About the NC Gerrymandered Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

Beginning this month, a “Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform” is meeting in Raleigh to start “investigating” how to “best” fund public schools with state money.

And they are now looking at possibly eliminating the salary schedule for public school teachers and what might be another disastrous, planned “reform.”

As Billy Ball reported in a post yesterday on NC Policy Watch,

“A pivotal legislative task force may be just beginning its dive into North Carolina’s school funding maze, but lawmakers’ hints that they may abolish the state’s teacher salary schedule or other state-set funding allocations is already spurring criticism from local district advocates.

Talk of nixing a state-set pay scale emerged this year when lawmakers took on a revamp of school principal pay, and it’s resurfaced multiple times in the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform’s first meetings in November.

Yet local district leaders and their advocates in Raleigh say the proposal may only exacerbate the state’s looming pay disparities between wealthy and poor counties, spur employment lawsuits and complicate matters for local school boards” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/11/17/legislators-consider-abolishing-teacher-salary-schedule-study-nc-school-funding-labyrinth/).

The word “task” is certainly “pivitol” here in this context. Why?

Because if you simply take a look at the members of the “task” force, you can easily see that there already was a “task” at hand and it was started years ago when the GOP powers in Raleigh took control of the General Assembly.

That “task” is tightly linked to an agenda that has been executed and carried out long before this “pivotal task force” ever convened: dismantle the public education system.

Below is a list of the members on the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform.

Task Force

19 people appointed by each branch of the General Assembly. That makes it already under the control of Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Tim Moore, two of the biggest “reformers” in the state.

Look at that list of 19 people.

  • 16 of the 19 are republican.
  • 15 of the 19 are male.
  • 17 of the 19 are white.
  • 17 of the 19 were never in education as a profession (although Lambeth was on the school board of Forsyth County for a number of years).

And they as a group are to help revamp the way that public education is to be funded for a public that they are grossly unrepresentative of?

That list is a great example of the effects of gerrymandering.

Go further and look at that list more closely. It includes some of the major players and champions of the “reforms” that really have hurt public education in North Carolina.

  • Chad Barefoot
  • David Curtis
  • Jerry Tillman
  • Jon Hardister
  • Craig Horn

Sen. Barefoot has been a champion for the watered down version of the Teacher Fellows, the original sponsor of SB599 which allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training, and was an original architect for HB13, the class size bill that is threatening so many districts with layoffs and seismic budget constraints.

Sen. David Curtis is a stalwart supporter of charter schools and has been rather vocal on his views of what public school teachers are “worth.” One only has to revisit that rather caustic letter he wrote a young teacher a few years ago and see that his view of public education is set in stone – http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0.

Sen. Jerry Tillman has probably been the staunchest supporter of the unregulated charter school industry here in North Carolina. He also was instrumental in helping craft legislation to bring in the Innovative School District. His abrasive nature against debate and constructive criticism has been well-known for years.

Rep. Jon Hardister has been part of the “reform” since he took office. On one instance, he wrote an op-ed pretty much proclaiming the same platitudes and generalities that Rep. Moore recently did on EdNC.org. They were easily refuted – http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf. Hardister also has tried to help further charter school growth by financing it with other state money – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/01/robbing-peter-to-pave-for-paul-rep-jon-hardisters-misguided-amendment-for-charter-schools/.

Rep. Craig Horn has literally been in the center of every education “reform” in this state, the most recent being the principal pay plan. When backlash for the plan became rather quick and vocal he exclaimed,

“Legislation is not an exact science” – – Craig Horn in EdNC.org on Sept. 21, 2017.

But science requires thought, reflection, observation, and objectivity. This “task force” being led by Rep. Horn is actually an exercise in rapid narrow-minded policy changes.

With over a quarter of this task force controlled by these people, it should not be too hard to realize that this “Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform” is nothing more than a gerrymandered body whose agenda to further privatize a public good is more important than actually representing the public of North Carolina.

If this really was a “task force,” then maybe it should spend its time and energy trying to validate with real research and real data the effectiveness of the very “reforms” that many on this “task force” have championed.

But alas, that would go against their narrative and would require a look at the truth.

School is Never Really Over – Thinking of Sen. David Curtis and “Summer Vacations”

It is the first day of “summer vacation” and at this time of year I am reminded of the iconic response to a teacher’s letter back in 2014 by one Sen. David Curtis.

