The Privatization of North Carolina’s Public Schools – A Who’s Who

Remember Michelle Rhee’s visit to North Carolina last year for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th  ,2017) with lawmakers brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC (coupled with the NC GOP’s invitation to Betsy DeVos who had just been confirmed as Trump’s secretary of education)?

It was another ominous omen of what has been and will continue to be attempted in North Carolina – the further privatization of public education in North Carolina.

This meeting with Rhee that was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – public school educators. The media did have a brief chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, but what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 (the latter two soon after Mark Johnson was elected as NC State Superintendent).

Despite what they claim, the intentions of BEST NC and other “reformers” to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other both outside of the state and inside.

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:

  • Teach For America
  • 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 linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC (but not of late).

Somehow, someway all of the bulleted entities above have been at play in North Carolina even before that meeting with Michelle Rhee and BEST NC which took place literally days after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education thanks to the first ever tie-breaking vote by a vice-president for a cabinet position.

They continue to be at play, more so now than ever before. And other are joining in thus making this document a work in progress.

If you are willing, simply follow the explanation below because what seems to be a simple meeting that took place in February of 2017 was just another step in the GOP-led NC General Assembly to dismantle public education and finance the privatization of schooling.

First, consider the national scene.

graph11

In 2014 a teacher/researcher named Mercedes Schneider published an informative book called A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. What Schneider did was literally research and report on all of the bodies of influence that were applying forces on the landscape of public education for the benefit of political and capitalistic gain.

The fact that she is a teacher, product of public schools from southern Louisiana, a trained researcher, a survivor of Katrina, and a residential expert of the charter takeover in New Orleans, she has a unique perspective and an educated point of view.

Chapter 17 of the book is dedicated to the Democrats For Educational Reform and the Educational Reform Now groups (DFER and ERN).

DFER supports vouchers, union busting and other reform measures that are common in other reform circles, but they are (to summarize Schneider) not “non-profit.” What makes them powerful is that they have the word “Democrat” in their name and it allows them to literally “train” democrats into accepting and advancing a protocol that actually is more conservative in nature – initiatives that align with school choice and charter movements. Schneider talks about in pages 276-279 how the DFER even promoted “mayoral control and charter favoritism.”

It may seem a little bit like conspiracy theory, but it does make sense. Why? Because DFER is non-profit and has the word “Democrat” in it and therefore does not get the big time donations from conservative donators.

Or do they?

DFER is run mostly by hedge-fund managers. One of them is Whitney Tilson, who happens to be a Teach For America alumnus and a vice-chair of New York’s KIPP charters. He also sits on the board of DFER. That alone links DFER, KIPP, and TFA (p.278).

At least in 2013, DFER had an Executive Director named Joe Williams. He just happened to “also head another reform group, this one actually is classed as a ‘nonprofit,’ and it doesn’t have the D-word in its title.”  Education Reform Now (ERN) is a “democratic” body understood to be a “sister entity” to DFER (p.279).

By 2010, ERN counted the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation as donors. “ERN enables hedge-fund managers to quietly donate to Democrats advancing the privatization agenda…. Looks like the big Republican money is available to DFER, after all – through its ERN back door” (p.279).

More from Schneider:

  • Remember that Whitney Tilson is also a founding member of Teach For America along with Wendy Kopp. Kopp was the mentor of Michelle Rhee. Their ventures literally share the same circulatory system.
  • Tilson sits on the KIPP board and sits on the DFER board.
  • Kopp sits on the Broad Foundation Board which feeds money to ERN who in turn feeds DFER. Kopp is also married to Richard Barth, the CEO of KIPP Foundation.
  • DFER through ERN conducts business with StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee.
  • Tilson, Kopp, and Rhee are TFA alums.

BEST NC, based in Raleigh and architects of the recent controversial principal play program in the state, is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for DFER to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures. It shows something interesting.

  • America Succeeds’s address in Colorado is 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • DFER’s Colorado office is located on 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • KIPP’s Denver charter schools are headquartered in Denver. At 1390 Lawrence Street.

