Clean The “Privatization Petri Dish” That North Carolina Has Become. Vote Pro-Public Education.

Long before Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, people like Phil Berger and those he controlled began to institute “reforms” into public education without fear of reprisal.

Those reforms turned a once progressive state system of public education into one of regression. Eliminating longevity pay, taking away graduate degree pay and career status from newer teachers, revamping the salary scales,  and cutting teacher assistants were just a few of the actions taken to “reform” public education.

What Berger and others also started in 2011 and continue to champion today is making North Carolina the literal working laboratory for ALEC-inspired reforms that are targeting the vitality of public schools and enabling a variety of privatization initiatives that are padding the pockets of many at the expense of taxpayers.

In fact, in under a decade, NC has become the nation’s Petri Dish for harmful educational reforms.

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These “reforms” are not original – just maybe some adjustments to make them especially “effective” in North Carolina.

Vouchers are certainly not an NC original, but the fact that the Opportunity Grants are the least transparent voucher system in the country was intentionally determined in Raleigh and most of the money from vouchers goes to religious schools.

The School Performance Grading system came from Florida. Make the formula favor test scores over student growth and then it becomes the North Carolina version. The Read to Achieve model also comes from Florida and has led to a number of interesting purchases and use of money like six million dollars in iPads for reading teachers. The 2019 scandal with iStation centers around Read to Achieve as well.

Charter School growth has gone rather wild with the number of charter schools doubling in the last few years and many of them are operated by out-of-state entities.

The Educational Savings Accounts for special needs students is more deregulated than most others in the nation and other states who use it report rampant abuse of the money.

Business model reforms have helped to guide policy on teacher pay with unsuccessful initiatives involving merit pay and bonuses for a select few.

As recent as 2019, North Carolina had more than 50 standardized tests given to its students and all high schoolers have to take an administration of the ACT even if they are not college bound.

The push to “innovate” and “personalize” learning has led to more technology in the classrooms that seems to take away students from engagement with a professional teacher BEFORE THE PANDEMIC. Just look at iStation and the virtual pre-school idea set forth by Rep. Craig Horn in 2019.

And then there was HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided.

In short, it was a power grab. And that new state super, Mark Johnson, walked into the office with more power than any predecessor. He also had by far the least experience of any in public school administration.

And Mark Johnson was not given this power to champion the public schools; he is actually still there to champion those entities that want to weaken public schools and allow more private entities to take a foothold in North Carolina such as charter schools.

He is there to keep the Petri Dish that is North Carolina full of “reforms.”

Remember the state board did not go easily after HB17. For the next 18 months Mark Johnson and the SBOE fought in court over control of the public school system. Johnson “won” in a state that has seen the NCGA try everything in its power to gain a stronghold of the judicial branch of the state government. After that win, Johnson reorganized DPI into its own silos.

That reorg made sure that Mark Johnson was in complete control of what happened in DPI without having to answer fully to the State Board of Education.

It also made sure that Phil Berger retained control of public education in North Carolina because it is more than apparent that the neophyte currently serving as the state superintendent is under the control of Berger.

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It makes one think though. What happens if Jen Mangrum is elected state superintendent in 2020? Does Berger try and hold a special session to withdraw the powers extended to the office of the state super that came with HB17?

The elections for 2020 can not come soon enough because it’s time that this “experiment” of dismantling public education in North Carolina stops.

Remembering That Letter From the State Treasurer to Teachers About Insurance Costs? So, Would He Send It Now?

“Did You Know?

During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on medical and pharmacy benefits. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for the Plan only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. This liability is a result of promises that were made for lifetime benefits but no money was ever put aside to pay for that benefit.

What Can You Do?

You can help sustain this benefit by taking control of your medical costs.”

Teachers and other state employees received those words from Dale Folwell, CPA in late 2018. Folwell is the State Treasurer for North Carolina. He sent that letter with new ID cards for the state health plan that is contracted through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Simply put, that letter was rather insulting at he time, 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, that it was my job to not put myself in situations where I might even risk becoming a financial burden on the state.

Folwell himself had to go to the hospital for COVID-19. Here’s a report from April 8’s Winston-Salem Journal – front page above the fold.  

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Here are some parts of it.

  • “This is probably the most intense thing I’ve ever been through, and my message to the readers is that taking the advice from both federal and state officials is going to ensure the safety from all of us,” Folwell said.
  • He went to the hospital Sunday, March 29, on the advice of his doctor after his oxygen levels dropped. Folwell said he only experienced the cough and breathing difficulties, and the other symptoms — such as fever — never appeared.
  • Before being diagnosed, Folwell traveled out of the state — to the “hinterlands of Utah with friends and family — and made several stops at various North Carolina newsrooms and media outlets, including the Winston-Salem Journal.
  • Two Journal employees self-quarantined after learning of Folwell’s diagnosis.
  • Folwell said he thinks he got the virus in North Carolina, not in Utah, and said no one on his trip showed any symptoms. He said he is not sure where in North Carolina he got the virus.

