Report: Federal grants to NC charter schools found to promote racial and economic segregation

A June report from the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on strengthening public schools, uncovers how North Carolina is using the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to finance schools that have historically served as schools of white flight.

North Carolina’s charters contribute to the racial and economic segregation of our public school system. North Carolina charter schools – on average – tend to attract students who are whiter and wealthier than the surrounding community. CSP looks to counter these trends by providing certain charter schools grants to help support services for students from families with lower incomes. According to the Network for Public Education, however, North Carolina officials have directed much of this funding to schools with a history of serving as white flight charter schools and enrolling substantially fewer students from families with low incomes than nearby inclusive public schools.

The history of certain CSP-funded charters brings into question their commitment to serving a diverse student body and whether or not they deserve large supplemental funding grants. While North Carolina law requires charters to “make efforts for the population of the school to reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the” district in which the charter is located, many of the CSP recipient charters have been ignoring this law for years.

According to their analysis, at least 11 of the schools (several charter recipients do not provide information on student demographics) are racially segregated as compared to the district in which they’re located. These schools include: Read more

Senate budget writers opt to violate constitution, denying NC students the education they are owed

The Senate budget proposal unveiled this week contains a shocking admission: Senate leaders are content to violate their oath to uphold the North Carolina Constitution, denying full citizenship to the state’s 1.5 million public school students.

Over the past 27 years as part of the Leandro court case, North Carolina courts have consistently found – under both Democratic and Republican leadership – that the state has failed to provide all students with access to the “sound basic education” that they are owed under our constitution. In the case’s most recent development, Judge David Lee has ordered state leaders to fully implement a seven-year plan to meet this constitutional obligation by the 2027-28 school year.

Lawmakers have leaned on a bevy of excuses over the years for failing to provide students with the education they are owed. Some pointed to uncertainty around the specific steps necessary to fully deliver a constitutional education and financing the necessary systemic investments. Others thought the reforms too expensive, requiring unpopular tax increases.

In 2021, those excuses no longer hold water.

We know what steps must be taken. Lawmakers have at their disposal a detailed, seven-year plan documenting the fiscal, programmatic, and strategic steps necessary to provide students the education they are owed. The Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan is informed by multiple years of intense study from some of the nation’s top independent education experts. Those experts (as well as the courts) have reviewed and endorsed the Plan, which would ramp up state investment over a seven-year period to meet the state’s constitutional requirements by the 2027-28 school year. The Plan shows, year-by-year, the specific investments necessary to provide all students with access to high-quality and diverse teachers and principals, how to create a school finance system that’s adequate and equitable, the supports necessary to help schools overcome poverty-related barriers, how to nurture our youngest children so they start kindergarten on similar footing, and the reforms necessary to improve ties to college and careers.

Lawmakers don’t even have to do the technical work to convert the plan into actionable legislation. Both the Governor’s Recommended Budget and HB 946 would fully implement the first two years of the Plan.

Nor can lawmakers cry poverty. Read more

New Duke University study: Big, unresolved problems continue to plague NC’s school voucher program

A new report from Duke University’s Children’s Law Clinic outlines the many ways in which North Carolina’s largest school voucher program continues to suffer from glaring policy weaknesses. These policy weaknesses increase the likelihood that voucher students are receiving an inferior education than their peers in public schools, delivering a bad deal to students and residents alike.

The report – an update to a 2017 study – finds that the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program:

  • Is poorly designed to promote better academic outcomes for students;
  • Fails to provide the public or policymakers with useful information on whether voucher students are making academic progress or falling behind;
  • Demand for the program has fallen short of the General Assembly’s projections, resulting in unused funds in every year since the program’s inception;
  • Nearly all voucher students (92 percent) are attending religious schools, more than three quarters of which use a biblically-based curriculum presenting concepts that directly contradict the state’s educational standards;
  • The NC State Education Administration Authority (SEAA), which administers the program, has provided the General Assembly with a method to evaluate the program’s academic effectiveness, but the General Assembly has failed to act on the recommendations;
  • Unlike many other states, North Carolina places no requirements on voucher schools in terms of accreditation, curriculum, teacher licensure, or accountability;
  • A lack of financial monitoring creates risks for students and nearby public schools that must absorb students when private schools fail; and
  • Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against students and their families on the basis of religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The table below, from the report, demonstrates the glaring extent to which North Carolina’s voucher program is the most unaccountable, unregulated voucher program in the country.

The report’s findings are largely unchanged from the 2017 study and are consistent with concerns raised by the North Carolina Justice Center and other organizations that support strong, inclusive public schools.

Despite the thorough documentation of the voucher program’s glaring weaknesses, legislative leaders have refrained from enacting school quality requirements such as accreditation or approval of curricula. Legislative leaders have also stymied any attempt to meaningfully evaluate the academic performance of voucher students. For example, H569 would have made the changes necessary evaluate student performance of voucher students, but leadership refused to provide the bill a hearing. Perhaps leaders were discouraged that recent evaluations of statewide voucher programs in Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, and Washington DC have revealed negative impacts for voucher students.

