Courts & the Law, Education, News

Supreme Court evaluating who has power over public schools — Board of Education or Mark Johnson

Determining who prevails in the power struggle between the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction Superintendent will boil down to semantics.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 17, a GOP measure that transferred power from the Board to Superintendent Mark Johnson, a newly elected Republican.

There was a lot of discussion about what certain words or phrases in the state constitution and in House Bill 17 meant. Hardy Lewis, attorney for Johnson, hung his hat on the phrase “subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly” to show that lawmakers had power to reallocate power.

“The General Assembly has significant power to revise and limit even the expressed powers in the constitution,” he said.

Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice who represents the Board, said the General Assembly was seeking “unlimited and unprecedented control.”

“The General Assembly cannot give constitutional powers; it cannot reallocate powers,” he said.

Supreme Court justices asked a lot of questions about how far the General Assembly’s powers could go and what the real issue of the case was.

“I think the question that really is before the court is who is really the authority of the public school system?” Lewis said. “Is it the Board, are they the fourth branch of government? Or are there other equal and superior entities?”

Orr said he thought the core constitutional power of the board was to supervise, make rules and administer funds — it delegates to the superintendent, who is the chief administrative officer of the board.

“The whole concept was that the General Assembly couldn’t parcel out to whatever entity it chose or may create the powers that are supposed to be consolidated under the State Board,” he said.

Deputy Attorney General Olga Vysotskaya de Brito argued on behalf of the state and said HB17 didn’t take away the Board’s power. She explained that HB17 gives the Board “general” powers of supervision and Johnson has “direct” day to day powers of administration.

Each of their powers are to be as prescribed by law, she added.

“The General Assembly does not have the power to abolish the core functions of the Board but it does have the power to revise and limit,” she said.

Andrew Erteschik, another attorney for the Board, disagreed and said the HB17 was “not a nuanced piece of legislation.”

“The Board is in charge of the public school system,” he said. “HB17 says that the Board is not in charge of the public school system and that the Superintendent is in charge of the public school system.”

When asked about lawmaker’s legal presumption of constitutionality when it passes laws, Erteschik added that it was “out the window” when they copied and pasted a constitutional statute from one entity to another.

Supreme Court justices will decide the case at a later time. Chief Justice Mark Martin did not hear the case after previously recusing himself.

Education, News

Superintendent Mark Johnson on controversial teacher pay comment: Phrasing was “less than stellar”

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson says his “less-than-stellar phrasing” when addressing teacher pay at a Raleigh conference last month spurred a “fierce partisan backlash focused only on teacher pay.”

Johnson addressed the controversy—in which he reportedly referred to $35,000 in teacher pay as “good money” for some educators—in an op-ed for The News & Observer Wednesday.

Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, has since re-emphasized calls for further teacher raises from the N.C. General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Johnson argues that context matters in his quote, which touched off a firestorm and prompted leaders in the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) to shatter tradition by announcing that the superintendent would not be invited to their annual conference this March.

From his commentary:

A key challenge facing North Carolina today is the urban-rural divide. This probably isn’t news to you. Gov. Roy Cooper started the Hometown Strong project to focus on this issue. What is surprising is how I recently triggered a statewide partisan flare-up after my admittedly inelegant attempt to highlight how this urban-rural split causes us to see things differently.

I believe transforming our education system will be a key part of bridging the urban-rural divide. I hoped to illustrate this point recently when discussing starting salaries for teachers with school board members of different political stripes. I said the state’s annual base starting pay (before local supplements) of $35,000 was a good start in some rural communities where families of all shapes, sizes, and age ranges bring home a median household income of just $33,000 a year. While we are on the right track with recent salary increases, I continued, we need to keep working to better compensate our teachers. But my less-than-stellar phrasing activated a fierce partisan backlash focused only on teacher pay.

This recent clamor actually gets to the heart of the matter, though. We are now well into the 21st century but still have students and educators who only have 20th century tools. And some of those tasked with making schools better are more focused on preserving tired partisan wedges rather than looking for innovative ways to provide more and better opportunities in rural communities.

