Don’t Mistake My “Exaggeration” For Your Active Ignorance – A Somewhat Rational Response to the John Locke Foundation

Reading educational perspectives from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation is like opening a letter with a nice stamp, a handwritten address, and some hearts drawn on the outside.

Yet, once you open it up, what falls out is nothing but glitter. No letter. Nothing really of substance. Just a mess on the floor that requires cleaning.

But I know that I will still open any letters from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation because as a public school activist, those letters will inevitably revalidate that I am on the right side of the school choice argument.

Hood’s latest missive on school choice appears in EdNC.org’s Perspective section. It is entitled “Exaggeration won’t stop school choice” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/31/exaggeration-wont-stop-school-choice/).

Its tone is condescending and entitled. Its substance is watery. And its covert claim of taking the moral “high road” in the debate over school choice in NC smells of garbage juice. Consider the final line of his op-ed.

“Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally.”

For a man who fronts organizations founded and led by Art Pope, the idea of having a rational conversation on public issues in this arena is like walking into a dialogue with someone who will only allow you one word for every sentence he says and who will not allow you to present evidence because it may actually refute any nebulous claims he makes.

But he will smile and shake your hand as if you are on the same side.

John Locke as a philosopher embraced empiricism, practicality, and strong observation. And while Mr. Hood loves using the word “empiricism” and “empirical” to define his “proof” he offers in this instance another lofty, general, glittering, and amorphous claim that what North Carolina has done to reform public education is strongly beneficial.

And it is beneficial – for those who are seeking to make a profit like Art Pope.

But Mr. Hood did offer to discuss this rationally, so here are some claims that he makes and that I will “rationally” refute.

  1. During the 2016-17 academic year, nearly one out of five North Carolina children were educated in settings other than district-run public schools. In Wake County and some other urban areas, the percentage was even higher.

He is right on both counts. Also, it needs to be noted that over one out of five North Carolina children live in poverty. And while Wake County has a higher percentage of students in non-public school settings, it might be worth noting that the budget shortfall for funding the public schools in Wake County is one of the more well-known shortfalls in the state as far as supporting public schools. Just do a little research.

  1. To opponents of parental choice in education, the trend signifies an elaborate plot to destroy public schools by denigrating their accomplishments and funding their competition. To other North Carolinians, the rising share of children attending charter, private, or home schools simply reflects the fact that more opportunities are available, more families are exploring them, and the state’s education sector is becoming more diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly.

Actually, a “rational” person could look at what has happened in the past five years in NC and see that there really is a dismantling of public education. Look at the money that is being used to fund charters, vouchers, and other “reforms” that have no “empirical evidence” showing that they are successful.

Just take a look at this : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/18/the-assault-on-public-education-in-north-carolina-just-keeps-on-coming/. That’s an elaborate plot.

Of course other North Carolinians might see “school choice” as a road to more opportunities but is it really offering a more “diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly” experience?

Not really.

Today the News & Observer had an editorial entitled “The hidden cost of vouchers” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article165488352.html). All North Carolinians should read this.

It states,

When they passed the ill-conceived program to hand taxpayers’ money to lower-income people to pay for private schools for their children, Republican lawmakers didn’t bother to point out the fine print – that the $4,200 maximum might not cover expenses such as food and transportation. And it also doesn’t cover the full tuition of private schools, many of which are church-affiliated…

There’s a cynical side to this entire program as well. Yes, the $4,200 can cover a lot of expense at small church schools, for example, but wealthy Republicans aren’t going to see any of the Opportunity Scholarship recipients in the state’s most exclusive private schools, the ones that cater to wealthy families. Tuition in those schools is often $20,000 and above.

Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits. This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011. It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.

Would Mr. Hood like to rationally refute this?

The op-ed in the N&O also references an NC State study led by Anna Egalite which offers some rather “empirical” data that seems to take Mr. Hood’s claims and send them back for reconsideration (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/). It too is worth the read.

Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, is also quoted in the N&O op-ed. I am willing to bet my salary as it would have been if the General Assembly had not messed with the schedule I saw when I came into the profession that Nordstrom is much more educated in current public education issues than Mr. Hood and could offer more “rational” perspectives on the issue of school choice – calmly or otherwise.

  1. I’m in the latter camp, obviously. I’ve advocated school choice programs for three decades. My parents, former public-school educators, were supporters of the idea throughout their careers and influenced me greatly on the subject. If you disagree, I probably won’t be able to convince you in a single column about the merits of charter school expansion or opportunity scholarships. But I will offer this observation: exaggerating the case against school choice isn’t doing you or the public any favors.

No, Mr. Hood will not convince me. But if he thinks that what is being offered by myself or other public school advocates is exaggeration, then I would claim that Mr. Hood is compressing and ignoring the truth because he never refutes the evidence offered by public school advocates. In fact, he never offers any proof that vouchers and charters are showing evidence of high student achievement here in North Carolina.

Mr. Hood says that he has “good reasons, both theoretical and empirical” for his claims. What are they? Where is the data from North Carolina? The only time I have heard a “pro-school choice” official mentioning even talking about empirical evidence as far as North Carolina’s reforms are concerned actually helping low-income students.

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

Doesn’t sound like empirical data to me. Sounds like avoiding the actual debate. I would also like to see Mr. Hood explain his point of view in reference to the NAACP’s recent call for a charter school moratorium.

Hood1

Or, what is found in this report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-study-of-dc-voucher-program-finds-negative-impact-on-student-achievement/2017/04/27/e545ef28-2536-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.e45590a4a1db.

It states:

“Students in the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.

The study, released Thursday by the Education Department’s research division, follows several other recent studies of state-funded vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio that suggested negative effects on student achievement. Critics are seizing on this data as they try to counter Trump’s push to direct public dollars to private schools.”

Or even this report from the NY Times: “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html).

  1. Elementary and secondary education is becoming more like the rest of the education sector, and more like a health care sector that features lots of taxpayer funding but a diverse array of public, private, and nonprofit hospitals and other providers.

Actually, Mr. Hood is right in this respect when he compares public education to health care. Just look at the refusal to extend Medicaid for the very families who would qualify for vouchers and you see how the refusal to fully fund public schools only makes matters unhealthier.

  1. There is an impressive body of empirical evidence suggesting that as district-run public schools face more competition, their students tend to experience gains in test scores and attainment as school leaders rise to the challenge.

There’s that word again – “empirical.” Funny how public education works really well when it is collaborative rather than competitive, but it is worth mentioning that in a state that routinely has principal pay ranked around 50th in the nation, actually keeping school leaders is an obstacle created by the very people who brought us reform.

  1. And because the state’s choice programs are targeted at disabled and lower-income kids, the enrollment changes wouldn’t represent some kind of neo-segregationist conspiracy.

Apparently, Mr. Hood didn’t read this:

Hood2

He could just confer with Lt. Dan Forrest on its contents.

Or maybe he hasn’t fully digested this (which was sent to me, but I cannot verify its source, so if you find it, please let me know):

Hood3

The last statement before he offers the “Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally” conclusion, Mr. Hood says, “Competition improves performance.”

When the North Carolina General Assembly stops gerrymandering districts and enabling policies that seem to be ruled unconstitutional like Voter ID laws then the playing field might be leveled somewhat.

Then Mr. Hood might see how the performance of his op-ed and its baseless claims really offer no competition to the truth.

 

A Third-Person Open Letter to Darrell Allison and the PEFNC – Why Hide Behind the Ambiguity?

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” showcases one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.

In short, it is easier to hail school choice as a viable means of giving parents freedom as long as what they know about the choices can be controlled.

Wagner focuses much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina – Darrell Allison, the leader of PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina).

