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N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Expect very little to change in the state’s controversial demographic assessment of North Carolina’s burgeoning charter school population if N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has her way.

Atkinson told Policy Watch Friday that, despite Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s objections this week to a report on the increasingly white charter population, her office has a responsibility to avoid massaging the data.

“I don’t see how (the report) could be different,” said Atkinson. “We have used the facts.”

During this week’s monthly State Board of Education meeting, Forest pulled a draft of an annual report on charter schools due for the N.C. General Assembly that included population statistics he deemed overly “negative.”

Included in the report, authored by DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, state staff noted that, while the charter student population is relatively similar to traditional public schools, they differ in a few major ways.

Most importantly, while traditional schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, charters are bucking the trend in North Carolina. More than 57 percent of the students in the state’s 158 charters are white, the report states, compared to more than 49 percent in traditional schools.

Additionally, only about 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, about half the percentage reported in traditional schools.

Also, over the last 15 years, North Carolina charters’ share of minority students has declined. In traditional schools, it’s the opposite, the report said.

This week, Adam Levinson, interim director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools, attempted to assure state board members that the report is purely data-driven, but Forest, a charter advocate, worried aloud that the media and charter critics would use the numbers to fuel opposition.

Atkinson, however, tells Policy Watch that the report used data pulled from the system’s accountability statistics, numbers used to report students’ academic growth rate and proficiency.

So what should we expect from a Forest-approved version of the charter report? Atkinson says she’s not sure.

She says Forest has yet to relay any information to her office about what he would like to see changed. However, she pointed out, state board member Becky Taylor, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, has asked each board member to send her their revisions for review next week, something certainly worth following.

Atkinson said she may suggest adding copies of the school systems’ accountability forms to the report in order to provide further confirmation of the data.

“We go the second mile of asking our schools to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the way it is. In the report our goal was actually to not have much of a narrative other than stating the facts. There are no policy recommendations.”

One other interesting point from the state report. Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charters in 2011, North Carolina has added another 58 operating charters, including two hotly-debated virtual charters, which seem to be facing a troubling dropout problem.

DPI staff expect to have a rewrite of their annual charter report prepared for the state board in February.

Commentary

There were two new and great editorial page “must reads” this past weekend on the state’s education wars.

Number One was Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the public school teachers who continue to fight for their children and profession despite the ongoing assault by state lawmakers.

“I think [teachers NaShonsda] Cooke, [Angela] Scioli and [Brendan] Fetters knew what they were signing up for. This path has never been strewn with rose petals. I know they didn’t expect, however, to be officially derided for their efforts. ‘The elephant in the room,’ Fetters explains, ‘is the constant claim that we are failing our students.’

The politicians who accuse them, of course, never go to their schools, never talk to the teachers. They do, though, ‘take away our teaching assistants, run good teachers off to other states, give us bigger classes, cut our budgets and disparage our schools,’ Cooke says.

It’s not lost on teachers of high-poverty children that all the current political energy is directed toward vouchers and charter schools, draining already inadequate resources. They “evaluate us on matters outside of our control,” Cooke says, “pronounce us broken, and then make it tougher to do our work.”

Cooke’s own daughter attends one of the high-poverty Durham schools receiving an F on the state’s new scorecard. ‘I know the greatness of what they do in that school. I’d never move her,’ Cooke says. She gets angry when her daughter’s teachers are maligned by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s one thing, I suppose, to wage war on public education. It’s another to shamelessly defame in the process.”

You can read the rest by clicking here.

Essay #2 comes from the Greensboro News & Record and it takes down the absurd an inappropriate partisanship that marked the firing of UNC President Tom Ross (which has been confirmed recently in emails released to N.C. Policy Watch and other news outlets). As the N&R Notes:

“The indication of misguided and unfair partisan attitudes toward Ross raises concerns about the next president. The Board of Governors won’t serve the people of the state well if it limits its choices to only Republican candidates. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers would like to amend North Carolina’s state constitution in ways that would undermine our ability to adequately meet the needs of a growing and changing state and impede our ability to build today for a strong economy for the future. These amendments would reduce annual state revenue by nearly $2 billion if implemented in 2015, meaning state funding cuts to important public investments that drive the state forward – our public schools, affordable higher education, safe and healthy communities, and modern infrastructure.

