This Teacher Is Mad At Our State Treasurer Because I Don’t Know What Is Happening With The State Health Plan

Remember when you received this message from Dale Folwell, the state treasurer, at the end of 2018?

Simply put, his letter was rather insulting, at least to me and to some other teachers.

I could not help to think that in a missive meant to outline benefits to a person whom “North Carolina values,” I was also being told that I literally cost too much, was promised too much, and that it was my job to not be as much of a burden on the state.

And that paragraph under the “Did You Know?” heading actually shows a bit of a contradiction in how the state seems to treat the teaching profession: as prices for services and products go up in most every segment of the economy, the willingness to invest in those very things seems to not be the same.

Furthermore, idea that we teachers and government employees must try and cut costs to help the state finance insurance benefits when the state literally is giving massive corporate tax breaks and limiting the very revenues that come to the state to begin with is rather hypocritical.

Bottom line is that Dale Folwell has the power by himself to decide on the State Health Plan’s reimbursement levels to in-network hospitals.

Last October (right before he sent the above letter), he started to move the SHP to a Medicare reimbursement model which would pay less to in-network providers than in the past. He gave hospitals a July 1st deadline to sign on to that agreement.

Only 3 out of the state’s 126 in-network hospitals signed on.

If you follow some of the social media sites that educators frequent, the topic of the State Health Plan is becoming more discussed of late because nobody seems to know what is really going on. What is becoming very apparent is that Folwell has done a rather poor job of communicating what is happening and seems to have taken a stance of “Well, you should know everything that is happening already?”

Truthfully, it seems I have heard more from hospitals I have never been to about what is happening with my health plan than Folwell himself. Did you see this from a Moses Cone employee a few days ago?

burn in hell

It will forever be known as the “Burn in Hell” letter. It says,

As a resident and registered voter in the state of North Carolina, as a former teacher, and as a current employee of a health system, I am writing to you to express my extreme opposition to the changes set in place for the 2020 State Health Plan. Your plan to cut payments to hospitals could possibly be the most moronic idea I have ever seen come out of our state government, and since you Retardicans have taken power, that’s saying a lot. I realize your political party believes that government health care should consist of two plans: “Rich can pay for the services they need and the poor can die in the streets.” But this takes the cake. Members of the State Health Plan are, bar none, the most important people in our communities. They are the teachers, the police, the fire fighters, and our state troopers. They are the drivers of snow plows when roads are impassiblecq, the responders to natural disasters and the regulatory agents who make sure corporate criminals don’t pollute everything they can and abuse every worker they can.

I know a bit about health care finance because it’s been my job for the beter part of 20 years. Hospitals and health care organizations operate on a shoestring margin. Most of the big ones in our state (Novant excepted) are 501(c)(3)’s which means they cover their tax burden by providing care for the poor. As mentioned above, I know your political party just wants those people to die in the streets, but we don’t. In a good year, we make a 2.5 to 3.0% margin. Your insane plan would financially destroy every hospital in this state, but that’s your ultimate goal, isn’t it. Poor people generally don’t vote for your party, so you want them to die. The worst part is you’ve convinced a huge majority of poor voters in rural areas that you support their values and through the brain-washing of Fox News, conservative radio and blatant lies by your politicians you’ve convinced them to vote against their interests.

Burn in hell you sorry (SOBs)

It’s blunt. And the problem is that I feel more informed about what is going on with the State Health Plan from that than I do from Folwell. His communications and explanations of what he is trying to do have been pitiful, and the speed at which he is trying to make these changes happen seems to lack an understanding of how the hundreds of thousands of people who use the SHP will be affected.

This morning in the Winston-Salem Journal, Richard Craver wrote an article that does shed more light on the situation, at least for this teacher. It is very much worth the read.

But let me warn you that there is another very angering angle to this situation explained in this article.