Again, Folwell said, “taking the advice from both federal and state officials is going to ensure the safety from all of us.” 

The day that that particular article ran was April 8th and it was after Folwell had recovered. But on April 8th, the state had a little over 200 new cases confirmed with COVID-19.

10 days before the Nov. 3rd election, that number is quite a bit higher.

And remember last summer, Folwell was wanting to help seek waivers for school districts that were thinking about going to in-person instruction when the school year started.

From EdNC.org on July 24th:

“State Treasurer Dale Folwell asked if there’s a waiver process for districts or charter schools that feel they can operate safely under Plan A, the least restrictive model that allows for in-person instruction.”

Makes you wonder what kind of letter he would send this year.

One Candidate For State Superintendent Cited Her “Direct Experience.” Might Want To Look At That.

“Of the two of us, I’m the only one who actually has direct experience working with the governor’s office and the State Board of Education and local superintendents.”

-CATHERINE TRUITT, SEPTEMBER 10TH AT THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT CANDIDATE FORUM

On September 10th in a socially distanced manner, both Catherine Truitt and Jen Mangrum participated in an open forum answering questions about their candidacies for the office of state’s highest public school office.

That quote above by Truitt is one that referenced her history as a senior advisor for Pat McCrory. And making that claim was supposed to be a positive.

But just examine the record that Truitt had as that senior advisor to the former former governor – particularly claims that she made in the past.

Here are some of the statements she made in 2016 in an op-ed for the News & Observer.

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About “fully funding schools:”

“K-12 education funding has increased by 18 percent under McCrory. In fact, 57 cents of every taxpayer dollar spent goes to fund education. That means that 57 percent of our $22.3 billion General Fund budget is spent on education, compared with a national average of 46 percent. Funding for textbooks and digital resources has tripled under this administration, and we are leading the nation in school connectivity.”

About teacher pay and “recruiting” people to teach:

“Teacher pay in North Carolina is growing faster than in any other state in the country under McCrory’s leadership. Since 2013, North Carolina has invested more than $1 billion in teacher raises, and the budget signed by McCrory increases average teacher pay to more than $50,000 for the first time in state history.”

In an op-ed for EdNC.org that same year, she made these statements:

About what Read to Achieve’s goal:

“He (McCory) also signed legislation that will dramatically increase access to summer reading camps to ensure every student achieves the needed literacy by third grade.”

About the Opportunity Grants:

“In 2014, the governor increased choice for low income parents by enacting the Opportunity Scholarship that provides financial assistance for alternative schooling for students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.”

Funding, teacher pay, Read to Achieve, and vouchers are all hot-button topics, but they are not the trophies that Truitt made them out to be.

And she should be called out for it.

Truitt has mentioned in the past that there are three sources of financing for NC public education – federal, state, and local. And she has said that 57% of that coming from the state is far higher percentage than the national average.

But that’s because it is supposed to be. The state constitution declares it.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a Republican governor (McCrory) and a Republican-controlled legislature, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED.

Her assertions about teacher pay are interesting as well. The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. It was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay.

Oh, and under McCrory, graduate degree pay bumps were eliminated for new teachers.

Truitt talked about Read to Achieve as a success back in 2016. But is this a success?

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Truitt argued that the Opportunity Grants could help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants were targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices.

If you scroll down on the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority website for the Opportunity Scholarship and click on the link called “Current List of Nonpublic Schools”, you will find a list of schools participating in the grant program. Notice a vast majority of those schools have religious affiliations. Ironically, many of those schools are already supported by churches that do not have to pay taxes. And now those entities are getting more taxpayer money to support curricula and processes that are not even regulated like those of public schools?

If Truitt became the state super for PUBLIC schools, is she going to keep supporting private schools?

If Truitt thinks that it is necessary for funds to be given to people to get them a good education, then why not invest that very money in the very public schools the state super would be constitutionally supposed to support to help those very students succeed in their public schools?

Yep, that “direct experience working with the governor’s office” doesn’t sound so great. So why brag about it?

A Video Every Teacher & School Board Member Should View And…

… then really consider the absolute truth this man is communicating and the hypocrisy he is exposing.

From Henrico County in Virginia.

Here is the link.

The Letter Betsy DeVos Sent To State Superintendents About Not Waiving Federally Mandated Tests

Honestly, what else do you need to know about her?

Link to a copy of the letter here.

Our Public Schools Are Better Than The North Carolina General Assembly Wants You to Believe

Our public schools are better than many lawmakers portray them to be – lawmakers who have never spent time as educators.

A lot better. And the problem is not the schools. The problem is the lawmaking body that controls the narrative of how schools are performing.

With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.

And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.

Betsy DeVos’s March, 2018 assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was a nearsighted, close minded, and rather uneducated assessment of public schools because she was displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.

The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. Just look at the current US Secretary of Education and the outgoing State Superintendent of NC.