It’s worth rereading for me at least because Sen. Davis Curtis’s response to Sarah Wiles literally started my foray into public school activism. It literally spawned the desire to start this blog.

You may review the texts of both Sarah Wiles’s letter and Curtis’s response here: http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0.

My response to Sen. David Curtis was my first open letter to a legislator. He still has not written me back even though I have tried to engage him many times since. A copy of that initial one-sided conversation can be found here: https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/.

I have even tried to visit Sen. Curtis. He was conveniently in a “meeting.”

curtis

There is one part of Sen. Curtis’s original missive that really comes to mind on this first day of “summer vacation.” He talked about our “eight weeks of paid vacation.”

Specifically, he said,

“Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer: …

  1. You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher…

After taking my teenage daughter to her first of many driver education classes that in several cases are conducted on high school campuses and planning on what to do with a somewhat sick boy who would have gone to a summer enrichment that is run in conjunction with the school system and employs many elementary school teachers, I decided to just run by my high school to see if it had turned into a vast wasteland to be cocooned until preplanning of next year since teachers are on a paid vacation.

I envisioned what Sen. Curtis might have had in mind a traditional high school would look like in this intellectually barren time. Maybe that vision looks like the setting of The Shining – you know the hotel that is abandoned in the winter time because of seasonal trends and looked after by Jack Nicholson and his family, except this time there is no snow and ice.

shining

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Just today,

  • Offices were open to conduct business.
  • Student Services was open for registration and transcript analysis.
  • Teachers were on campus conducting various activities.
  • The yearbook staff is already at camp in Chapel Hill working on next year’s edition.
  • Rooms were being cleared and cleaned.
  • The baseball coach was conducting a baseball camp for community youth. He also coached over the weekend at the state games helping local talent get more attention from college programs as that might be a key way for some of them to go to college.
  • The soccer coaches also had their camps going teaching community youth skills. Some of the current and past players for a state championship team were on hand to help out.
  • State sanctioned workouts were happening on other fields.
  • Summer school classes were about to begin to help students regain credits.
  • Some teachers were already back from grading AP tests.
  • Some teachers were in professional development classes in various places.
  • Some teachers are prepping for new courses they are to teach because populations change and numbers of sections change.
  • Some teachers are preparing for National Boards.
  • Some teachers are tutoring.
  • Some teachers are moving materials on campus to facilitate summer cleaning and maintenance.
  • Some teachers are helping interview potential new teachers and then helping those hired get more acclimated with the campus.
  • Some teachers are taking inventory.
  • Some teachers just come to campus to get work done to prepare for next year like send items to print shop or get websites and databases ready.

And this is just the first week of “vacation.”

Lawmakers like Sen. David Curtis are literally talking about the budget for public schools right now. If his current views of public schools, teachers, administrations, and support staff still holds with his views expressed in that response to Sarah Wiles, then I would suggest that Curtis take a tour of local high schools in the summer time. Just as long as he does not use an axe at the door and scream, “Here’s Johnny!”

the-shining-1024x576

He might be surprised. More importantly, he may not look at the funding of traditional public schools in such a sterile, antiseptic fashion,

Our kids deserve better.

Open Letter to Dave Machado, Charter School Chief for the State of North Carolina Concerning His Words About the Annual Charter Schools Report

Dear Mr. Machado,

As the Director for the State Office of Charter Schools in North Carolina, your words concerning the annual charter schools report just recently made to the State Board of Education prove not just interesting, but rather selective and uninformed and display an attitude to make sure that charter schools in North Carolina thrive at the expense of traditional public schools here in the Old North State.

charter-school-report

A WRAL.com report from January 4, 2017 entitled “NC charter schools chief: Need to increase diversity, open more rural schools” included some rather illuminating insights on your part that not only display a shortsightedness synonymous with an attempt to stretch and spin the truth, but an intention to create more of a market for an unregulated charter school industry that is enabled by the current political structure here in North Carolina.

Kelly Hinchcliffe reported,

“The report found that charters and traditional schools have about the same proportion of students who are American Indian, Asian, black and Pacific Islander. However, charters tend to have more white students and fewer Hispanic students than traditional schools.

The report also found that charter schools tend to serve fewer poor students than traditional schools. But Machado cautioned board members that some of that data may not be accurate. Schools may have under-reported how many low-income students they serve, he explained, because they must rely on parents to report income information.