Seems that TFA, StudentsFirst, DFER, ERN, KIPP are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

Think about it. North Carolina is an ideal target. Why? Because of the following conditions:

  • Right-to-work state.
  • Elimination of due-process rights.
  • Removal of caps for number of charter schools which are not regulated.
  • GOP controlled state assembly.
  • Opportunity Grants increasing.
  • Push for merit pay.
  • The new state superintendent is a TFA alumnus – Mark Johnson.

Part of that national scene includes three charter school chains.

National Heritage Academies is based in Michigan in the same state where Betsy DeVos began her quest to privatize public education. They’ve enabled each other. National Heritage Academies has 11 schools in North Carolina. One of them is Greensboro Academy. On the board of that school is Alan Harkes who sits on the Charter School Advisory Board of North Carolina. That’s convenient.

Betsy DeVos is also the founder of a school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. called the American Federation For Children. On February 15th, 2018 Darrell Allison who was for years the head of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, was chosen to assume a leadership position with AFC.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was recently given a green light with Dr. Eric Hall as the superintendent. He would report straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB4. (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

Charter Schools USA is based in Ft. Lauderdale. It is run by Jonathan Hage whose political contribution to politicians in North Carolina are rather numerous.

Now consider North Carolina.

graph3

Those numbers correspond to:

  1. North Carolina General Assembly
  2. Charter School Advisory Board and State Board of Education
  3. Civitas Institute
  4. John Locke Foundation
  5. BEST NC
  6. SAS
  7. State Supt. Mark Johnson
  8. Gov. Dan Forest
  9. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina
  10. Carolina CAN
  11. Jason Saine
  12. Jerry Tillman
  13. Innovative School District
  14. Bill Rabon
  15. Trinity Christian School
  16. David Curtis

Go back to Charter Schools USA.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=14298646). Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

graph5

  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation. He’s #12 on the state map.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well. He’s #11 on the state map.
  • There’s David Curtis, who loves charters as well. He’s #16 on the state map.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations. He’s #8 on the state map. It is also worth noting that Forest is also on the state board of education and is ramping up for a run at the governor’s mansion in 2020.
  • There’s Bill Rabon, who stalled the HB13 bill in the Senate. That’s the bill that would have been a clean fix of the class size mandate that was replaced with a poison pill called HB90. He’s #14 on the state map.

Furthermore, Jason Saine has just been named the new National Chairman of ALEC and is helping to open yet another charter school called West Lake Preparatory school that is affiliated with Charter Schools USAhttps://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/12/08/open-letter-to-rep-jason-saine-youre-a-state-representative-fight-for-all-public-schools-not-a-new-charter-school/.

Brenda Berg who is the CEO of BEST NC has increasingly brokered working relationships with many entities that have targeted public schools – John Locke Foundation being one.

BEST NC’s VP is Julie Kowal, who at one time was the Executive Director of CarolinaCan, which is the NC chapter of an outfit called 50CAN, a national “advocacy group” that just a few years ago merged with another entity: StudentsFirst: https://studentsfirst.org/pages/50can-and-studentsfirst-merge-strengthen-support-local-education-leaders-across-country. StudentsFirst was started by Michelle Rhee.

Now, add to that the fact that BEST NC has had some workshops/meetings with people from the The Hope Street Group which is a group of teacher leaders who receive a stipend in exchange for gathering and communicating educational concerns with public school teachers. Hope Street Group receives funding from the Gates Foundation. Hope Street Group and other teachers were not in the meeting that Michelle Rhee attended with lawmakers that was set up by BEST NC. In fact, there has been no evidence that BEST NC had even worked with Hope Street Group in any endeavor of late meaning that BEST NC really does not reach out to any teacher-affiliated groups.

Additionally, Mark Johnson was granted a massive amount of power over public education through House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 (HB17 &SB4), power over charter schools, and the control of the Innovative School District and has retained the services of ex-Pat McCrory aids who possibly were enabled by other McCrory cronies, such as Art Pope who is linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. Art Pope is also part of the aforementioned John Locke Foundation.

