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Education 1If you care at all about the actions of the  North Carolina General Assembly, your “must read” for this morning on the first day of the 2015 legislative session should be this excellent overview of what’s on the table and at stake in the world of public education by NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner.

Wagner’s report summarizes the situation when it comes to funding, teacher pay, testing, vouchers, charters, grading, textbooks and multiple other key issues. Here’s the intro:

“As members of the North Carolina General Assembly make their way back to Raleigh this week for the 2015 legislative session, many have education at the top of their agendas—which is no surprise given that the lion’s share of the state budget is devoted to public schools.

After years of frozen salaries, the busy 2014 session saw large pay bumps for beginning teachers and relatively small raises for veteran teachers—but those raises came at the expense of teacher assistants and classroom supplies as well as cuts to other critical areas of education spending.

The salary increases also came with a promise of even more raises to come in 2015.

But as North Carolina faces a year in which some predict tax cuts will lead to inadequate state revenues that leave lawmakers with little choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul, what can we expect for our public schools?”

Click here to find out.

Commentary

School-vouchersICYMI, be sure to check out education reporter Lindsay Wagner’s story this morning over on the main Policy Watch site: “School vouchers: A second look at fraud and abuse.”

As Wagner reports, the disturbing stories from Arizona, Wisconsin and Louisiana — where standards for vouchers are actually tougher in many instances than North Carolina’s — are all-too-common.

For instance:

Arizona implemented a private school tuition tax credit program in 1997. That program was designed to aid low-income families to take advantage of private schools.

A report by the national advocacy group People for the American Way found that over a three-year period, the Arizona scheme has cost the state more than $55 million in funds that have gone largely to subsidize private and religious education for middle- and upper-income families.

And then there’s this:

An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal has found that Wisconsin’s taxpayers have lost $139 million dollars over the past ten years to private schools that have received funds from the state’s voucher program but were ultimately excluded from participating, thanks to their failure to meet standards relating to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

News

An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal has found that Wisconsin’s taxpayers have lost $139 million dollars over the past ten years to private schools that have received funds from the state’s voucher program but were ultimately excluded from participating, thanks to their failure to meet standards relating to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing.

From the State Journal:

More than two-thirds of the 50 schools terminated from the state’s voucher system since 2004 — all in Milwaukee — had stayed open for five years or less, according to the data provided by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Northside High School, for example, received $1.7 million in state vouchers for low-income students attending the private school before being terminated from the program in its first year in 2006 for failing to provide an adequate curriculum.

Recouping money sent to shuttered schools isn’t a feasible option, since the money is gone, Bender and Olsen said. [Bender is president of School Choice Wisconsin and Olsen (R-Ripon) is the Senate Education Committee Chairman]

Unlike North Carolina’s school voucher program, which is currently in the infancy stage and may or may not survive a court battle in which it has already been declared unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge, Wisconsin’s voucher program has a (relatively) robust set of accountability standards.

To participate in Wisconsin’s school voucher program, schools must do the following, according to the State Journal:

Currently, schools wishing to participate in the program must meet requirements for the training of their staff, obtain academic accreditation, present a complete budget and submit information to DPI about their governing body or policies and contract with a third-party service to handle payroll taxes.

Private schools participating in North Carolina’s voucher program are not required to do any of the things that Wisconsin schools must demonstrate.

Instead,the North Carolina’s private schools are free to hire untrained people to teach, are not required to be accredited or meet any curricular requirements and do not have to share details of their budget or governing body with the state or public. Among the very few requirements they must meet include administering a standardized test annually, complying with health and safety standards and conducting a criminal background check for only the head of the school.

While the courts decide if our state’s voucher program should survive, North Carolina has already disbursed more than a million dollars in taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools across the state — including $90,300 to Greensboro Islamic Academy, which an N.C. Policy Watch report found to be experiencing significant financial troubles just last year.

Read the full story on Wisconsin’s voucher program here.

 

News

blog-voucherAs Policy Watch just reported, today the state Supreme Court decided to bypass the Court of Appeals and take up for its own review the fight over whether or not North Carolina’s new school voucher program should continue.

In the case Hart v. North Carolina, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional for several reasons–chiefly that the program uses public funds for private use and that it does not serve a public purpose.

The last stop for the case was with the Court of Appeals, which ruled in late September that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the Court worked toward a final decision on the program.

That ruling allowed the state to disburse more than $1 million to private schools already — $90,300 of which were sent to financially troubled Greensboro Islamic Academy, the largest recipient of voucher funds to date.

Stay tuned for more developments.

 

News

School-vouchersReligious private schools account for 90 percent of those receiving the state’s new taxpayer-funded school vouchers—a disproportionately high amount given that only 66.4 percent of the state’s 715 private schools are religious institutions.

According to data released by the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority, 98 out of the 109 private schools that have received vouchers (formally known as Opportunity Scholarships) from the state so far are religious institutions. Ninety-four of those schools identify as Christian, and four other schools identify as Islamic. To date, the state has disbursed just over $1 million to the religious schools.

The largest recipient of school voucher dollars thus far is Greensboro Islamic Academy. The school has received more than $90,000 from taxpayers while information has surfaced indicating that the school is in financial trouble and has inflated its tuition rates to reap as many publicly-funded vouchers as possible to stay afloat. Read More