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The Charlotte Observer:

In striking down the state’s new school voucher law on Thursday, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood laid out a cogent, compelling constitutional case against the bad law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt…,” he said from the bench, “the Opportunity Scholarship program funds a system of private schools from taxpayer dollars as an alternative to the public school system in direct contravention of the North Carolina Constitution….”

Voucher advocates say they will appeal, noting that parents need choices other than traditional public schools. But Hobgood correctly notes that the state is constitutionally obligated to provide a sound, basic education to N.C. students, and lawmakers can’t delegate that obligation to “unregulated” and “unaccountable” private schools.

The Greensboro News & Record:

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s opinion of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was blunt.

“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” he said Thursday in ordering an immediate halt to the voucher plan.

That was not a political statement. Hobgood, a veteran judge holding court in Wake County, cited several provisions of the state constitution violated by the voucher program….

Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office will appeal to higher courts, but Hobgood’s interpretation of the state constitution seems sound.

It was the legislature that went off track in enacting a program that diverts millions of dollars from public schools and contradicts good judgment. At a time when more accountability is demanded of public schools and educators, this program asks almost nothing of participating private schools. It just sends them money.

Bad idea. And, according to the judge, it violates the state constitution.

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school-bus-stop-armIf there’s one giant mistake that both Democrats and Republicans have made down through the years when it comes to improving North Carolina’s public schools it’s the repeated attempts to impose gimmicks and quick fixes. Rather than simply giving the experts the resources they need, standing back and pointing in the desired direction, politicians of both parties have displayed a never-ending affinity for cutesy programs with politically-motivated names and tactics.

One of the most recent and worst examples of this unfortunate fixation for politicians is the new and fatally simplistic plan (thanks, Senator Berger!) to affix letter grades on public schools to characterize their supposed performance levels. A new editorial in the Charlotte Observer succinctly explains why the whole plan should be consigned to the circular file:

The N.C. legislature, in a budget Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week, has delayed until after Jan.15 the issuance of new report cards with A-F grades for academic quality at each public school in the state. Instead of a delay, lawmakers should take this pause in implementation as an opportunity to ditch the idea entirely. It’s unwise and problematic. Read More

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Voices of concern are growing louder as more and more individuals and institutions directly impacted by the new state budget signed by Gov. McCrory yesterday come to grasp what is actually in the 260 page document. As reported in the post immediately below and in this story by Sarah Ovaska on Wednesday, the list of changes buried in the fine print is long and full of significant policy decisions.

And as this story in today’s Charlotte Observer details, one of the most important and worrisome changes involves how the state funds public education:

A provision of the state budget that changes how schools are funded will put Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at a disadvantage in recruiting talented teachers and make planning much more difficult, Superintendent Heath Morrison said.

As part of the budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday, the state legislature will no longer automatically fund growth in public school enrollment. Districts had long used that assumption to plan their staffing ahead of the North Carolina budget debate each summer. Now, they will have to wait until after the legislature adjourns, or later, to learn how much money they’ll receive.

“We view it as a very radical change,” Morrison said Thursday.

Charlotte-Meck isn’t the only system worried. This is from Sarah Ovaska’s story: Read More

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Buried deep in a House technical corrections bill unveiled yesterday is a provision to allow staff of for-profit charter school management groups to serve on the boards of the public charters schools that contract with them.

The N.C. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the 55-page technical corrections bill today. The legislation would also have to gain approval in the Senate. (UPDATE: The House voted and passed the bill Friday, and it is now headed to the Senate.)

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academy, Inc. (Photo by Sarah Ovaska)

The technical corrections bill unveiled Thursday is supposed to be way for lawmakers to tweak laws but it often becomes an under-the-radar way to push through controversial changes and “asks” from powerful lobbying groups.

The one-sentence addition to charter school rules would prohibit the State Board of Education from dictating who can and can’t sit on the board of the publicly-funded charter schools.

That issue popped up last year when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told a politically-connected charter school operator he couldn’t sit on the board of the school he works for.

“The State Board of Education shall no impose any terms and conditions that restrict membership of the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation operating the charter school, but shall require the board of directors to adopt a conflict of interest policy,” the new language in the technical corrections bill states. (Click here to view the corrections bill, charter school language on page 39.)

Baker Mitchell, who founded Charter Day School in Brunswick County, owns an education management company called Roger Bacon Academy that is contracted to run four charter schools in the southeastern part of the state.  Last year, the State Board of Education told Mitchell that neither he nor other Roger Bacon staff could be voting board members of the charter schools, a decision that bothered both Mitchell and the charter school board members.

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In case you missed it over the weekend, the Wilmington StarNews had another good editorial concerning the efforts of some of the state’s public charter schools to keep the salaries they pay secret and en effort by lawmakers to approve of the secrecy.

“The public has a right to know who works for its government agencies and institutions, how much they are paid and other important details of their employment. North Carolina’s General Statutes make that clear.

But after news organizations including the StarNews sought salary information for charter schools, a Charlotte-area state representative introduced an amendment that allows charter schools to redact the names of employees from salary lists. The House foolishly passed the amendment on Thursday; the Senate should opt for full disclosure.

At best, this amendment sets a bad precedent by shielding some public employees from full disclosure when others – including teachers in the state’s traditional public schools – do not enjoy that same protection. At worst, the amendment could go a long way toward confirming what charter school critics have been saying all along: that these schools are effectively private schools paid for with taxpayers’ money.”

The editorial goes on to provide more updates on the efforts of a charter school chain in the Wilmington area run by right-wing funder and activist Baker Mitchell

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