The North Carolina General Assembly has backed Johnson with money and resources to fight the state board of education in a rather long-timed lawsuit thus showing he NCGA’s loyalty to Johnson and not the state board. Furthermore, it has reduced DPI’s budget significantly and allowed Johnson to hire people loyal to him including a former official with the Mississippi Charter Schools (#14 on national map) as a high ranking person in DPI.

And Mark Johnson is an admirer of Betsy DeVos. When interviewed by the Charlotte Observer for a Jan. 27th, 2017 feature Johnson expressed his support for the neophyte DeVos.

When asked about her, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “I support her.”

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

And remember that Darrell Allison who served as president of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina for the past few years will now be a director in DeVos’s American Federation for Children. Allison still plans on being based in North Carolina.

Oh, Allison is also on the UNC Board of Governors. He will remain in that capacity. So a man who has influence over the state’s university system is employed by national school choice advocacy group founded by the current secretary of education that feeds funds to ALEC, an organization that just named a NC lawmaker (Jason Saine) as its national chairman.

All of these connections seem more than coincidence and this perfect storm of timing, state politics, gerrymandering, and people in power can’t just be by chance. Could it?

So where are the teachers in this dialogue? The schools of education in one of the best college systems in the nation and from some of the highest ranking private schools in the country?

Well many teachers have been represented by groups like NCAE (which is an association and not a union). Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

graph6

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Now look at that first map again:

graph1

Hopefully, it makes a little more sense.

The NC GOP has been very instrumental in the following actions:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Standard 6
  • “Average” Raises
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.

Also look at this timeline:

  • Art Pope became McCrory’s budget director – 2013
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Eliminated – 2013
  • 50Can created CarolinaCan – 2013
  • School Performance Grades – 2013
  • Due-process rights taken from new teachers – started in 2013
  • Charter school cap in NC lifted – 2014, but proposed in 2013.
  • Opportunity Grants (vouchers) – 2014

Now consider SAS, a software company whose president, James Goodnight, is married to one of the founders and current Board Member of BEST NC, Anne Goodnight. Mrs. Goodnight was also one of the founders of Cary Academy, a rather prestigious private school in the Triangle area.

In a data-driven, educational-reform era that seems to crunch and use data to position evidence that supports their claims, it would make sense to align with SAS, an “American multinational developer of analytics software based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS develops and markets a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyze and report on data to aid in decision-making” (Wikipedia).

SAS controls the EVAAS software system. It is used by the state to measure teacher effectiveness. It uses rather surreptitious methods and secret algorithms to calculate its data – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/11/26/why-teachers-should-be-wary-of-evaas-and-sas/.

Other lawmakers aligned with the privatizing movement here in North Carolina include Sen. Chad Barefoot who heads the powerful NC Senate Committee for Education. It is rumored that he is being considered as a possible head of the NC community college system in the next few years.

What has happened is that much of what should be “public” in the North Carolina school system is now being guided by non-public entities.

And we in NC get this:

graph4

Simply put, the privatization of the public school system.

Sen. Bill Rabon’s Commitment to Not Fully Fund NC’s Public Schools

From Rep. Craig Horn on January 4, 2018:

“The gap is closing. There are folks that are working on a reasonable solution with the session coming as quickly as it is next week” ((http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/01/04/chairman-house-education-committee-solution-class-size-crisis-imminent/).

From Sen. John Alexander on January 17, 2018:

“We are still trying to gather information from all 100 counties of the state, to ensure that any fix is amiable to all. Please know that I share in your concerns, as do all the members of the General Assembly, and we have heard you. We are working diligently towards a solution that will benefit all” (https://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/01/17/gop-senators-email-promises-relief-class-size-crisis-march/).