To say that he is the most influential non-law maker on educational reform in the state is not a stretch; his recent appointment to the UNC Board of Governors and his ability to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh certainly gives him more clout than most pro-public school legislators on West Jones Street.

Wagner raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

What Wagner is referring to is the PEFNC’s official reaction to a Duke University report on the Opportunity Grants that contained a flawed conclusion that was later corrected but did not really diminish the results. As Billy Ball reported on July 14th,

The Duke report, released in March by the school’s Children’s Law Clinic, initially suggested the state’s voucher recipients were not performing as well as their public school peers, although the university later edited that portion, arguing instead that the state lacks sufficient data to draw that conclusion (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/14/school-choice-advocates-blast-duke-voucher-report-flawed/#sthash.76QLNaKS.dpbs).

However, the corrected statement by the Duke study team coupled with PEFNC’s statement still gives every indication that people like Darrell Allison do not want to adequately measure how well voucher recipients are performing compared to their public school peers.

“The bottom line is this: We do not yet know how most scholarship students in North Carolina are performing on nationally standardized tests, and we do not know how scholarship students compare to other low-income students not using scholarships,” the group’s paper states.

That refutation from Allison and his cohort is weak. It’s saying that in the three-plus years the state of North Carolina has enacted the Opportunity Grant program and expanded it greatly, it does not really know if it is working.

Allison is claiming victory in the ambiguity. And it is the ambiguity that he wants to remain in the forefront to cloud what really may be the truth: that voucher recipients are not doing as well.

That’s opaque transparency with lots of tax-payer money which is siphoning the resources of traditional public schools which service a vast majority of the low-income students that Allison and PEFNC claim to be helping.

Wagner comments about how hard it is to actually get student achievement data concerning voucher recipients.

… only 11 percent of all voucher schools (that’s 34 schools if you’re counting) were required to publicize their students’ test results at the end of 2016. How students fared at nearly 300 other private voucher schools in North Carolina is unknown…

That’s ridiculous. That’s ludicrous. That’s egregious.

Almost a billion dollars has been set aside in the next decade to fund a program which Allison and PEFNC gleefully defend against Duke’s study as something that is not even measurable. But there is a reason that it is not measureable.

Wagner noted that “Efforts were made this past legislative session to require all voucher schools to use just one national test so that, ultimately, parents can make more of an informed choice—but those efforts failed.

Why did those efforts fail? God knows with as much back-door dealing in this last session of the NC General Assembly, this “failed effort” was craftily thwarted by those who want vouchers to remain in North Carolina. Would it be too far of a stretch to think that Allison and PEFNC lobbied for that “effort” to fail?

No, because it would have removed any doubt as to whether voucher recipients were doing as well as their public school peers. But if there is any indication that they were not, then the voucher program would be shown to be a “failed effort” in and of itself.

So, “in this context, one must wonder how a parent is supposed to know whether or not a private voucher school is a good choice for his or her child.”

This past week, NC State released a research study entitled “NC State Research Explores How Private Schools, Families Make Voucher Decisions” that explored perceptions of families of voucher recipients (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/).

Some very curious observations came out that could use a little explanation from Allison and the PEFNC to shed some light on what the voucher program is actually doing.

Consider:

IMG_5490

And…

IMG_5489

And..

IMG_5488

That’s not flattering because it can easily be concluded that what vouchers are doing is not allowing for “low-income students” to actually attend reputable private schools because those schools cost lots of money. Private schools are not non-profit entities. They cost money for a reason.

Secondly, students who did use voucher monies tended to already be behind the academic curve. To bring those students up-to-par would require remediation or it may be symptomatic of the fact that many of these students may have come from under-resourced public schools.

And if 71% of parents thought their kids were safer, it may be indicative of the lack of personnel and lack of support the traditional public schools receive. Most private schools are smaller and have lower teacher: student ratios.

But that racial diversity satisfaction percentage? That’s not encouraging if you investigate the socioeconomics of the almost %20 of school age kids in the state.