Rather than address the program’s many shortcomings, House and Senate leaders are competing to expand these unaccountable programs. Their solution to lack of demand is to loosen eligibility requirements, expand subsidies to families who never intended to enroll in public school, and spend $500,000 per year on marketing.

As this Duke report highlights, however, ignoring the many programs plaguing the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program won’t make those problems go away.

New tool shows impact of state’s Leandro Plan on school district budgets

A new interactive tool from the Every Child NC Coalition calculates the impact that the state’s Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan would have on state funding for every school district. The tool distills the 57-page Leandro Plan into something that is tangible and readily understandable for advocates and policymakers.

The Leandro Plan proposes to make changes to 16 of the allotments by which the state sends funding to school districts. In some instances, the Plan would simply change the amount of state spending. In other instances, the Plan would amend the formula itself. The impact of those changes varies from district-to-district based on the characteristics of each district. As a result, it has been difficult for local stakeholders to really understand what the Leandro Plan would mean for their district.

Screenshot of Every Child NC’s Leandro Budget Tool

The Every Child NC tool compares each district’s estimated base budget for FY 22 against what each district would receive if the Leandro Plan were implemented. The tool shows that under the Leandro Plan, the average district would see their state funding increase by more than 38 percent. Yet-to-be-determined increases in pay for school employees would push this figure higher.

One benefit of the tool is that it should facilitate local planning on how districts will deploy these additional resources. For every district, the Leandro Plan would provide a substantial funding increase. Local school board members will have great flexibility in determining how these dollars will be spent and how resources will be distributed across schools.

Of course, the Leandro Plan will not be implemented without action from the General Assembly. The tool can also be used by advocates to help explain to legislators the benefits of funding the plan and providing students with the education they are owed under our state constitution.

It is important to note that the tool does not include all aspects of the plan. There are many state level programs, that would benefit all students, but would not be reflected in local school district budgets. For example, the Leandro Plan would make substantial investments in teacher and principal preparation, statewide support for low-performing schools, and reforms to our school accountability system. Additionally, the Plan calls for substantial investment in early education programs such as NC Pre-K and Smart Start. Coalition leaders say they are working on a similar tool to capture the county-level impact of proposed early education investments.

See how the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan would benefit your district here.

First-of-its-kind bill would incentivize integration of North Carolina schools

Rep. Cecil Brockman

This week, Rep. Cecil Brockman introduced a first-of-its-kind bill to add measures of school segregation to North Carolina’s School Report Cards. If passed, H948 would provide policymakers, families, and students with new data to identify racially segregated schools and those in which opportunities and resources are being denied to certain student groups.

The bill is based on the maxim that “what gets measured, gets done.” By measuring and publicizing the extent to which our schools are segregated and the extent to which certain student groups are denied equal access to resources, leaders at all levels of government can then take steps to address these problems. Publishing the data on the School Report Card page would make this data transparent and widely available to students, parents, and other advocates invested in school integration.

First, the bill would assign each school a “proportionality score.” The proportionality score measures the extent to which the demographics of an individual school differ from the county in which the school is located. The bill would assign each school in the state – including charter schools – a designation of “highly proportional,” “proportional,” “somewhat disproportional,” or “highly disproportional” to identify which schools are the most racially segregated.

Additionally, the bill would gather information on the extent to which resources are disproportionately provided within a school. That is, H948 would require reporting on the equality of access to gifted programs, advanced courses, and experienced and credentialed teachers.

Finally, the bill would examine the equitable distribution of opportunities and resources across schools and student subgroups within a district. It would measure equality of access to instruction in arts and music, as well as access to support personnel such as psychologists, counselors, and nurses.

The bill stems from the work of the Center for Diversity and Equality in Education New Jersey, which developed the proportionality score metric to identify racially segregated schools, and the National Coalition on School Diversity, which created model legislation off which H948 is based (full disclosure, this author contributed to the NCSD report). H948 represents the first state effort to incorporate measures of school segregation into a state’s accountability system.

In addition to being innovative, the bill is timely and important. School segregation in North Carolina continues to harm students from all backgrounds. North Carolina has experienced a stark increase in the number of racially- and economically-isolated schools in the past decade. Legislative leaders continue to push ideas that exacerbate segregation such as unfettered charter school growth, municipal charter schools, and the potential break-up of large, county school districts.

Research continues to show that school integration benefits all students. Integrated schools tend to have higher test scores and narrower opportunity gaps. They positively impact educational attainment, lifetime earnings, incarceration rates, and health outcomes of Black students. Finally, integrated schools increase cross-racial trust and friendships and enhance students’ capacity for working with others.

Of course, there are many additional steps that policymakers could take to actively integrate our schools. Federal and state leaders should be providing our schools with adequate funding, offering financial and technical assistance to districts implementing school integration plans, addressing exclusionary school district boundaries, and by better regulating charter schools. Local leaders can modify attendance zone policies, create magnet schools, replace school resource officers with counselors and social workers, and implement culturally-responsive practices that uplift and affirm all students’ humanity. Still, Brockman’s bill offers an important first step in measuring and publicizing the ways in which school segregation continues to harm all of North Carolina’s students.