From Sen. Bill Rabon January 19, 2018:

“We appreciate and share Sen. Alexander’s strong commitment to find a resolution that will ensure the smaller class sizes we’ve already paid for while funding enhancement teachers beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, but we have not yet determined a specific timeline. Last year, school districts began raising concerns that they would no longer be able to fund enhancement teachers in subject areas like art, music, drama and P.E. We asked them to share their calculations with lawmakers so we could understand how much, if any, additional funding was needed and are in the process of analyzing the data” (http://www.wral.com/rabon-not-so-fast-on-that-march-class-size-session/17274023/).

Days after a glimmer of sunlight started to possibly peek its way through the partisan clouds hovering over the class size mandate, Sen. Bill Rabon made sure to keep the skies overcast. And there are so many self-revealing aspects about his statement today that should not only madden public school advocates but also reinforce the notion that many in Raleigh do not want to see public schools fully funded.

First, Sen. Rabon would do well to actually prove that the mandate has been funded. If he claims that he is awaiting data to ascertain whether additional funding is needed, then his repeated assurances that is has already been funded should actually have data ready to validate that claim.

Additionally, he said that districts had begun to “raise concerns” LAST YEAR. Actually, that was last spring. For Rabon to say that the NCGA does not have the data in hand is ridiculous. One only needs to see how tightly audited each school in the state is each year and one can see that districts could supply that information in a matter of days. Rabon’s claiming that it takes months.

And above all, to actually fund the mandate would go against everything that Rabon has stood for in his tenure as a lawmaker – at least when looking at his actions.

This is the man who did not let HB13 even come to a vote in the North Carolina Senate after the House unanimously passed it in its original form. From April 6, 2017:

One bipartisan-supported reprieve to the looming class size order, House Bill 13, gained unanimous approval in the state House in February, but despite advocates’ calls for urgent action this spring, the legislation has lingered in the Senate Rules Committee with little indication it will be taken up soon.

Sen. Bill Rabon, the influential eastern North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, did not respond to Policy Watch interview requests, but his legislative assistant said this week that Rabon’s committee will not consider any House bills until the General Assembly’s April 27 crossover deadline (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/04/06/school-officials-preparing-fire-thousands-specialty-teachers-order-meet-k-3-classroom-mandate/).

This is also a man who has taken money from a well-known charter school mogul named Jonathan Hage who runs Charter Schools USA.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=14298646). Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

Hage1

  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well and now is the president of ALEC.
  • There’s Rep. Bryan who helped to bring in the ASD district now known as the Innovative School District and is a major player in one to of the private companies trying to get the contract.
  • There’s David Curtis, who loves charters as well.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations.
  • And there’s Bill Rabon, who stalled the HB13 bill in the Senate.

But possibly what really shows Sen. Rabon’s reluctance to even consider fully funding public schools is his primary sponsorship of a bill in June of 2016 that mimics what many erroneously call the Taxpayers Bill of Rights or TABOR.

The constitutional amendment wouldn’t affect the current rate – which will drop from 5.75 percent to 5.499 percent next year – but would effectively prevent the legislature from raising income taxes. The constitution now includes a maximum rate of 10 percent (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article83773162.html).

That version of TABOR would have capped a vital source of revenue that the state would need in times of crises. That’s scary to think about. The very fabric, the very sinews of society like schools, healthcare, and environmental protections would be instantly jeopardized and it would take years to recover as a result of this bill.

Remember that all three of those areas (schools, healthcare, and environment) have already been hazardously affected in the last few years here in North Carolina. We have just been ranked 40th in the latest Education Week Report Card, Medicaid expansion was not allowed by the lawmakers in Raleigh (like Rabon), and just look at what is still happening with Duke’s coal ash spills and GenX.

A commitment to TABOR is a commitment to limiting how public schools get funded. To sponsor a bill like TABOR is saying out loud that you do not want to fully fund public goods and services in times where people need them most.

Also, do not let it be lost that Rabon also serves on the committee for redistricting. Most of America is very familiar with NC’s drawing of districts.

Therefore, Sen. Rabon’s words about the class size mandate are simply his way of saying that he does not want to fully fund it and he does not want to tell you that he already knows what the data says.