If most of the recipients of vouchers do not go to proven academic private schools or remain there (over 90% of recipients go to a religious school), and if you negate the ability to actually measure how well academically these voucher recipients are doing compared to public school students all the while slashing funds for DPI and not fully funding existing schools, then it is hard to say that there is really freedom of choice occurring.

Darrell Allison knows that.

If he is certain that voucher recipients are receiving a better education, then he should be the first to push for efforts to accurately measure achievement levels between voucher recipients and public school students.

The fact that he is not and has not for the last few years certainly indicates a willingness to control what many think is a “freedom of choice.”

The NCGA’s Plan to Make School Performance Grades Fuel Voucher Expansion

 

Public Schools First NC (PSFNC.org), an organization that supports advocacy of public education in North Carolina, regularly sends out very informative factoids through social media that give texture to the landscape of the politics associated with public education.

With the current recess of the General Assembly after its disastrous budget proposal for public education, it takes a lot of eyes to sift through the muck and make sure that all deficiencies are identified and brought to light because those who made this budget did so behind closed doors without political discourse and with partisan agendas. PSFNC.org is invaluable in that respect.

One of those agendas is to help ensure that vouchers will continue to be funded and expanded at astronomical rates.

This morning Public Schools First NC tweeted this graphic:

Budget fact

Those school performance grades are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis of achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

The people who made the decision to keep both the school performance grading system formula where it is and still expand vouchers ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF MORE VOUCHERS.

If one thing is for certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

With the tweet sent out this morning, PSFNC.org, also had a link to a quick fact “sheet” about school performance grades in North Carolina. It is very much worth a look on any person’s part, especially public school advocates – http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/resources/fact-sheets/quick-facts-a-f-school-performance-grades-2/?platform=hootsuite.

PSFNC1

There’s a table in the report that talks about the link between these grades and poverty levels from 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

PSFNC2

You can also refer to another posting from this blog from last year that talks about the correlation between the grades and state poverty levels – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019 2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?

IT WILL BE HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE!

There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board last school year to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

With policies that still hurt the working poor and those in poverty (which in NC affects over 20% of students) and the refusal to expand Medicaid and the other policies that hurt poorer regions, it is almost certain that poverty will have as much if not a bigger role in school performance grades in the near future.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion!

PSFNC.org made mention of the Opportunity Grants being expanded in a Facebook posting a day ago. It references the following from the recently passed budget by the NC General Assembly:

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section:
Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018: $44,840,000
2018-2019: $54,840,000
2019-2020: $64,840,000
2020-2021: $74,840,000
2021-2022: $84,840,000
2022-2023: $94,840,000
2023-2024: $104,840,000
2024-2025: $114,840,000
2025-2026: $124,840,000
2026-2027: $134,840,000

For the 2027-2028 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the sum of one hundred forty-four million eight hundred forty Page 14 Senate Bill 257-Ratified thousand dollars ($144,840,000) to be used for the purposes set forth in this section. When developing the base budget, as defined by G.S. 143C-1-1, for each fiscal year specified in this subsection, the Director of the Budget shall include the appropriated amount specified in this subsection for that fiscal year.”

Read that first line again: “due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students.”

That “critical need” has been created in part by making sure that many schools look bad – i.e., school performance grades. With a shrinking scale, more schools will “fail” and most of those schools will have higher levels of poverty in their student populations.

Those are exactly the students who will be targeted for expanding vouchers, because the Opportunity Grants are supposed to help “low-income” students.

And look when that expansion will start to take place – the school year of 2018-2019 with another 10 million dollars. However, our state budgets go in cycles of two years. That means that the next budget if the powers that be stay in power can come back and expand vouchers even more.

Starting right when those school performance grades change scales.

They know damn well the difference between proficiency and growth – the less proficient public schools look in the eyes of the public through a lens that the NC General Assembly prescribes, the more growth for vouchers in this state.

