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K12, Inc.It may be 10 days before Christmas, but there are still a lot of worrisome/controversial policy decisions taking shape in the halls of state government this week. As noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, a state legislative committee will meet this Friday to recommend rolling back some important consumer protections in the mortgage lending industry.

Now, comes word that a special committee appointed by the State Board of Education will be meeting tomorrow to interview two private, for-profit companies seeking to run virtual charter schools in North Carolina — at least one of which (K12, Inc.) has been shown on numerous occasions to be a predatory failure. As Bloomberg Business Week reported last month:

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”

Of course, K12, Inc. isn’t an unknown to the State Board of Ed. To its credit, the Board has been holding the troubled company and its whole scam at bay for years. Unfortunately, K12, Inc. lobbyists prevailed upon the privatizers at the General Assembly to slip a provision into the state budget bill this past summer which directs the Board to approve two virtual charters as part of a “pilot” program. Now, low and behold, there are only two applicants for those slots.

Whether this means that the State Board will roll over and approve K-12, Inc. or show some backbone and tell the company and its buddies in the legislature to stuff it remains to be seen. Let’s hope for the latter eventuality.

Lest you have any doubts about the appropriateness of such a response, Read More

Commentary

slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

Read More

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Tennessee’s education commissioner has ordered the closure of a struggling K12, Inc.-operated online school, as lawmakers here at home debate a budget proposal that could pave the way for K12 to finally set up shop in North Carolina.K12 logo

Tennessee Virtual Academy began operating in 2011 and struggled to produce positive academic results from the get go, according to The Tennessean. Three years of low student growth at the K12-managed school prompted Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s education commissioner, to order the school’s closure at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

K12, Inc. has a history of producing low performance and graduation rates across the country, most recently prompting the NCAA to announce that it will no longer accept coursework from 24 virtual schools that are affiliated with the company.

The company has also been compared to subprime mortgage lenders, pulling in and churning out a disproportionate amount of students who are not well prepared for the online learning model–all in the name of big profits from taxpayer budgets.

A spokeswoman for K12, Mary Gifford, told members of a study committee considering virtual charter school options here in North Carolina that the poor results simply reflect the fact that their company tends to attract low performing students, and the home-based system of education can do little to help that demographic.

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

K12, Inc. has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to land in North Carolina, and is currently waiting on the state Supreme Court to hand down a decision on their appeal to open a virtual charter school in the state.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have acted on the recommendations of a virtual charter school study committee and have inserted language into the proposed 2014 budget to direct the State Board of Education to establish a Virtual Charter School Pilot Program, which would authorize the operation of two virtual charter schools serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

The provision would allow the virtual charters that show positive academic outcomes to become permanent institutions at the discretion of the State Board, without having to go through a formal application process.

There does not appear to be criteria set forth in the proposed legislation for how the State Board of Education should vet and select the two virtual charter schools that would take part in the pilot program.

Notably, at least 90 percent of all teachers employed by the virtual charter schools must reside in North Carolina.

To read the virtual charter school study committee’s report to the legislature, click here.

To read the language for a virtual charter school pilot program in the state budget proposal, click here and read section 8.35.

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Education-budgetLate last night, lawmakers released a final budget deal brokered between the House and Senate that provides pay raises for teachers and a number of other education funding adjustments.

There’s a lot to process in the mammoth document, so let’s just get started with the basics on education, and I promise you — there will be more to come.

Teacher Pay

Lawmakers say they’ve provided an average 7 percent pay increase for teachers in this budget, but there’s widespread dispute over that figure since longevity pay has been wrapped up into the pay raises.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the old and new teacher pay schedules, click here.

Senator Phil Berger called the teacher pay raise the largest in North Carolina’s history, although the folks at ProgressNC fact-checked that claim and found it to be false.

Teacher Assistants

Lawmakers say TAs are “preserved” this year in the budget, but there are a few catches.

Lottery revenues will pay for a share of the funding for teacher assistants, and a portion of TAs will also be funded with non-recurring funds – meaning there will be another fight to keep them next year.

Also mentioned at Tuesday’s press conference– $65 million that was supposed to pay for TAs was moved back into funding for teacher positions. But local superintendents have the “flexibility” to move that money back over and save more TAs.

*However, that figure is not apparent in the budget’s money report. What we do know, however, is that in the certified 2014-15 budget, TAs were slated to cost $477,433,254 — but this latest budget spends $368.3 million.

Finally, while most state employees will get a $1,000 raise, TAs only get a $500 raise, along with public school custodial workers, cafeteria workers and other non-certified and central office personnel.

Higher Education

While lawmakers said on Tuesday they were able to preserve current funding levels for the university system, what actually is in place is a now slightly increased $76 million dollar cut that was in the original two-year budget passed in July 2013, but not in the most recent budget proposals.

This cut comes on top of years of cuts to the university system that have resulted in thousands of lost jobs and eliminated courses.

In 2011, the state’s universities had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated, 3,000 jobs were cut and another 1,500 vacant jobs were eliminated. In the four years prior to 2011, state funding to the university system was slashed by $1.2 billion. Read More

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K12 logoFat cat corporate execs getting rich by sucking up taxpayer dollars: It’s one of the dirtiest little secrets of the mad rush to privatize essential public services and turn them over to giant Wall Street-backed corporations. Fortunately, the good folks at the Center for Media and Democracy are doing their best to expose the phenomenon and keep track of the nation’s mushrooming cadre of publicly-funded plutocrats.

The group has released a new report entitled Exposed: America’s Highest Paid Government Workers: They’re Not Who You Think They Are. Listed first among the six magnates profiled in the report is Ron Packard, CEO of the controversial K-12, Inc., whom the report describes as “America’s highest paid ‘teacher.'”

As readers of Sarah Ovaska’s numerous stories on the subject here at NC Policy Watch will recall, Read More