 

Open Letter to NC Lawmakers Concerning HB13 and Funding the Arts & PE

Dear Senator Chad Barefoot, Senator Bill Rabon, and other lawmakers concerning the amended HB13 law,

This week marks the beginning of Advanced Placement testing in schools around the country (and world), and while the validity of AP classes and testing results has become the subject of much debate, I have a multitude of students working hard to do well on those exams.

The state of North Carolina seems to put a lot of emphasis on AP tests. In fact, the General Assembly actually pays for each administration of an AP test (over $90 per) in public schools. It’s a measure of success apparently to see how many students are actually taking the tests in the state. And if it is increasing success overall for students, then that is good.

Maybe that’s the same reasoning that goes into the forced administration of the ACT in North Carolina public schools. Making every student in public schools, whether they are invested in the test or whether they have no inclination of entering college, take a test that gives really no more feedback than a score point has become another source of measurement that lawmakers use to judge the public school system.

Either way, some company is making of a lot of money from the tax payers to create a measure to arbitrarily see how well our North Carolinian students are performing. And decision makers like yourselves seem to take a lot of stock in arbitrary test results, especially in comparison with the results of other countries.

But there are many variables that a test cannot measure which are vital to student success and our state’s health – variables like creativity, inventiveness, collaboration, teamwork, and innovation whose ingredients are found in classes like visual arts, music, physical education. Ironically, those are the very classes in jeopardy next year with the porous version of HB13 passed this past week.

Valerie Strauss writes and publishes an educational blog called “The Answer Sheet”. It is published primarily through the Washington Post and is widely read. The following is from a February 13, 2017 posting entitled “Three global indexes show that U.S. public schools must be doing something right.”

It starts,

Nancy Truitt Pierce is a member of the Monroe School Board in Washington state who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to his STEM Alliance Advisory Board. In her day job, she is a consultant who convenes monthly peer group meetings of top executives in Seattle and hears what they are looking for when recruiting new employees. What do they want?

 Here’s what she wrote in an email:

 What I hear from the key corporate leaders I meet monthly with is that they want candidates coming out of our public schools who are creative, innovative, collaborative problem solvers. Yes, the candidates must also have strong foundational skills of math, science and language arts but I suggest we are putting too much emphasis on the PISA math score as a key indicator of public school quality. I suggest there are other indicators that would serve us in much better ways (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/13/three-global-indexes-show-that-u-s-public-schools-must-be-doing-something-right/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.40a032ddd1c3).

I chose this particular part of the posting because of Ms. Pierce’s job as a consultant with business executives and as a STEM proponent. Interestingly, her words about creativity reminded me of the recent debate that you and others simply avoided when it concerned the arts and its funding in our elementary schools when HB13 was front and center.

Later in the posting there is a reference to three specific indicators that measure the very elements of creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

 We win where it matters. If you look at other indicators more related to innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, the USA does very well.

To be clear, the Global Creativity Index “ is a broad-based measure for advanced economic growth and sustainable prosperity based on the 3Ts of economic development — talent, technology, and tolerance” (http://martinprosperity.org/content/the-global-creativity-index-2015/).

The Global Innovation Index? Look at some of the indicators (https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2016-report).

AP2

The Global Entrepreneurship Index utilizes the “Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index’s (GEDI) 14 Pillars of Entrepreneurship as its primary measurement.

  • Pillar 1: OPPORTUNITY PERCEPTION
  • Pillar 3: NONFEAR OF FAILURE
  • Pillar 4: NETWORKING
  • Pillar 5: CULTURAL SUPPORT
  • Pillar 8: HUMAN RESOURCES
  • Pillar 13: INTERNATIONALIZATION

All of those variables are directly attributable to skills learned in classes like visual art, music, and physical education. The items listed under the Global Innovation Index concerning investment in education brings to mind the very heart of the discussion of bills like HB13 and HB800 and other initiatives that take monies away from public schools and put them into unproven methods of education that actually segregate rather than allow for us to collaborate.

And Nancy Pruitt Pierce says we need more people who collaborate. More people who are creative. More people who are innovative.