Trinity Christian School and Being GRANTed the OPPORTUNITY to Embezzle

Last week’s plea-bargain agreement of the teacher/coach at Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, NC is yet another outward manifestation of a much deeper condition, a symptom of a bigger problem – fully-funded schools.

Trinity

And the slap on the hand that was received by Heath Curtis Vandevender for embezzling nearly $400,000 of tax-payer money seems to be a bit lenient given the overall circumstances.

As reported by Paul Wooverton in The Fayetteville Observer on June 28, 2017,

Trinity Christian School basketball coach and teacher Heath Curtis Vandevender pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling more than $388,000 from North Carolina’s taxpayers.

In a plea-bargain agreement, Vandevender pleaded guilty to embezzlement of state property, a felony. He is to serve three months in jail, pay a $45,000 fine plus court costs, do 100 hours of community service and be on probation for five years. If he violates his probation, a prison sentence of at least one year and four months, but no more than two years and five months, would be activated.

The embezzled money, which the school owed the North Carolina Department of Revenue, has been repaid, lawyers said.

Trinity Christian has produced a number of college basketball players, including many high-profile recruits. The most recent coached by Vandevender was Dennis Smith Jr., picked ninth in the NBA Draft last week by the Dallas Mavericks. Smith played one year at N.C. State, averaging better than 18 points and earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/20170628/coach-from-trinity-christian-school-in-fayetteville-pleads-guilty-to-embezzlement).

That’s tax-payer money that was owed to the state.

To be more specific, it was almost $400,000 of tax-payer money in the form of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that Vandevender embezzled. Furthermore, when he was arrested, Trinity Christian was the top receiving school of vouchers from the state’s ill-regulated Opportunity Grant program.

Trinity Christian School receives tax money to help lower-income families pay the tuition to enroll their children. In the 2015-16 school year, the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program paid the school $519,750 on behalf of 130 students. This was the most in North Carolina.

Vandevender committed this crime over a period of 8 years starting in January of 2008. That’s not a one-time deal. That’s a premeditated cooking of the books with a recipe finely tuned in the kitchen.

Apparently, Vandevender had a good lawyer who cast a shadow of altruism on his actions and dose of pathos into the proceedings. Wooverton continues,

Vandevender, 49, didn’t keep the money for his own use, his lawyer, Trey Fitzhugh, told Superior Court Judge Kendra Hill.

Instead, he used the money to pay the private school’s expenses, Fitzhugh said, when it struggled with finances and cash flow. The school is so low-budget that Vandevender recently patched the parking lot’s potholes himself instead of hiring a contractor, Fitzhugh said. Employees frequently do similar tasks, the lawyer said.

“There were funds to pay the withholding taxes, but the issue with that is, they wouldn’t have been able to maintain the school in other areas,” Fitzhugh said. “They’re juggling as best they can with limited resources to keep these kids in school.”

  • Needing money to pay school expenses?
  • Struggling with finances and cash flow?
  • Potholes in the parking lot?
  • Trouble maintaining physical facilities?
  • Non-profit?
  • Employees doing tasks other than teaching?
  • Juggling as best they can with limited resources?

Wow, that sounds like the plight of many a traditional public school in the state of North Carolina.

It is easy to get on a soap box here on a Sunday morning and preach about the double standard that is present. But consider the converse.

What if this was a public school administrator trying to keep services in a rural school together. That school would probably have low-income students who cannot receive vouchers to help with expenses. In fact, that school could not even raise its tuition to get more cash flow.

All of the monetary help that school receives from the state is done by an impersonal formula that stipulates that per pupil expenditure for students in North Carolina should be lower when adjusted for inflation than when it was when Vandevender started embezzling.

That administrator would never work in public schools again. And many a lawmaker would be up in arms about the manipulation of the use of tax-payer money.

But Vandevender literally still gets to work at his school that will still receive voucher money next year under a program that was just expanded without a second thought of its actual effectiveness to raise student achievement for the very students whose “money” was embezzled.