House Bill 184, which would block Folwell’s initiative for at least a year in favor of a legislative study report, cleared the N.C. House by a 75-36 vote April 3. It has yet to be acted upon in the N.C. Senate since being sent to the Rules and Operations Committee April 4. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has signaled he has no desire to take up HB184.

Berger. The same guy  who is refusing to expand Medicare in NC.

This might be the time to bombard the state treasurer’s office with inquiries into what is really happening with the State Health Plan. It also might be the time to contact your representatives about what is happening as well. Forcing them to explain what is occurring might lend a little light on the subject because if you are like me,  I am not sure what all is happening.

And I don’t really have a choice but to be on the State Health Plan.

 

 

 

Follow The Money – Looking At Political Contributions Among Those Involved With The iStation Contract

It is perfectly lawful to donate to a political campaign, and with the Citizens United case decision from the Supreme Court a few years back, it is now lawful for corporations to donate money through political action committees (PACs) and Super PACs.

However, while it is lawful, it doesn’t mean that some interesting ethical questions occur.

When iStation secured its contract with DPI last month amid some secretive circumstances and recently had its legal counsel send Cease & Desist letters to people questioning the process, three names came into focus.

They are:

  1. Richard H. Collins, CEO of iStation,
  2. Doug Miskew, lobbyist in NC hired by iStation, and
  3. Kieran Shanahan, legal counsel hired by iStation.

When DPI awarded iStation a contract over mClass, it seemed obvious that it was a unilateral decision on the part of the state superintendent, Mark Johnson. But for anyone who has followed North Carolina’s recent history in public education, it is apparent that Mark Johnson answers to the powers of the NC General Assembly led by Phil Berger who enable him. That’s why this blog and others do not really see Mark Johnson as the real leader of DPI.

In fact, the organizational chart for DPI now looks mostly like this.

reorg.png

 

If one was to investigate the political contributions of the three people above associated with iStation, then he would find this (from followthemoney.com)

collinsftm

Richard Collins is based in Texas and contributes a LOT of money to republicans across the nation. Above is a snapshot of his contributions to NC campaigns. There’s Phil Berger.

shanahanftm

Kieran Shanahan has given well over $150,000K in this state, including to Phil Berger. It should also be noted that Shanahan is the NC Rep. Party Finance Chair.

miskewftm

Doug Miskew has given money as well, but not directly to Phil Berger’s campaigns – rather to Phil Berger Jr.’s campaigns. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t given money for Phil Berger, Sr. to use to strengthen his cronies’ campaigns. He just does it through another channel.

In Feb. of 2017, Colin Campbell wrote a piece for the News & Observer that talked of a committee used by NC Senate republicans that was used to give money throughout the state to various campaigns.

Some people call it a “slushfund.”

Campbell started his article,

Republican N.C. Senate leaders raised and spent $2.2 million during the last election cycle through a new committee that bypassed the N.C. Republican Party, giving Senate leaders more say in campaign decisions.

The committee uses a 2015 law that allows groups of Republicans or Democrats in either the legislature or statewide elected positions to create fundraising committees that act like political parties, accepting and distributing unlimited donations for campaigns.

That fund is still going today. Millions of dollars passing through it. In fact, you can look for all of the documented contributions and expenditures required by law to be recorded here.

slush

If one digs around enough, he can see who has contributed to this fund.

slushall

There’s Doug Miskew.

There’s James Goodnight. He founded SAS which is used heavily by DPI for EVAAS “calculations” and school performance grades.

There’s Jonathan Hage. He owns a chain of for-profit charter schools that have campuses in North Carolina.

Mark Johnson as the state’s highest public education official has given more control over student data to Goodnight’s SAS Corporation, catered more to for-profit charter schools run by people like Jonathan Hage, and awarded at least two contracts to companies lobbied for by Miskew, including iStation.

And Mark Johnson doesn’t really do anything unless Phil Berger affirms it, especially when it pertains to Read to Achieve.

And iStation is supposed to help with Read to Achieve.

You can draw your own conclusions.