Does the ACT measure those elements? Do the EOCT’s? Maybe to a very small, small degree.

One could make an argument that the AP tests could measure for those items, because students are often asked to elaborate or be required to show their thought processes or support their arguments. In fact, here is a prompt from the 2014 administration of the AP English Language and Composition Test.

AP1

The part of the prompt that states, “the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade” has the decline that is the “most serious” really seems to fit into the dialogue here in North Carolina.

I would very much like to see how many of you would respond to this prompt. Actually, I would like to see you make a coherent argument for your actions to jeopardize funding for the very classes that essentially foster those very skills that others testify are crucial to building stable economic futures in our state and country.

If you do offer that argument, make sure to back up your claims with hard evidence and verifiable data as well as explain how that evidence and data support your claims – out loud and clearly.

Not behind closed doors or in secret sessions.

Open Letter to Sen. Bill Rabon – Be a Civil Servant and Allow House Bill 13 to Come to the Senate Floor

class size rose

Dear Senator Rabon,

I was disheartened as a public school teacher to learn that House Bill 13, which earned unanimous support in the state House, has been tabled in the state Senate, a situation that you could easily remedy.

And I am incensed as a parent of a special needs child in a public elementary school that this may very well cause local school districts to cut teacher assistant positions to fulfill a shortsighted legal statute concerning class sizes.

Last Sunday my hometown newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal, reported in “Schools could cut assistants to hire more teachers, meet class size requirements,”

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district has started contingency planning in case the N.C. General Assembly doesn’t pass a bill that would give schools relief from impending class size reductions.

The district will keep any teacher assistants hired from now until the end of the school year on temporary employee rolls in an effort to avoid layoffs over the summer. If the state mandate on smaller class sizes kicks in, district leaders say they might be forced to cut some teacher assistant positions for next school year in order to keep offering art, music and physical education classes (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-could-cut-assistants-to-hire-more-teachers-meet-class/article_9440fea2-c230-5128-8cff-270cefb7d83b.html).

And today Billy Ball in NC Policy Watch reported in “School officials preparing to fire thousands of specialty teachers in order to meet K-3 classroom mandate,”

(Linda) Welborn, a Republican member of the Guilford County Board of Education, says her district—the third largest in the state—will need to find an additional $16.6 million and 242 new teaching positions to meet the state’s legislative mandate to cut class sizes for kindergarten through third grade beginning next school year.

“We would have to make such drastic cuts, we literally don’t know where we would come up with the money,” says Welborn. “You just don’t do that unless you have absolutely no choice but to do it.”

All across North Carolina, districts like Guilford County say a statutory loss of flexibility over class size may soon yield massive job losses statewide among arts, music and physical education teachers, as well as teacher assistants (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/04/06/school-officials-preparing-fire-thousands-specialty-teachers-order-meet-k-3-classroom-mandate/).

And what made that news so hard to digest was what Ball stated later.

One bipartisan-supported reprieve to the looming class size order, House Bill 13, gained unanimous approval in the state House in February, but despite advocates’ calls for urgent action this spring, the legislation has lingered in the Senate Rules Committee with little indication it will be taken up soon.

Sen. Bill Rabon, the influential eastern North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, did not respond to Policy Watch interview requests, but his legislative assistant said this week that Rabon’s committee will not consider any House bills until the General Assembly’s April 27 crossover deadline.

Senator, this is unacceptable, especially in light of comments and stances you have taken in the past.

Consider what was reported in the summer of 2014 in the Wilimington StarNews Online edition for July 21st.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the “jury is still out” on the final budget and he can’t give teacher assistants a “definite how it’s going to come out in the wash.” Still, Rabon said he didn’t think the final budget would result in teacher assistants being laid off.

“It would be nice if we can work out an agreement to keep them, and I’m sure we will work toward that end,” Rabon said.

Rabon argues that the state is spending too much money on Medicaid and not enough on education and said an agreement could be reached on funding teacher assistants if the House would agree to make cuts to the program that provides health care for people who are poor and disabled (http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20140721/funds-for-teacher-assistants-in-doubt).

