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Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage

Governor Pat McCrory and Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage

Governor Pat McCrory toured a Cary charter school Thursday with the head of that school’s for-profit education management organization, Charter Schools USA.

“He’s just here to highlight a good school,” said Eric Guckian, McCrory’s education advisor, when asked what prompted the Governor’s visit Thursday to Cardinal Charter Academy, which opened its doors to grades K-6 last August.

Jonathan Hage, the CEO of Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based education management organization that operates three charter schools in North Carolina and 70 schools overall in seven states, told N.C. Policy Watch he’d like to increase the number of schools his EMO operates in the Tar Heel state.

“We hope to earn the opportunity [for expansion] by doing a great job here,” said Hage in reference to Cardinal Charter, pointing to the school’s use of “high technology” and a strong discipline policy.

Hage, who has reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns around the country, also cut checks to three North Carolina lawmakers’ campaigns in 2014 — $2,500 each to Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus, Union).

Gov. McCrory & Charter Schools USA CEO Hage

Gov. McCrory & Charter Schools USA CEO Hage

“We support anyone who supports more school choice for kids and does that in a responsible way,” said Hage when queried about his campaign donations.

Last week, Senator Tillman filed legislation that would make it easier for national education management organizations, like Charter Schools USA, to expand and replicate their model across the state.

It’s not the first time Sen. Tillman has filed legislation that would ease the path for for-profit national EMOs. Last year, Tillman sponsored legislation that set up a fast-track process for replication of high quality charter schools and a process for EMOs to take over other failing charter schools.

Tillman and other GOP leaders have reportedly expressed frustration in the past about the pace of charter school expansion in North Carolina since the 100 school cap on the number of charters allowed to operate in the state was lifted back in 2011.

Last year, Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes rebuked his colleagues for failing to greenlight more charter schools, saying GOP leaders want to see “operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity.”

Hawkes also indicated in an email to other Charter School Advisory Board members that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Charter Schools USA has come under criticism for running a real estate racket in Florida. A report by the Florida League of Women Voters finds that the for-profit EMO diverts taxpayer money for education to private pockets through shady dealings that result in high real estate leasing fees – paid for by the public.

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Senator Tom McInnis (R-Richmond) filed a bill last week that would require all UNC professors to teach no fewer than four courses a semester. It’s a move that, McInnis says, is an effort to make sure classes are not taught primarily by student assistants — but some are concerned it could hamper research and development at the state’s prestigious institutions of higher education.

“There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students,” McInnis said in a statement, according to the Richmond County Daily Journal. “I look forward to the debate that will be generated by this important legislation.”

University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Professor Stephen Leonard, who teaches political science and is chair of the UNC system-wide Faculty Assembly, said the legislation is nothing more than an attempt to kill public higher education in North Carolina.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” said Leonard. “Talented faculty would start looking for work out of state, it would be hard to attract junior faculty coming out of graduate school, and it would be impossible to attract senior faculty who bring a lot of resources to our institutions.”

Leonard says the most problematic consequence of the proposed law would be that the discovery and production of knowledge would grind to a halt.

“Which I suppose is okay if you don’t want to cure cancer, fix infrastructure or make new discoveries about manufacturing processes,” said Leonard.

SB 593 would tie professors’ salaries to their course loads—those teaching fewer than four courses each semester would earn less than their full salaries, determined on a pro-rata basis.

The legislation also allows for the salary difference to be made up by an individual campus’ endowment, should they determine a professor should take on a lighter course load in order to conduct research – but Leonard says that’s an untenable scenario for most campuses.

“Good luck with that,” said Leonard. “Almost all of the campuses that are not Research 1 institutions would have a hard time coming up with the funds to do that.”

According to the Richmond County Daily Journal, the bill would result in professors at big research universities like UNC – Chapel Hill finding their course loads nearly double.

The bill comes at a time when the state’s university system is undergoing considerable turmoil thanks to recent controversial decisions to raise tuition, close three academic centers and fire UNC’s widely-praised president, Tom Ross. The system has also been handed substantial budget cuts over the past five years by the state legislature, including a $400 million cut in 2011.

Sen. McInnis did not respond to requests for comment. Read the bill in its entirety below.

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A bill filed this week by Sens. Wells, Brock, Wade and Soucek would limit school employees’ political activities — and while it only pertains to what teachers can and can’t do during working hours, some are concerned the bill could keep teachers from speaking out altogether on issues they care about.

“I think it could have a chilling effect,” said Guilford County Spanish teacher Todd Warren in an interview with the Greensboro News & Record on Thursday. “Teachers aren’t the most politically active people anyway, but right now there are a lot of people who are afraid for their jobs if they speak out on some of these issues. This could just make that worse.”

Senate Bill 480 would disallow school employees from working on political campaigns during working hours, use the authority of his or her position to secure support or opposition for a political candidate, and use public funds to these ends. Read More

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Guilford County Schools chief Maurice “Mo” Green is asking the county for an additional $26 million in local funds to help fill the gaps that schools are facing thanks to years of disinvestment in public education by state lawmakers.

The News & Record reports that school leaders say they’re persistently seeing increased needs and mandates but dwindling funds.

“We’re just not doing what we know is educationally sound for children,” Guilford schools superintendent Green said Tuesday.

The $26 million would go toward mitigating some of the following scenarios Guilford schools are dealing with, according to the N&R:

  • Enrollment has increased by more than 1,200 students since 2008-09 but there are 185 fewer full-time teacher positions, district figures show.
  • The fiscal 2015 budget included almost $18 million in reductions and included a dip into the school system’s fund balance.
  • The amount of local funds allocated per student has steadily dropped over seven years from $2,416 to $2,340.
  • The school system hopes to avoid increasing class sizes once again and have enough funds to provide students and teachers with the resources they need, like textbooks.

Governor McCrory’s latest budget proposal would translate to a $4.4 million loss for Guilford County schools that would sap funds for teacher assistants and driver’s education, among other line items. Read More

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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed into law last Thursday a bill that repeals the state’s A-F school grading system – an accountability mechanism similar to North Carolina’s own new model that grades public schools largely on the basis of how students perform on standardized tests.

A Republican Senator, Virginia Rep. Richard Black, introduced the bill to repeal A-F school grades late last year because, he said, public schools receiving F grades would be unfairly stigmatized and such schools would find recruiting new teachers very difficult, according to Education Week.

Virginia’s A-F school grading system was enacted in 2013 by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, but never put into place thanks to a two-year delay ordered by lawmakers.

In North Carolina the A-F school grading system, which has been assailed by critics as nothing more than a proxy for which schools serve high poverty student populations, now awards letter grades to every public school beginning with data from the 2013-14 school year. Read More