The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth. Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.

Consider the following picture/graph:

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All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the majority currently in power.

The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.

With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.

North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.

Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost 85% of students who still go to traditional public schools.

And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.

When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.

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If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.

So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.

Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.

Just Looking At The Data – Sure You Want To Reopen Schools?

This is the most recent data chart from the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Now consider this:

And now consider this:

It’s about to get colder.

And flu season is coming.

NC Should Not Have People Crafting Public School Policy Who Deny Systemic Racism

No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism.” – Dan Forest, October 14th during gubernatorial debate.

“I don’t believe in systemic racism.” – Mark Robinson, Sept. 19th during Lt. Gov. candidate debate.

Think about it. The person who becomes the Lt. Gov. of North Carolina will sit on the NC State Board of Education and will help craft what is taught in our public schools.

The governor will have the power to sign or veto budgets for public schools and make stands for how money is apportioned.

But the two candidates above who are now doing rallies together have explicitly said that there is no systemic racism that exists in America.

They are wrong. What has been done in the past still has direct effects on today.

But it would be nice to hear these two candidates explain:

The "Three-Fifths" compromise - African American Registry
Trail of Tears | PBS LearningMedia
Japanese internment was wrong. Why do some of our leaders still try to  justify it? - Los Angeles Times
The Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws | National Geographic Society
The History of Forced Sterilization in the United States - Our Bodies  Ourselves
The Legacy of Loving v. Virginia | Share This Schools Blog | ProQuest
Criminal Justice Facts | The Sentencing Project
The Supreme Court's big racial gerrymandering decision, explained - Vox
Origins of the Civil Rights Movement - US History Civil Rights Project

2020 Is Showing Us That Local School Board Elections Are That Important For Every NC School System

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Throughout North Carolina, every local school board is wrestling with how to manage maintaining safety and reopening school buildings trying to balance what resources they have with the needs of communities while anticipating how this pandemic will continue to play out. They are having to rush to give answers to questions that are fueled by more than logic but also partisan-fueled emotions.

And there are these big elections taking place in a couple of weeks.

I do not envy anyone having to fulfill the role of the local school board official. When those elected servants campaigned to be on the local BOE, navigating a pandemic probably did not weigh into possible obstacles. I have been teaching for over 22 years; I never thought I would have to go through what happened last school year starting in March.

But I am again assured that one of the most important offices for which anyone can place a vote is for the local school board, and 2020 is another big year for many local school board elections.

Communities are learning in a rather serious manner that each election for each seat on each local school board is of vital importance.

Of all the 2018 primary political signs that were spread throughout the city where I reside, at least three of five dealt with the local school board elections.

This was not an anomaly. I cannot remember a time in an election cycle in which the majority of roadside political signs of local and state office did not refer to the school board elections. Those elections are that important because so much is at stake.

2020 has been a big lesson on how much really is at stake.

The largest part of a state’s budget tends to be toward public education. A major part of a school board’s (city or county) identity is how it helps students achieve within what resources and funds are available. In North Carolina, where a state general assembly tends to pass more fiscal responsibility to LEA’s (think class size mandate), a school board’s calling to help all students achieve must be met by those who truly understand what best helps schools and students.

2020 is exposing that raw reality.

No wonder school board elections are so important.

At the heart of a school board’s responsibilities are supporting a selected superintendent, guiding the creation of policies and curriculum, making sure there are adequate facilities, and seeing that budgetary needs are met.

Here in 2020, the fight to have the proper facilities, resources, and budgetary supports is even more difficult.

AND THERE IS THE SAFETY OF STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS.

That means understanding what students, teachers, and support staff need. That means understanding how schools operate and how they are affected by mandates and laws that come from Raleigh and how Raleigh’s actions in this pandemic have affected state services. And when policies that are handed down from the state that may not treat the local system favorably, then the school board must confront those in Raleigh and help fight for what is best for the local students.

Consider that before we had a pandemic we had a per-pupil expenditure rate that was lower when adjusted for inflation than before the Great Recession. Consider that before we had a pandemic we had a lack of textbook funds and overcrowded buildings and state mandates for testing that took many school days away from instruction. Consider that before we had a pandemic we had the funding of unproven reforms like an Innovative School District and vouchers. Consider that before we had a pandemic we had the growth of unregulated charter schools.

All of that brings to light what might be one of the most important jobs that a school board must undertake: it must be willing to challenge the state in an explicit and overt manner on matters that directly affect their local schools.

In a state where almost 1 in 4 students lives in poverty and where Medicaid was not extended to those who relied on such services, schools are drastically affected as students who walk into schools bring in their life challenges. If student achievement is a primary responsibility of a school board, whatever stands in the way of students being able to achieve becomes an issue that a school board must confront.

So, is the person whose name is on a political sign for school board candidacy willing to fight for our schools even if it means confronting Raleigh’s policies and its reactions to the pandemic?

That might be the first question I might ask of any candidate for local school board – the first of many.