Well, considering that NC now is bragging about a surplus and is also bragging about not having expanded Medicaid, is funding education fully still a priority in your eyes because it appears that we as a state are not spending too much on Medicaid.

In May of 2014, you gave an interview to WHQR’s Katie O’Reilly concerning your stances on state issues (http://whqr.org/post/candidate-profile-bill-rabon-r-nc-senate-district-8#stream/0). This is what you said about public education:

“I would like to see all teachers—I would like to see all state employees, for that matter—have an increase in salary. Hopefully we can get there; it’s gonna take revenue reform, or tax reform, to do that. It’s going to take a change in the way the state does business to do that. The conundrum is, where do we get the money? Fifty-six cents or so out of every dollar that is spent in Raleigh now goes to education. Maybe we’re spending that fifty-six cents in the wrong place. Maybe the legislature should step back, and look at the forest, and stop looking at the tree, and say a dedicated portion of that money must go to teacher salary. And give a little more direction, if you will, to those people that are spending the money that the taxpayers are sending to us. The legislature doesn’t spend the money; we allocate the money. Maybe we should give them a little more direction.”

I appreciate your wanting to pay teachers and state employees more. I hope that also included wanting to teach teacher assistants more.

Yet that question you asked in the above quote is what confuses me. You asked, “Where do we get the money?” That’s the same exact question that each local school district is asking right now to come into compliance with a law you and your cronies in Raleigh have put on the books. And yet you seem to complain about how much money the state is spending on education: fifty-six cents on the dollar.

Fifty-six cents out of each dollar sounds like a lot the way you put it.

But you grossly misrepresent the situation.

Actually, the state is supposed to finance public education at that level because the North Carolina State Constitution stipulates it. That’s the same constitution you’re sworn to uphold.

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.

The state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, even textbooks. To say that the state spends 56%of its budget on public education and then consider that to be the end-all-and-be-all to the argument is really ignoring the reasons why such a dynamic exists.

In the past before your tenure in the NC Senate began, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. Those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this General Assembly. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering.

Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting thousands of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?

In 2015, you became fairly well-known for a supposed “hit list” of 56 DOT jobs on the principle that more and more government jobs should be moved to the private sector. Never mind that a recent investigative report by WBTV out of Raleigh entitled “Senator steers millions in NCDOT contracts while taking campaign cash” talked about how you possibly benefitted from privatizing former government jobs (http://www.wbtv.com/story/34548894/senator-steers-millions-in-ncdot-contracts-while-taking-campaign-cash) .

What is ironic is that the three counties you fully represent (Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender) actually rely on the public school system to educate over 85% of the school aged children who reside there if numbers from the EdNC.org Data Dashboard for 2014-2015 are still consistent.

If you investigate the EdNC.org Data Dashboard even further, you may recognize that the three counties you represent also have very high levels of students receiving free and reduced lunches. Bladen County alone has over 90% who qualify. Certainly the refusal to expand Medicaid has affected people in your district as well.

Poverty, health, hunger all have effects on education.

What is more ironic is that in both Brunswick and Pender counties, the local LEA (public school district) is the NUMBER 1 EMPLOYER in the county. In Bladen County, the LEA is the second largest employer.

So the very entities that educate the vast majority of your constituents’ children and employ more people than any other entity may be compromised even further because of your unwillingness to put forth a bill that could do nothing but help?

All in the name of smaller class sizes and smaller government while we are experiencing an economic upswing?

If Guilford and Forsyth counties are having to consider letting go of teacher assistants, then I can only imagine what might happen in rural counties like the ones you represent.

Even just last week, DPI and retired Congresswoman Eva Clayton hosted an “Advocacy Day for Making Rural School Districts a Priority in North Carolina.” They called together leaders, educators, and policy makers to discuss issues that affect rural school districts – districts like Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender counties. Don’t complicate their situation by forcing them to make cuts to vital resources and personnel.

Allowing House Bill 13 to come to the floor would be a great step in the right direction. However, your lack of action would be a giant leap backwards.