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Last week’s Policy Watch profile of state Board of Education nominee A.L. “Buddy” Collins by Education Reporter Lindsay Wagner was enough to cause a believer in public education to have some real concerns about Collins’ appropriateness for the position. Collins admitted in the interview to essentially supporting the entire far-right school privatization agenda.

Over the weekend, however, came more damning news: As reported by Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post, Collins is also apparently a loyal trooper in the ongoing social conservative effort to oppose laws and policies that protect LGBT kids from bullying.

This is from the HuffPo article:

“A. L. “Buddy” Collins is an attorney and a longtime member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board of Education. He has clashed with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) over the years surrounding the group’s efforts to stop bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

‘Buddy Collins has always been a retrograde voice, inimical to the interests of youth, on the school board,’ said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. Read More

A proposed Charlotte charter school had its approval revoked today for extensively plagiarizing large sections of the school’s initial application.

The Cameron Creek Charter School, which would have opened up this fall, was taken out of a batch of 25 charter schools the N.C. State Board of Education was considering final approval. The state board approved 24 of the charter schools.

The Cameron Creek Charter School had large chunks of its 155-page application that were identical to what another group had submitted previously to the state.  The plagiarized application included multiple references to the other proposed charter school, Charlotte Learning Academy, which applied in 2011 but did not get approval from the State Board of Education.

A Cameron Creek out-of-state board member, Melvin Sharpe of Philadelphia, also had been prohibited from practicing law in Pennsylvania for taking funds from clients to use for his own personal uses. Sharpe’s disbarment was first reported last month by N.C. Policy Watch, and was mentioned Wednesday to the state board as an additional reason to rescind the school’s approval.

A representative from the Charlotte Learning Academy discovered the similarity between Cameron Creek’s charter school and their own application when preparing to reapply to open a state and contacted the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools about the duplication.

The plagiarism, including mention of a different charter school, wasn’t noticed in the application period, when DPI staff, an advisory committee for charter schools and the state education board are tasked with reviewing applications.

Since the N.C. state legislature lifted the 100-school cap on charter schools, DPI has dealt with a flood of interest in the privately-run, publicly-funded schools without a corresponding increase in staff. The office of charter schools had six people tasked with monitoring the 100-plus existing charter schools, as well as reviewing applications for future charter schools. In the next round of applications, 70 groups have applied to open in the 2014-15 school year, while 24 new charter schools will open this fall.

Here’s a list of the schools the state board did give final approval, with links to the schools’ websites: Read More

The State Board of Education kicked off its two-day monthly meeting on Wednesday with an ambitious agenda. Some of the topics included the teacher evaluation model, a proposal to revamp remediation assessments at community colleges, the sad state of teacher pay, and final approval for 23 of the 25 charter schools that were awarded preliminary charters last August.

One of the two charter schools that was not recommended for final approval by the North Carolina Public Charter School Advisory Council was Cameron Creek Charter School, which NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska wrote about for plagiarizing its application for a charter. See her post on that update later today.

Alexis Schauss, director of school business for the NC Department of Public Instruction, presented startling statistics on the abysmal state of teacher pay in North Carolina. Teacher salaries rank 46th in the nation and 10th in the southeastern states, just ahead of West Virginia and Mississippi. In 2012-13, a teacher with five years of experience has a base pay of $31,2220 – and that’s roughly $4,000 less than in 2008-09. Read More

K12, Inc., the for-profit online virtual school company that made a bid to open up a statewide school in North Carolina, plans on settling claims that it misled investors.

The proposed settlement would not require the company to admitting wrongdoing, butK12a would pay investors $6.75 million, according to a preliminary settlement draft in federal court records and obtained by Education Week.

Education Week reports that the lawsuit’s claims about academics and quality would be dismissed and the settlement would stick to allegations about how the company disclosed information about student enrollment and retention.

The investor lawsuit came after a series of negative attention and press accounts questioning whether K12, Inc. (NYSE: LRN) was more focused on profits than educational quality. The lawsuit itself claimed that top officials of K12, Inc. misled the public and investors by downplaying questions about the schools’ educational quality. (Click here to read more about the lawsuit’s initial filing.)

The company has the largest share of the online schooling market, running public schools in 30 states where students from kindergarten through high schools take classes through programs on their home computers while parents act as “learning coaches.”

The company prides itself on offering alternatives to families seeking alternatives for their local school systems, but schools run by the company have low graduation rates and performance outcomes. In Tennessee, where legislators approved the virtual school in 2010 after concerned push from K12 lobbyists, state education officials have found only 16 percent of the 3,200 students in the K-8 program performed at grade level in math.

The company had made a push to open up a statewide virtual charter school in North Carolina in 2011 and 2012 by partnering with Cabarrus County Schools (which would get a kickback for agreeing to host the virtual school) but the State Board of Education, which authorizes charter schools in the state, did not consider its application. The matter is now held up in the appeals court.

Since then, the State Board of Education passed a more stringent application process for virtual charter schools, cutting back on the per-student reimbursement and requiring that graduation rates are within 10 percent of the state average (which is up to 80 percent).

N.C. Learns, non-profit organization put together by the company filed a letter of intent that it intended to apply to open for the 2014-15 school year, but did not submit an application by Friday’s deadline, according to a list of 70 prospective charter schools kept by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

(Another online company, Connections Academy, did submit an application to open up a statewide virtual school in the fall of 2014. Connections is owned by Pearson, an international education company (NYSE:PSO).)

K12 could still get a chance to educate North Carolina students (and get a slice of North Carolina public education funding). Legislation creating virtual schools could appear this year, with top state leaders like Gov. Pat McCrory expressing interest in the virtual school.

Virtual charter schools will face restrictions if they want to open up in North Carolina.

The N.C. State Board of Education voted today to adopt a policy that would require the online-based schools to adhere to a significantly lower funding formula ($3504 per student) than brick-and-mortar charter schools, maintain high graduation rates and low withdrawal rates of students. Schools will also need to keep a ratio of one teacher for every 50 students and keep graduation rates within 10 percent of the state average (80 percent), and can’t have withdrawal rates higher than 15 percent in two out of three years.

Committee leaders for the legislature’s education committee took issue late last year with the state board making policies about virtual charter schools, saying that the board didn’t have the authority to tinker with funding formulas or single out online-based schools. Bill Harrison, the chairman of the N.C. Board of Education who will faces a likely replacement from new Gov. Pat McCrory, disagreed. (Read our story about that tiff here.)

The legislature, of course, could undo the state board’s decision if they choose.

The state currently has no virtual charter schools, though the state does operate the N.C. Virtual Public School, wich allows high-school students (and some middle-school students) to take individual classes as part of their regular studies.

Virtual charter schools have shown a keen interest in North Carolina. Two national online learning companies have sent letters of intent to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that they want to open up their doors in 2014: Connections Academy, owned by the for-profit education company Pearson and N.C. Virtual Academy, to be run by the for-profit K12, Inc.

K12, Inc., through a non-profit organization called N.C. Learns set up by K12, tried to open up in the state last year, and had their application ignored by the N.C. State Board of Education, which authorizes charter schools in the state. The matter is now tied up in the appellate courts, with N.C. Learns appealing a lower judge’s ruling affirming the state board’s denial. State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a prominent Republican legislator, was hired on as N.C. Learn’s attorney for the case and K12 has hired another former lawmaker, Jeff Barnhart, as a lobbyist, according to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office.

Pearson has lobbyists of its own – four were hired from Capstrat, the Raleigh-based lobbying firm.

Here’s the new policy adopted by the N.C. State Board of Education:

 

Policy for N.C. virtual charter schools by ncpolicywatch