“1 in 5 NC students don’t attend traditional public schools” – And It’s a Deliberate Plan

Today, the Raleigh News & Observer printed a report entitled “1 in 5 NC students don’t attend traditional public schools.” in which T. Keung Hui gave what is now an annual overview of the continuing trend of more and more students leaving traditional public schools and attending private, charter, and home schools.

Twenty percent of North Carolina’s students are not attending the state’s traditional public schools — and that percentage is expected to continue rising.

New statewide figures released this month show that homeschools, private schools and charter schools all continued to add students during the 2018-19 school year at the same time traditional public schools lost children for the fourth year in a row. The percentage of North Carolina’s 1.8 million K-12 students attending traditional public schools dropped to 79.9% this year.

It is a report that should be read but it should be read in conjunction with an editorial that the N&O Board released last summer. It is entitled “Shrinking public schools reflects the state’s neglect.” It is spot-on.

That editorial states,

What’s happening in North Carolina is that a concerted effort by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is starving public schools of resources and encouraging the expansion of educational options that lack standards and oversight.”

It was true last year and still true now.

That concerted effort is actually a three-headed attack aimed to shed an ill-favored light on public schools to help bolster more students attending non-traditional schools.

  1. Too many privatization entities outside of North Carolina are allowed to shape our education system.

Look at the graphic below:

graph1

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. It’s very busy and probably confusing. It’s supposed to be.

Consider the following national entities:

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • National Heritage Academies
  • Charter School USA
  • Team CFA
  • American Federation for Children

They are all at play in North Carolina, totally enabled by the powers-that-be in the NC General Assembly and their supportive organizations. If you want to see how all of those relationships have panned out in NC and are affecting traditional public schools, then refer to this post which will be updated soon for 2019-2020: Too Much Damn Privatization of Public Schools.

In fact, Betsy DeVos was here just this very week promoting yet another privatization initiative.

2. The North Carolina General Assembly is Ignoring the Factors That Hurt Public School Student Achievement.

In the fall of 2017, the venerable James Ford of the Public School Forum and the State Board of Education delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education.

But look under the water level and one sees poverty, violence, inequity & inequality, and lack of support of young families and for the schools that service the children of at least 80% of those families.

And then it is hard to not think of the state refusing to expand Medicaid for our most needy. It is not hard to think about the Voter ID restriction law amendment and HB2.

Those have effects. HUGE EFFECTS!

3. The North Carolina General Assembly Has Directly Attacked the State’s Public School System.

The list of actions gets longer everyday.

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • A Puppet of a State Superintendent
  • SB599
  • HB17
  • Ever-Changing Teacher Evaluation Protocols
  • “Average” Raises that do not translate to veteran teachers
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil when Adjusted for Inflation
  • Removal Caps on Class Sizes
  • Unregulated Charter Schools
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting 7400 Teacher Assistants in last ten years
  • Opportunity Grants That will reach almost a Billion Dollars with no Proof of Success
  • Virtual Charter Schools That Have Failed
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.
  • Municipal Charter Bill

All of the factors from these three fronts are synchronistically orchestrated by an eight-year super-majority (now majority) that is aiming to continue the trend of more students leaving traditional public schools.

Preserving traditional public schools is a paramount issue.

And that N&O editorial from last year stated it best:

If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice.

The NCGA is not doing that –  deliberately.

Why We Need To Allow Teachers To Get Into “Good, Necessary Trouble”

This morning my friend Justin Parmenter, whose advocacy of public education here in North Carolina is unmatched, published a post on his blog Notes From the Chalkboard that discusses his views on events that have happened this week concerning investigating Mark Johnson’s actions in awarding a contract under secretive circumstances.

Justin was one of three people to receive a rather bullying Cease & Desist letter from iStation’s legal representatives. He was the only classroom teacher to receive one. And he talks about that in his post. It is candid, classy, and full of integrity.