Colorado, which enacted TABOR in 1992, serves as a cautionary tale regarding the perils of taking such a path. The state suspended the law for five years in 2005 in response to a sharp decline in public services. As a result of TABOR, Colorado went from the middle of the pack to the bottom among states in regards to state support for public education and initiatives that serve children. Regarding Colorado, an updated 2015 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights:

  • Colorado fell from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th in the nation to 48th.
  • Colorado fell to near the bottom of national rankings in providing children with full, on-time vaccinations.
  • The share of low-income children in the state who lacked health insurance doubled, making Colorado the worst in the nation by this measure

North Carolina has ALREADY experienced erosion in state support for public schools, higher education and early childhood programs in recent years and currently ranks near the bottom among states in many areas. The implementation of these constitutional amendments would all but guarantee a last place finish in every race, every year.

  • North Carolina already ranks 43rd in average pay for our teachers.
  • North Carolina had the largest decline among states in average teacher salaries from 2003-04 to 2013-14.
  • North Carolina ranks 41st in change in state spending per student at 4-yr public universities since 2008

TABOR would make sure that we are unable to boost investments in early childhood initiatives, public schools, and public colleges and universities at a time when doing so is important to North Carolina becoming a more competitive and attractive state.

Contrary to the saying that if you’re at the bottom the only way to go is up, if TABOR comes to North Carolina, the only fate for the Tar Heel State is a permanent place at the bottom in regards to our commitment to public education.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Amid major differences between the House and Senate respective budgets, public schools across the state wait to see what level of state support will be provided for public education. The final decision doesn’t just matter for the education of our children but the attractiveness of our communities and the long-term potential of our economy to grow together.

Funding may not solve every challenge in public education, but it certainly can make a difference in ensuring that a quality education for every child can be provided. As I’ve previously highlighted, smart allocation of public dollars can ensure that regardless of where they live in the state, every child receives a quality education, and in so doing an opportunity for them and in turn the economy to do well in the future.

Here are six trends that highlight the impact of state-level budget decisions on public education in North Carolina.

  1. Total state funding for public schools remains below pre-recession level

State funding for public schools has not yet reached its peak level for FY 2008 prior to the Great Recession. For FY 2015, total state funding for public education was $8.04 billion compared to $8.6 billion for FY 2008 when adjusted for inflation. This decline in state funding equates to $578 million in less funding for public schools.

Total Pub Ed Spending

Note: For this blog post, state funding for teacher pay increases are included in total spending for public education. BTC normally backs this particular funding out of the public education budget, as it has historically been included in the Reserves section of the state budget. Accordingly, figures in this blog post may differ from BTC’s other analyses of the state budget.

Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

For the 2015-16 school year, the NC Department of Public Instruction reports that around 1,200 public schools are eligible to participate in an initiative that aims to fight hunger in high-poverty schools. Referred to as Community Eligibility, this initiative allows eligible high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge.

When children arrive at school hungry, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and do well in the classroom. Accordingly, community eligibility helps ensure that all children in high-poverty schools arrive to class each day fed and ready to learn. Last year, North Carolina got off to a good start with nearly 650 schools (around half of eligible schools) adopting community eligibility to feed more than 310,000 kids. Participating schools note that more NC children are eating school meals because of community eligibility, with a particular increase in the number of children eating breakfast.

The second year of this initiative provides an opportunity for additional eligible schools to join this initiative. With 1,200 public schools eligible for the upcoming school year, this means that hundreds of schools are not currently participating. Eligible schools that are not currently participating in Community Eligibility have until August 31, 2015 to confirm that they will join the initiative.

The impact of Community Eligibility extends beyond ensuring that children arrive to class fed and ready to learn. By eliminating the need to collect school meal applications, schools are able to use their staff more effectively and reduce administrative costs. These cost savings are likely welcomed by local schools amid limited financial resources and tight budgets.

This is not to say that the transition is easy. For example, a key feature of community eligibility is that schools no longer have to collect school meal applications; however, this paperwork has long been key to determining school funding mechanisms and poverty estimates, among other things. However, the USDA and US Dept. of Education have issued a variety of rules intended to address this issue and viable solutions exist for other particular challenges.

North Carolina has an opportunity to build upon its initial success with fighting child hunger through community eligibility. The overall health and prospects for the state will largely depend on the care and attention given to one of our most valuable assets – our youth. Supporting participating schools and getting more eligible schools to join community eligibility helps promote opportunity for all children.