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A day after lengthy discussion about how a significant number of charter school applicants recommended to set up shop in North Carolina were moved forward along with significant reservations about their ability to accomplish their proposed missions, the State Board of Education voted Thursday to approve 12 out of the 18 charter school hopefuls to open in the Fall of 2016.

The State Board rejected outright two charter school applicants, even though the Charter School Advisory Board had recommended they open — albeit in very close votes.

Town Center Charter School, which had hoped to open in Gaston County, was rejected over concerns that its for-profit education management organization, ALS, Inc. has a poor record in other states and could be stretched too thin by operating several charters at once in North Carolina.

Charlotte Classical School, which had hoped to open in Mecklenburg County, was rejected over concerns about its educational plan and weaknesses in its budget proposal.

The State Board decided to delay votes on four charter school applicants, sending them back to the Charter School Advisory Board for further review and investigation.

The applications of two charter schools that would be managed by the Florida-based EMO Newpoint Education Partners—Cape Fear Preparatory (New Hanover) and Pine Springs Preparatory (Wake)—were kicked back to the CSAB so that they could further investigate allegations and charges of grade tampering and other abuses at some of their Florida charter schools. (For more background, click here.)

The State Board also sent back two other charter school applications to the CSAB for further inquiry and evaluation. Those applications were for Capital City Charter High School (Wake) and Unity Classical School (Mecklenburg).

The twelve charter schools that the State Board of Education approved to open in the fall of 2016 are:

Cardinal Charter Academy at Knightdale (Wake)
Central Wake Charter High School (Wake)
FernLeaf Community Charter School (Henderson)
Gateway Charter Academy (Guilford)
Kannapolis Charter Academy (Cabarrus)
Leadership Academy for Young Women (New Hanover)
Mallard Creek STEM Academy (Mecklenburg)
Matthews-Mint Hill Charter Academy (Mecklenburg)
Mooresville Charter Academy (Iredell)
Peak Charter Academy (Wake)
Union Day School (Union)
Union Preparatory Academy at Indian Trail (Union)

Depending on the outcome of the four delayed charter school applications, North Carolina could see as many as 178 charter schools in operation by 2016.

News

This week the Senate kicks into high gear as it hammers out the final details of its budget proposal, and one likelihood is coming into sharper focus—Senators will probably propose spending a lot less on education than their counterparts have in the House.

Senate budget writer Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow) told the News & Observer this weekend that the Senate will likely release a plan that spends $500 million less than what House lawmakers agreed upon in their budget last week.

So what does this mean for public schools?

Spending targets released last week suggest that the Senate could propose shelling out $167.7 million less on education next year than what the House proposed in the budget that they passed last week — a figure that assumes any teacher pay raises the Senate springs for would be handed down from a separate pot of money, according to the *Budget & Tax Center’s policy analyst Tazra Mitchell.

“The Senate targets set the bar low for education,” said Mitchell.

Most of the proposed increase in spending for education would likely be eaten up by funding projected student enrollment growth, leaving behind just a little more than $1 million for other classroom expenses.

“With the Senate plan, we couldn’t rebuild classrooms — there would be no way to meaningfully reduce class sizes, boost professional development that improves students’ learning outcomes, and we couldn’t recoup the 7,000 state-funded teacher assistants we’ve lost since FY2009,” said Mitchell. Read More

News

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.