And the post reminded me and others of what great teachers really do:

  • explore and lend light to the details,
  • ask great questions that spark discovery and discourse, AND
  • do not mind getting into “good, necessary trouble” if needed when advocating for public education, especially in the public’s eye.

Justin started his post with a quote from Rep. John Lewis.

goodtrouble

It’s the “never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble” part that really comes out in that quote.

If there is one thing that scares people like Mark Johnson, Phil Berger, and Tim Moore (and other NCGA lawmakers), it is a veteran teacher who is willing to get in to “good, necessary trouble.”

And this state needs teachers who are willing to get into “good, necessary trouble.”

That’s why when reading Justin’s post (and I read all of his posts), I thought of this state’s need to restore “career status” and due-process rights to all teachers in this state.

Their removal was a beginning step in a patient, scripted, and ALEC-allying plan that still systematically tries to weaken a profession whose foundation is advocating for public schools. Think of what is happening with the situation at DPI where a unilateral decision was made in spite of the recommendation from a viable committee.

Due-process removal actually weakens the ability of the teaching force in NC to speak up and advocate a little each year as veteran teachers retire and are replaced by new teachers who do not receive those rights.

One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass in the early part of this decade was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Commonly called “tenure,” due process rights are erroneously linked to the practice that colleges use to award “tenure” to professors. Actually, they really are not the same.

What due-process means is that a teacher has the right to appeal and defend himself / herself when an administrator or system seeks to terminate employment. It means that a teacher cannot be fired on the spot for something that is not considered an egregious offense by those who simply want to get rid of someone because he / she was advocating for schools.

If due-process rights are not restored for newer teachers, then the idea of having a rally or a march like that one on May 16th of 2018 or May 1st of this year to advocate for students and schools ten to fifteen years from now would likely never happen.

If due-process rights are not restored for newer teachers, then there may be fewer teachers willing to get into “good, necessary trouble.”

And this state needs teachers who are willing to get into “good, necessary trouble.”

 

NCDPI – Scared of Public School Advocates

If you were not aware, Amplify, the company that produces mClass, had a meeting today with DPI officials concerning the secretive process in which a contract was awarded to iStation.

Amplify invited some pubic school advocates from NC to sit in on the meeting.

Susan Book, founder of Save Our Schools NC!, Suzanne Parker Miller, the founder of NC Families for School Testing Reform, and Chelsea Bartel actually were checked into the meeting and received badges.

Then they were escorted out by security for no apparent reason at the time.

Book posted this on the Save Our Schools! Facebook page:

facebook

Supposedly, the meeting was closed and DPI forgot to tell anyone.

Seems like the real reason for their being escorted out is because of fear of the truth being found out.

At 10 A.M. Friday morning at Bicentennial Mall, there will be a press conference asking for a full investigation into the iStation procurement process.

Please show your support in any way you can. Go to the press conference. Write you legislators. Ask the media to investigate.

“A Clown Show” – DeVos Is Trying to Expand More Privatization to North Carolina

They are called Education Freedom Scholarships, and they were introduced this past February to much fanfare.

“Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, along with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), unveiled Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS), the Trump Administration’s key proposal to expand and improve the education options available to students across the country. The policy will make a historic investment in America’s students, injecting up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs that empower students to choose the learning environment and style that best meets their unique needs. The policy would not rely on any funds currently allocated to public education, nor would it create a new federal education program. Participation would be voluntary for students, schools, and states.”


EFS will be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state‐identified Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). Those taxpayers will then receive a non‐refundable, dollar‐for‐dollar federal tax credit. EFS will not create a new federal education program but instead will allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers, and allowable education expenses.

The state can decide “how to select eligible students, providers, and education expenses.”

This is North Carolina: the petri dish of “reform” and privatization. And who gets to decide for the state how that money is spent? It doesn’t take much to figure it out.

petri.png

Today, DeVos was in North Carolina to tout this new program. As reported by the News & Observer today,

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest promoted a new federal school choice program Wednesday that could allow more families to attend private schools or to homeschool their children.