Not all parents want to share that information.

“Parents would get mad when we sent those surveys out,” Machado said, referencing his time as chief administrator of Lincoln Charter School in Lincoln County (http://www.wral.com/nc-charter-schools-chief-need-to-increase-diversity-open-more-rural-schools/16400623/) .

There is a tad bit of faulty logic there. Are you suggesting that only charter school parents are unwilling to share information about income because of an assumed social stigma concerning socio-economics?

The truth is that all schools must rely on parents to report information for students – medical, past transcripts, addresses, etc. To suggest that traditional public schools do not have to struggle with having accurate measures of low-income versus high income students is ludicrous, because if that was not the case, then you just said that charter schools do a much poorer job of keeping up with records on their students.

Work in any public school and you will start to understand that many students will not report as low-income because they (or their families) do not wish to be identified as poor. And whether people in any office on the county level or on West Jones Street want to admit it, all public schools have students who face poverty, and poverty affects education.

And it is interesting that you mention Lincoln County, home of Rep. Jason Saine and Sen. David Curtis, current members of the North Carolina General Assembly who are sworn to uphold a state constitution to make sure that all children in North Carolina receive a quality public education. Yet, both champion charter school growth in Lincoln County using taxpayer money.

You may refer to the following letters that I penned to them for more information concerning their ventures.

https://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/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/28/hes-back-open-letter-to-sen-david-curtis-why-do-you-not-support-public-schools/

Ironically, the very charter schools they are associated with do not show up on the Lincoln County Public Schools website.

lincoln-county

There was another assertion that you offered in the WRAL report which actually opened the story that also piqued my interest.

Hinchcliffe opens the WRAL report with,

“North Carolina charter schools need to have more diversity among their students and open more schools in rural parts of the state,” the state’s charter school chief said Wednesday.

Dave Machado made the comments while presenting the annual charter schools report to the State Board of Education. 

You directly say that you want to open more charter schools in rural areas. I assume that means in counties that may have few traditional public schools to begin with where a charter school may come in and siphon away enough students into another entity that could adversely affect those traditional schools.

Considering how schools are funded by state, local, and federal monies, even a small change in student population in a small rural school could have drastic effects in the ability for that small rural school to apply for funds to have ample resources for those who are not fortunate enough to attend the charter school.

Also, why would you want more charter schools in rural areas when you could invest those monies in the very schools that exist for the students who already attend them? Why benefit a few at the expense of many?

You may claim that you want to offer more choice for students, but how is it really choice for those who would never be able to attend the charter school?

You may claim that you want to offer citizens a chance to attend a successful school in an area where schools have been “failing.” Well, when you can show empirical evidence that charter schools do better than traditional schools overall, then you might have an argument, and even then why wouldn’t those successful ventures then be invested in the traditional public schools anyway for the benefit of all students?

And you talked of the need for diversity.

I do know of a few measures that you could take that would make charter school more diverse, or at least less homogenous, but it would require being measured against traditional public schools again, which seems to something that touches a nerve with you.

  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students that they may not have wanted in the first place like traditional public schools must – urban, suburban, and rural.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students who have special needs whether they be developmental delays or physical disabilities like traditional public schools (even rural ones) already do.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools keep teaching students with low test scores like traditional schools do.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students who do not speak English as their first language as traditional schools must.

It’s very interesting to see how an idea that was very altruistic in nature as the charter school once was become a championed cause for privatization of public education. Many credit Albert Shanker, the former president of the American Federation of Teachers, with the idea of charter schools, but his idea seems so foreign to the concept that is being advocated so much here in North Carolina and the words that you say.

Shanker wanted (and I paraphrase Dr. Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System pp. 122-124) charter schools should be a decision made with school districts to focus on those students who are the hardest to teach – those who were on the verge of dropping out. He would never have imagined charter schools using the type of admissions processes being used now. And most importantly, because the charter schools would be sort of an offshoot of the public schools, they would naturally be collaborative.

And yes, there are some charter schools that are doing the work of teaching students in newer, more experimental ways in hopes to help other students in traditional schools. And those schools are working with their respective public school systems, but they seem more the exception now than the norm.

Yet, Mr. Machado, what I see your mission being is to create a situation not based on collaboration, but of competition. And if public education was meant to be competitive, then should not both charter schools and traditional schools have to play by the same rules?

Because they certainly are not here in North Carolina.