Raising teacher pay is important, and I have consistently pushed for it. But compensation is only a piece of how we strengthen North Carolina’s public school system. Politicos can debate the personal attacks and misdirection, but I want to look for real solutions.

Teachers in rural communities deserve a professional environment that reflects the importance of their role. Last year, my team and I worked with the General Assembly to commit $105 million to replace clearly outdated school buildings in rural communities that cannot afford to build schools on their own.

Meanwhile, NCAE President Mark Jewell has said that he was invited to debate teacher pay with the superintendent on Spectrum News’ “Capital Tonight” program, although Jewell said Johnson declined the offer.

Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, News

Today: NC Supreme Court to hear Board of Education, Superintendent power struggle

The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear a dispute today between the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Mark Johnson.

The Board sued Mark Johnson after the legislature transferred its power to the newly-elected Republican. Arguments today will center on the constitutionality of that measure, House Bill 17.

Even though Johnson prevailed in the lower court, he has not yet been able to take over in the role set out for him in HB17 because of a temporary order during litigation.

The Supreme Court will likely determine whether the Board or Johnson will be in control of the state’s public school system, it’s 1.5 million students and $10 billion budget.

The state’s high court will also hear another lawsuit from the Board over whether it has to submit its rules to a panel for review. Argument in that case begins at 9:30 a.m. Argument in the dispute between the Board and Johnson are set to begin at 10:30 a.m.

Defending Democracy, Education, Environment, News

The Week’s Top Five on Policy Watch

1. The state of NC’s redistricting battles: A litigation cheat sheet for those trying to keep track

North Carolina’s redistricting plans have drawn major court involvement over the last few years, and it’s not looking promising that trend will change in 2018.

There are five pending redistricting cases, four of which have had some action in the past month and it’s not easy to keep them straight. They involve legislative and congressional maps, partisan and racial gerrymandering and state and federal courts.

The state is so deep in litigation over its maps that it’s not even clear what the elections later this year will look like for certain voting districts. Policy Watch has put together a helpful guide on where things currently stand and in which court. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:


2. Four GOP senators send puzzling letter to EPA asking for audit of DEQ

While its House counterpart was holding hearings and hammering out legislation, the Senate Select Committee on River Quality has met one time. It has proposed not a single bill. Since Oct. 3, the committee has essentially disappeared.

Senate River Quality members, along with the rest of their Senate colleagues, then bailed on a vote to study the problem of GenX and emerging contaminants and to fund DEQ to do the work.

Now, four of the Senate committee members  — Trudy Wade, Andy Wells, Bill Rabon and Michael Lee — have sent a letter to the EPA Region 4 administrator asking that the federal government audit DEQ.

The senators requested that the EPA review environmental officials’ handling of the NPDES program — federal wastewater discharge permits whose authority are delegated to the states. Under the guise of “assistance to North Carolina” the subtext of the two-page letter is that DEQ has independently decided, through rules and procedures, not to protect human health and the environment. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read:

3. A rare chance to make trickledown economics work
Why regulators should order utilities and insurance companies to pass along their federal tax windfalls

When Congress and the Trump administration enacted their massive tax cuts for profitable corporations and wealthy individuals at the end of 2017, they (and the corporate special interests behind the scheme) promised – as they always do – that benefits of the cuts would “trickle down” through the economy to average Americans.

You know how this conservative mantra goes:

We’re going to put more money in the pockets of entrepreneurs and innovators so they’ll have the freedom to create new growth and opportunities that will trickle down throughout the American economy!” [Read more…]

4. School administrators report: Benefits of school funding overhaul “ambiguous”
The benefits of a comprehensive overhaul for North Carolina’s school funding system are “at best, ambiguous,” says a new report from the state’s top lobbying outfit for public school administrators.

Officials with the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA) turned over their weighty report to state lawmakers Wednesday, with legislators on a joint task force still gathering feedback on a possible K-12 funding model facelift in the coming months.

