8,500 TA jobs over the next two years in favor of reducing classroom sizes.

Educators say wait: not enough space or time at this point to reduce class sizes and, by the way, who will drive the buses, administer the medicines, and keep kids safe—not to mention who will make sure third graders are reading proficient?

Driver’s education. The Senate wants to defund driver’s ed and make parents pay $350+ for their kids to learn how to drive. Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Boone) says kids just need to sit behind the wheel for a while—instruction isn’t necessary. The House wants to keep the program going, which some say has markedly improved thanks to recent efforts to increase oversight and coordination between the DMV and driver’s ed programs.

Meanwhile, thanks to funding uncertainty, some school districts have already quit providing driver’s ed. And the person at DPI who some say is responsible for making the program better? He got laid off.

Teacher pay. Lawmakers have said they’ll fund the step increases that were foreshadowed in last year’s set of pay raises, which is welcome news to teachers who thought they would have seen those pay bumps earlier this summer. Beginning teachers will see their base pay rise again to $35,000, a promise that was made last year. Everyone else? $750 Christmastime bonuses, which isn’t really a salary increase, but, well—a bonus.

All of these promises were made verbally, though, so let’s see how things actually pan out in the budget documents.

Reminder: NC ranks 42nd in teacher pay, 47th in per pupil spending, and new teachers have no tenure rights. And next year, new teachers may not be able to look forward to…

Health retirement benefits. Senate lawmakers want to end a much-treasured benefit that comes with working for the state government for many years at comparatively lower wages than what private industry pays: state-paid health retirement benefits. Teachers and state employees hired after January 1 of next year would not be eligible for free health insurance upon retirement. House and Senate leaders have been pretty quiet on the budget provision, and we’ll see if it makes it into the final budget.

A-F school grades. The Senate wants to require local school districts to come up with improvement plans for schools that receive Ds or Fs under the state’s new school grading system—but they offer no funds in order to help local schools implement the plans. (See why this is especially important at the bottom of this post.)

“We believe money is not the answer,” said Sen. Brown, explaining instead that districts must identify other ways to deal with factors that contribute to poor performance at failing schools.

Neither Senate nor House budget proposals also do not include language that would change how schools receive A-F school grades, in spite of interest expressed on both sides of the aisle for the school grading system to be amended so that the grades better indicate how well schools are able to help their students improve academically over time.

If the A-F grading system remains as is, by and large high poverty-serving schools with fewer resources would continue to receive failing grades while schools that serve higher income populations would receive better marks—a trend we just saw continue for the second year in a row.

School vouchers. The House and Senate want to expand the Opportunity Scholarships program by $6.8 million, bringing the total cost of the program to $17.6 million each year of the biennium. The vouchers allow low-income students to attend unaccountable private schools with taxpayer dollars.

Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled the program constitutional, we’ll see if legislators move to expand the program even further.

Textbooks. The Senate proposes $58 million over two years for textbooks and digital resources—less than half of what the House has proposed. Funds for textbooks have been slashed to the bone over the past five years and House and Senate proposals still do not restore textbook funds to their 2011 levels.

Meanwhile…

Bonus issue: Achievement School District. It’s not in the budget, but hey, who knows — anything can end up in the budget.

The ASD is an idea being shepherded by Rep. Rob Bryan behind closed doors. The proposal allows charter school operators to take over low-performing schools, fire the teachers and staff, and catapult students’ academic performance into the top 25 percent within a few years. A wealthy businessman from Oregon is financing lobbying efforts associated with the possible legislation.

Word on the street is that Bryan’s bill is being met with pushback and key Republican lawmakers haven’t been converted on the idea. Stay tuned to see if the ASD proposal gets inserted into a gutted Senate bill (SB 95) and heard in committee, or if it makes it into budget documents.