 

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Syllables – Senate Budget Press Conference on Teacher Pay

 

Alex Granados of EdNC.org did a nice job of reporting on the Senate press conference on teacher pay proposal on May 26th (https://www.ednc.org/2016/05/26/senate-unveils-teacher-salary-pay-plan/).

If you go to the actual story on EdNC’s website, there is a video of the press conference. In it you will see who is present.

senatepressconference.png

Of course, Sen. Phil Berger is at the podium, but many may not recognize the others. Over Berger’s left shoulder is Sen. David Curtis. Ironic that he is on stage after his historic missive from two years ago in response to teacher Sarah Wiles when he literally bashed public school teachers (http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0).

Here is the text of that letter. If you are reading it again, then it is worth reviewing. If you have never read it, then brace yourself. He actually did a “reply all” when he sent it on his government email account which made it public property.

From: Sen. David Curtis

Date: May 12, 2014 at 9:46:57

Dear Sarah,

I have given your e-mail titled “I am embarrassed to confess: I am a teacher” some thought, and these are my ideas.  A teacher has an incredible influence on students–for good or for bad. My teachers, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders had a great influence on my decision to go to college which was not a family tradition. My concern is that your students are picking up on your attitude toward the teaching profession. Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer:

  1. You expect to make a lot more than you made as a teacher because everyone knows how poorly compensated teachers are.
  2. You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher
  3. You expect a defined contribution retirement plan that will guarantee you about $35,000 per year for life after working 30 years even if you live to be 104 years old. Your employer will need to put about $16,000 per year into your retirement plan each year combined with your $2,000 contribution for the next 30 years to achieve this benefit.  If he objects, explain to him that a judge has ruled that the taxpayers of North Carolina must provide this benefit to every public school teacher. Surely your new employer wants to give better benefits than the benefits you received as a poorly compensated teacher.
  4. Your potential employer may tell you that he has heard that most North Carolina workers make less than the national average because we are a low cost-of-living- state, private sector workers making 87% of the national average and teachers making 85% of the national average.  Tell him that may be true, but to keep that confidential because the teachers union has convinced parents that teachers are grossly undercompensated based on a flawed teachers union survey of teacher pay.

I support the teacher pay raise but am very concerned that the teachers union has successfully presented to the public a deceptive view of total teacher compensation that is simply not consistent with the facts.

Sincerely,

Senator David Curtis

The backlash from teachers was intense. Dr. Diane Ravitch was kind enough to post my letter to him on her blog (https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/ ). It was my first venture into public education advocacy that has eventually led to this blog.

And Sen. Curtis is standing up there as a crusader for the teaching profession.

If you look to the far right of the screen, you will see Sen. Tom Apodaca. His recent legislative attempt is the Access to Affordable College Education Act that was recently rolled into the very budget this press conference is about.

These are not the faces of people championing public education.

He’s Back! Open Letter to Sen. David Curtis – Why do you not support public schools?

Many of you remember from 2014 a letter that Sen. David Curtis wrote to a young teacher that admonished her for even asking politicians to help public education. I wrote him back. You can revisit that exchange here if you would like – https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/.

He’s back. Better than ever. So…

I wrote him again. As pen pals do.

 

Dear Sen. Curtis,

I have written to you in the past regarding your actions and statements concerning public education here in North Carolina.

In May of 2014 you wrote your infamous open missive to a teacher named Sarah Wiles in which you attempted to shame her for even asking politicians like yourself to help advocate more for teachers. In that letter, you perpetuated many egregious myths surrounding the teaching profession circulating in the General Assembly such as the “two-month vacation,” the “low cost of living in North Carolina” offsetting the low salary, and the evil “teacher union” prevalent in our state. That particular exchange (your letter and my reply) can be found here – https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/.

Almost a year later you helped sponsor legislation that according to a report from Julie Ball, the education reporter from the Citizen-Times in Asheville, would “shift the cost of remediation classes at community colleges to the counties where the students who need them graduated from high school.” When asked about the idea of the proposed bill, you replied, “If they (students) graduate from high school, I think we as taxpayers have a right to think they are prepared to do college level work” (http://www.13newsnow.com/story/news/local/north-carolina/2015/04/01/if-students-cant-do-college-work-nc-counties-would-pay/70764104/).

And now we have another example of your consistent barrage against public schools and those who teach in them.