NCASA leaders said they consulted superintendents, finance chiefs and experts from across North Carolina in developing their recommendations, which, above all, emphasized that legislators’ policy and overall funding decisions are of greater import than the type of funding model they ultimately choose.[Read more…]

***  Bonus read:

5. Ideological battles at UNC continue as board considers equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion report

Last week the UNC Board of Governors received a report summarizing Equal Opportunity and Diversity & Inclusion services at the system’s 17 schools and whether they could be consolidated and centralized for cost savings.

The short answer, according to the report: Consolidation is possible, but isn’t likely to save much money. Also, doing so could hurt the good work being done across the system to conform to federal equal opportunity rules and create more diverse and inclusive campus communities.

In a committee meeting ahead of last week’s full board meeting, some of the more conservative members of the almost entirely Republican board questioned the “return on investment” of the diversity programs and personnel and criticized how the work is done. [Read more…]

Upcoming event:

Join us for a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Prof. Peter Edelman discusses his new book, Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America

Friday, February 16, 2018 at noon

Learn more and register today.

 

Education, News

Report: Charters diversify, but still serve a very different population than traditional schools

North Carolina charters are working with a more diverse population today than they were two years ago, a new state report shows. But charter enrollment is still strikingly different from the student population in traditional public schools.

Those are some of the findings of a report delivered by the state’s Office of Charter Schools this week, which oversees 173 publicly-funded charters with more than 100,000 students statewide.

Policy Watch has detailed criticism from some public school advocates who argue charters serve a very different population than their traditional school peers, a point confirmed by past state reports.

But the state charter office indicates that gap, while still substantial, has closed somewhat.

Here’s some analysis from The News & Observer:

The state Office of Charter Schools says it’s “pleased to report” that charter schools are becoming more racially diverse and are enrolling more economically disadvantaged students. The gains, a 0.8 percentage point increase in Hispanic students and a 1 percentage point increase in the number of low-income students, comes after criticism from some groups about how charter schools aren’t as diverse as traditional public schools.

The report also points to improvements in the academic performance of charter schools, adding that the Office of Charter Schools “is confident that the strength of the charter sector will continue to grow.”

“I am pleased with the many great things that our charter schools are doing across the state, the positive trends our schools are making,” David Machado, director of the Office of Charter Schools, said in his presentation of the report Thursday to the State Board of Education. “I acknowledge that we still have a lot of work to do and it’s an ongoing process.”

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are exempt from some rules that traditional public schools must follow, such as offering transportation and school meals and following the state’s school calendar law.

The number of charter schools has risen to 173 after state lawmakers in 2011 lifted the cap that limited the number to 100. For the first time this school year, charter school enrollment exceeded 100,000 students. Traditional public schools still enroll vastly more students at 1.4 million, but their enrollment has been declining while charter schools have seen a rise.

It’s good news that charter schools are trending in the right direction, said Yevonne Brannon of Public Schools First NC, a group that in the past has been critical about the expansion of charter schools. But Brannon said what the state should do 20 years after the first charter school opened is to give the same flexibility to traditional public schools.

“As long as we’re going to have two different sets of rules, we’re always going to have complaints from one side about funding and the other about governance and flexibility,” Brannon said.

Charters are viewed as an alternative to traditional schooling, one with more flexibility in staffing and curriculum to allow for classroom innovation. But their rise in North Carolina since state legislators lifted a 100-school cap in 2011 has brought along with it many questions about their impacts on diversity and funding for public school systems, which still serve the vast majority of the state’s 1.5 million students.

This week’s report comes days after a new study from researchers at UNC-Charlotte and UCLA points to charters as driving segregation in the Charlotte school system, the second-largest in the state.

According to that study, the 36 charters serving the Charlotte region contributed to “racially isolated” and “hyper segregated” schools.

Responding to claims that charters contribute to segregation, Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools, said in a statement this week that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Affluent white parents have always had the freedom to choose the best educational setting for their children,” said Dillingham. “The truth is that public charter schools are empowering to all families. They allow families to break free from the limitations of a school that has been chosen for them. Instead, families are able to choose the educational model they feel is best for their children.”