Commentary, News

Session limits1. Don’t limit democracy by limiting sessions
It is not a surprise that proposals to limit the length of legislative sessions are making the rounds in Raleigh these days. A lot of people are still reeling from the contentious and grueling eight-and-half-month long session that ended September 30 and don’t want to go through that again.

Rep. Gary Pendleton wants to put a bipartisan commission together to build support for a constitutional amendment limiting legislative sessions to 90 days in odd numbered years when lawmakers pass a biennial budget and 45 days in even years when budget adjustments are made.  [Continue Reading…]

spellings-400c2. Changes ahead for UNC system with Margaret Spellings as new president
Things will be different in 2016 for the state’s public higher education system, now that a new president for the University of North Carolina system has been named and the beleaguered chair of its governing board is gone.

But what changes are coming are far from known, with plenty of uncertainty for the 17-campus system about what priorities the governing board and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will have when she starts in March.

Spellings, who spent much of her career working for former President George W. Bush, will become the head of the UNC system with little background in higher education itself. But, she’s also spent decades in Texas and Washington immersed in both public education policy and Republican politics.  [Continue Reading…]

School vouchers3. School vouchers: We need accountability before further expansion

The subject of school vouchers remains a controversial and divisive matter in North Carolina. To many opponents, they pose an existential threat to the future of public education. To many proponents, they are a potential cure for all that is broken or imperfect in K-12 schools.
Whatever one’s position on vouchers, however, one idea ought to unify all sides – that the voucher system ought to be driven by data and sound policy principles rather than ideology and intuition.

Unfortunately, the new 2016 state budget recently enacted by the legislature more than doubles North Carolina’s funding for the voucher program from $11 million to $27 million over the next two years in spite of a complete lack of evidence of how the program worked in its first year of operation.  [Continue Reading…]

Trans pacific4. A little well-founded paranoia about a loss of U.S. sovereignty

There are a lot of good reasons to be skeptical about the claims of those who issue regular rants about “world government” and supposedly diabolical plots to subvert U.S. sovereignty. If you ever venture out into the political blogosphere or the world of social media (or just check your “junk mail” file), you know how these claims tend to go.

Usually, the allegation is that liberal elites led by our power mad, socialist President are on the verge of ceding all powers of the United States government to the United Nations. Sometimes the reference is to something called “Agenda 21.” At others, the claim is that a move is afoot to merge all of North America into one large new country that will be flooded with dark-skinned immigrants bent on overrunning Anglo Saxon culture.

The rants are, in a word, mad and deserving of all the derision that sane people can pour on them.  [Continue Reading…]

Virtual charter schools5. Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

The crusade to privatize public education in North Carolina has become a hallmark of the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.
There’s the sketchy school voucher scheme that diverts public money to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies that even some prominent Republicans say shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds.

There’s the explosion of for-profit charter school companies that run what are supposed to be public schools that serve students and communities not out of state corporations and their shareholders.

And there’s the least discussed of the privatization tactics, two virtual charter schools that opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which has a scandal-plagued record in other states.  [Continue Reading…]


K12, Inc.A report released Thursday blasts K-12, Inc.-backed California Virtual Academies (CAVA), that state’s largest provider of online education, for producing few graduates and directing large amounts of revenue toward advertising, executive salaries and profit — while paying its teachers less than half the average wage traditional public school teachers earn.

“It is too easy for kids to fall through the cracks in CAVA’s current online schooling system,” said Donald Cohen, executive director for In the Public Interest, the Washington-based think tank that penned the report. “We are calling on California to immediately increase oversight of online education to ensure students are receiving a quality education.”

Notable findings of the report include:

  • In every year since it began graduating students, except 2013, CAVA has had less than a 50 percent graduation rate, while California’s traditional public school graduation rate has hovered around 80 percent;
  • Some CAVA students log into their virtual classroom for as little as one minute a day, which is enough to give the charter its daily attendance revenue from the state;
  • While K12 Inc. paid almost $11 million total to its top six executives in 2011-12, the average CAVA teacher salary was $36,150 that same year — close to half of average teacher pay in California; and
  • In December 2011, the California Charter Schools Association called for the closure of CAVA in Kern County because the school did not meet its renewal standards.

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A for-profit online education company will be at the legislature tomorrow to give a pitch to lawmakers about the virtual public charter schools it runs, and profits from, in more than 30 other states.

An executive from K12, Inc., a Wall Street-traded company that gets the bulk of its revenue from running online public schools, is slated to make a presentation Tueaday at the Joint Legislative Education Oversight committee. The hearing begins at 10 am. Tuesday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Buildling.

(Steaming audio of the meeting will be available here, and a copy of the commitee’s agenda is here.)

Mary Gifford, the company’s senior vice-president for education policy scheduled to speak to lawmakers, also spoke last week in front of a virtual charter school study group assembled to craft recommendations for the State Board of Education of how the online-only schools should operate in North Carolina.

At that meeting, Gifford acknowledged low graduation and performance rates K12,Inc.-run schools have had in other states, saying that the company’s schools tend to attract low performing students and the home-based system of education can do little to help those high-school students.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group last Tuesday. Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

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North Carolina or other states opening up online charter schools should put enrollment caps and other limits to ensure focus is kept on quality education and not profits, a board member of Colorado online charter school said recently.

“We’re not interested in being the biggest,” said Brian Bissell, the board chair of the Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA), an online school that recently moved to distance itself from the for-profit K12, Inc. that ran the school. “We want to deliver a high quality education.”

The Colorado Virtual Academy, one of the largest online-based schools run by K12, Inc , decided this month to take back the school management functions from the Wall Street-traded online education company that runs public charter schools around the nation.

Bissell, whose three children attend the K12-run school, spoke with N.C. Policy Watch about why the board decided to scale back its relationship with K12 and gave some advice for states that have yet to see the controversial school option open.

North Carolina doesn’t currently have any online, or virtual, full-time schools, which allow students from kindergarten through high school to take their entire caseload through online interactions with teachers through their home computers. The state-run North Carolina Virtual Public School allows students around the state to take individual classes online, either to catch up with their peers or take advanced classes not offered in their home counties.

K12, Inc. is a national leader in the online education industry, but has been criticized for methods that critics argue aggressively putsprofits over quality and doesn’t serve students well. K12, Inc. defends its business, saying that the online option works for many families and that the low academic standings are partly attributed to a population of students that come to K12 at academic disadvantages. Read More