The N&O article did quote Kris Nordstrom who offered probably the most succinct critique of this new DeVos initiative.

Locally, Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, said the proposed scholarship program is a terrible idea. He said it will likely result in more money going to help subsidize the tuition costs for parents who would have sent their children to private school anyway.

“We know that where we have these voucher programs we will be subsidizing religious extremist, anti-LGBTQ hate groups,” Nordstrom said in an interview Wednesday. “Schools that tell students dinosaurs walked with man, schools that tell students slavery wasn’t that bad.”

Nordstrom questioned the timing of the new program when DeVos is also talking about federal education cuts for initiatives such as afterschool programs and teacher training. DeVos attributed the cuts to Congress wanting the federal government to “tighten the belt.”

Nordstrom called Wednesday’s visit a “clown show all around” designed to help boost Forest, who is running for governor in 2020.

Nordstrom’s tweet later in the day clarified a little more about that “clown show.”

clown show

That license plate idea was an idea from back in 2015. The plates were to look like this.

plate1

The demand never reached 500 to start the production.

Forest is aligning himself more and more with Betsy DeVos. This is from last month.

forestdevos

It is ironic how Forest can be so anti pro-choice and so pro-school choice at the same time. But that is exactly what Betsy DeVos is as well.

At the end of last month, Peter Greene, who writes the well-known Curmudgucation education blog wrote a piece for Forbes.com entitled “How School Choice Undermines Democratic Processes.”

In this very well-explained piece, he talks about something akin to what DeVos was pushing in North Carolina today – the Tax Credit Scholarship.

But Tax Credit Scholarships disempower taxpayers even further by putting the purse strings in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations.

A TCS system essentially lets those folks give their dollars to schools instead of using the money to pay their taxes. In effect, the donors fund schools directly, rather than through tax dollars paid to the state (meanwhile, the state’s tax revenue drops a commensurate amount).

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Those iStation Cease & Desist Letters

Different media outlets have already reported that legal representation for iStation has sent out at least three Cease & Desist letters to individuals who have questioned the process by which iStation has procured a contract through NCDPI.

CD

Those individuals have in their calling as public school advocates and as tax payers sought information and have exposed the reasonable doubts surrounding Mark Johnson’s unilateral decision to award iStation a contract.

All three Cease & Desist letters have been published in WRAL. Here is the text of one of those letters all of which included the same language and claims.

This letter is to advise that Shanahan Law Group, PLLC represents Imagination Station, lnc. (“Istation”). As you are no doubt aware, Islation has been awarded the contract arising from the North Carolina Department of Public Read to Achieve RFP (“Contract”). Please direct all communication regarding this matter to me here at if you are represented by legal counsel, please direct this correspondence accordingly.

We have become aware that you have been making demonstrably false, misleading, and defamatory public statements about lstation. its agents, its products, and the process by which lstation was awarded the Contract by NCDPI. You were not involved in any part of the process by which this Contract was awarded, and NCDPI is just now beginning to release documents pertinent to the process. NCDPI has indicated that further documents will be released. Thus, your public statements are based on nothing more than unverifiable speculation and unsubstantiated statements by a former employee was not involved with the entire RFP process. Nevertheless, you have represented speculative, false, misleading, and defamatory information with respect to our client as fact in public media and other forums. Among other things, your conduct amounts to  defamation and tortious interference with the Contract that [station was legally and appropriately awarded by Accordingly, we hereby DEMAND that you immediately cease making false and misleading representations about Istation, its products, or the process by Which this Contract came into existence, whether in public or private, and retract your false statements,