This month the Lincoln Times-News reported that the local school system will have to cut over 30 teachers and 8 teacher assistants from next year’s budget (“School system to lay off 34 teachers”). As recounted by staff writer Adam Lawson, Lincoln County Schools have seen “a reduction of $3.7 million in state educational funding since 2008,” as well as a “decrease in K-12 enrollment, despite a steady rise in approved residential developments on the eastern end of the county.”

Senator Curtis, this county is in your district. And this reduction of funds has occurred mostly on your watch. But considering that your allegiance to public schools has been flaky at best, it is not surprising that your lack of supporting public schools has been a hallmark of your tenure in office.

In fact, that very lack of support for the public schools in your district corresponds to the growing number of public displays of affection for the profit-minded charter school industry that continues to compromise the very schools you are constitutionally bound to protect.

In the Oct. 6, 2013 issue of  the Mooresville Tribune, Jessica Osbourne reported on the opening of Langtree Charter Academy where you joined “guests speakers including Dave Ferguson, chairman of the North Carolina Charter Education Foundation Board; Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA.” That’s the same Jonathan Hage who has poured money into the campaigns for elected officials who work on behalf of for-profit charter schools that take away state money to fund privately-run and selective charter schools, the same money that is helping contribute to the reduction of funds for the school system you supposedly represent.

One just needs to look at his profile on www.followthemoney.org to see that Hage has a lot of interests in North Carolina. It reveals contributions to Gov. Pat McCrory, Sen. Thom Tillis, Rep. Jason Saine, and another enabler of charter schools in the General Assembly, Sen. Jerry Tillman.

While hobnobbing with Mr. Hage at the Langtree celebration, you were quoted as saying,

“Parents should be able to decide where their children go to school and not forced to attend a district because of where they live. My next concern is about money. I don’t understand the difference in how a charter school can do a great job on what little money they get, but public schools are still struggling to get by when they receive much more money. I’ll be working on legislation more with that.”

You specifically stated that you would introduce legislation to take money from public schools to help finance a private industry with tax payer money that will only “benefit” a few students. And why are those schools struggling? The reason is because you have helped push through legislation that weakens public schools in North Carolina. Furthermore, the standards by which charter schools are measured are not the same as public schools have. What would really be the strength of charter schools if they had to take all of the same local, state, and national assessments public school did and had to educate every student who walked into the doors?

Your voting record according to www.votesmart.org is a long list of partisan kowtowing to the GOP establishment in Raleigh. Whatever people like Sen. Berger, now Sen. Tillis, Rep. Moore, and Sen. Tillman have proposed for the public schools and the charter schools, you have simply echoed with your votes.

You have voted to eliminate due process rights for educators as well as professional development opportunities, teacher academies, longevity pay and salary increases for advanced degrees. You have eliminated spaces for students in pre-k classrooms, teacher assistant positions, and class size caps. You have created obstacles for textbook funding and digital rollout efforts.

You have voted to extend vouchers which take away resources and money from traditional public schools. You supported a nonsensical A-F grading system of public schools as well as helped eliminate caps on the number of charter schools in North Carolina. You even helped to outsource virtual high schools to companies outside of North Carolina.

And you want to blame public schools for not doing an adequate job?

Furthermore, you voted for HB2, which actually discriminates against some of the very people you claim to represent.

Your growing disdain for public schools has even prompted your own party members to endorse other candidates for your seat. Adam Lawson in a report entitled “School board member Cathy Davis endorses Carney for state senate” related a statement by Ms. Davis that seems to sum up your commitment to public education. She said,

“I’ll just go on record as saying I’ve been gravely disappointed in his (Sen. Curtis) lack of support and understanding of public education. I think it’s been evident during his tenure that he’s been more supportive of charter schools, and that’s fine as long as we’re not taking away from the public school system. I’m going to be voting for Chris Carney.”

Senator Curtis, you seem to have been taking away from the public school system in an attempt to weaken them to create a climate that allows for-profit charter schools to embed themselves in our state. This is totally antithetical to your role as a member of the Appropriations on Education/Higher Education Committee and a co-chair of the Education/Higher Education Committee in North Carolina. You are supposed to protect public schools and their roles in communities like Lincoln County.

Simply put, you are harming many students’ ability to access a good education when you allow schools like those in your district to lose teachers and resources because of underfunding and a blind allegiance to a for-profit charter industry.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School