Preservation Notice

As my client considers its legal options with respect to your conduct. please be advised that we believe that you are or may be in possession of documents, tangible items, and electronically stored information that will become an important and irreplaceable source of discovery and evidence. By this letter, you are hereby given notice not to destroy, conceal. or otherwise alter any papers, audio or video recordings, digital or electronic files, or data generated or stored on a computer or other storage media (6. g. hard disks or drives, floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, backup tapes, flash drives, PDAs, smart phones, tablet devices, laptops or netbooks, PCs, servers, or backup media) from January 1, 2018 to the present that in any way relate to Istation, its products, or the process by which this Contract came into existence. Please note that this notice includes e-mails, chat logs, instant messages, text messages, voice mails, and social media posts, messages or writings of every kind. Failure to comply with this notice may result in severe sanctions being imposed by a court for spoliation of actual or potential evidence.

Accordingly, you must make every reasonable effort to preserve all documents and information related in any way to the categories of items listed above. These efforts include, but are not limited to, an obligation to discontinue all relevant data destruction, backup tape recycling, and auto-deletion or auto-preservation policies. This obligation also includes, but is not limited to, preservation of all documents, tangible items, and electronically

If you have any questions regarding this correspondence, please do not hesitate to contact me, or have your attorney contact me. Nothing in this correspondence is intended to prejudice any and all rights and remedies available to Istation under applicable law. All such rights and remedies are specically reserved.

Sincerely,

SHANAHAN AW GROUP, PLLC

 

First, there is absolutely no evidence that what any of these three people have said has been “demonstrably false, misleading, or defamatory.” If what they have said or what they have posted is taken that way by the company in question, then it is the result of exposing light on a rather shady situation. Just because what these three people and others have truthfully stated about iStation and how it came to have a contract with DPI makes iStation uncomfortable in no way means that it is “demonstrably false, misleading, and defamatory.” 

And besides, there was absolutely no specific item that was brought about in the letter as proof that they made “demonstrably false, misleading, and defamatory” statements. 

It’s just an appeal to false authority.

The letter then says, “You were not involved in any part of the process by which this Contract was awarded, and NCDPI is just now beginning to release documents pertinent to the process. NCDPI has indicated that further documents will be released.” 

Well, that’s exactly why each of these three advocates have been asking questions and pushing for transparency. NCDPI only started releasing documents because of public records requests. And the fact that NCDPI is going to release more means that the truth of the matter still has not been fully exposed. Remember NCDPI stands for “North Carolina Department of PUBLIC Instruction.” The fact that NCDPI and iStation are not as transparent in this matter as they need to be actually makes them look more like the parties that are “misleading.”

Them there is this: “Your public statements are based on nothing more than unverifiable speculation and unsubstantiated statements by a former employee who was not involved with the entire RFP process.”

Actually, what these three have been exposing truthfully is that the public does not know what the actual RFP process was in the three different iterations of it.

“DEMAND”? That’s funny. A lawyer is demanding that these three advocates stop making statements about iStation? Exactly what statements was he referring to? Sounds like the burden of truth is on iStation and NCDPI to prove what they said with what information was available is false.

“Retract your false statements”? Which ones are false?

The whole “Preservation Notice” section sounds like a bunch of “legalese.” But it is funny that these three people who have been very open, public, and straightforward are asked to not destroy anything.

Maybe that “preservation notice” should apply to NCDPI as well and specifically Mark Johnson?

The problem is that what these three advocates were doing was exposing truth, part of which is that not all of what has happened in this iStation contract has been released or shown.

iStation does not own the truth. Nor does NCDPI. The truth owns itself. It’s how that truth is presented or not by iStation and NCDPI that is the question. In this case, it is the withholding of information that really is the problem and iStation and NCDPI own that. What these C&D letters really do is show that NCDPI and iStation are not willing to own the truth and present the facts. If that was not the case, then there would be no question.

Until iStation and NCDPI can prove that what these three have said openly is false and misleading, then there remains much reasonable doubt to how iStation procured a contract with NCDPI.

Makes one want to send a Cease & Desist letter to iStation to stop them from sending nebulous, bullying, and logically fallacious C&D letters to people who are working for public education.