What Vandevender’s lawyer argued was that his school, a non-profit organization, was not fully funded.

Welcome to the world of public education. Except most public schools do not have the convenience of receiving voucher money, having a board of directors to help raise money, control over tuition, or reduced restrictions when it comes to testing and other lawful protocols.

And yet traditional public schools still get attacked because of asking for more funds to do the very things that Vandevender claims he was “altruistically” breaking the law to help Trinity to achieve.

The very next day after Wooverton’s report, Bob Luebke shared on the Civitas Institute website in a missive entitled “Schools, Parents – and School Supplies,”

First let say, most parents are happy to contribute to the additional costs of their child’s education. Parents will find additional money for such things as field trip or class pictures. They do it because they know it enriches their child’s educational experience.

This email asks parents to bring additional school supplies to the school for others. Specifically:

 We would like to collect supplies for our HGMS students and other community students that may be unable to afford school supplies for the new school year. As you are shopping for your child’s school supplies for the new year…. Please consider purchasing a few extra supplies for donation.

First, let me say I am all for helping those in need. Doing so is our duty.

But let’s remember the school is making this request. Last I checked Wake County Public Schools have $1.4 billion budget. The new budget for 2017-18 is $1.6 billion, including $455 million from the county and a record $45 million budget increase.

According to current formulas, the district allots about $71 per child for school supplies. Last year WCPSS spent approximately $11.4 million on school supplies.

That said, a question comes to mind.

The letter asks parents to “consider purchasing a few extra supplies for HGMS students and other community students unable to afford school supplies for the coming year.”

If HGMS or WCPSS does not have on hand any of the suggested supplies that they are asking parents to buy, what school supplies does the school buy with its approximately $71 per child budget?

Asking parents to pitch in is one thing. It’s quite another to ask because taxpayer money is not being spent wisely.

Passing a tin cup for such needs in a billion-dollar school district irks many parents and propels the false narrative that WCPSS schools are financially strapped.

If I’m wrong, someone show me. If not, it should stop (https://www.nccivitas.org/civitas-review/schools-parents-school-supplies/).

It goes without saying that the Civitas Institute is all for vouchers – it promotes “school choice.”

You can draw your own conclusions from Luebke’s words, especially those folks in Wake County who are actually asking to pay higher taxes to fully fund their schools.

But I do wonder what he would have said in response to Vandevender’s lawyer.

Would he have said, “Well, we need more money in our voucher programs!”

Or would he have said, “Tough! You were using tax-payer money unwisely.”

It would also be good to hear what the state superintendent of public schools who is all for vouchers and school choice would have said on this matter.

But alas, he’s in court like Vandevender was.

The Stench of SB599 – Raleigh Knows Why We Have a Teacher Shortage. They Created It.

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools.”

– Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R- Wilkes, in response to questions about SB599 on House floor in Raleigh on June 26.

Senate Bill 599 is the bill (as Alex Granados from EdNC.org reports), that,

“allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/06/26/educator-preparation-bill-passes-house-returns-senate/).

What that means is that for-profit outfits can make money fast-tracking teacher candidates in a rather precarious preparation programs.

The original bill was introduced by Sen. Chad Barefoot who has shown himself to be the most recent poster child of the privatization movement in North Carolina’s public education system.

Granados further states,

Elmore explained that the bill was intended to increase the number of teachers coming into North Carolina schools. Schools of education in the state experienced a 30 percent drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2015.

So Rep. Elmore is explaining that we have a teacher shortage as seen by the drop in teacher candidates in our teacher preparation programs in the last 5-7 years?

Whatever or whoever could have put North Carolina in a situation that would create a teacher shortage in our public schools?

The answer is easy: the GOP majority in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The shortage of teacher candidates that schools of education have experienced is a symptom of a deeper problem. A bill like SB599 is a thinly veiled attempt to further allow for-profit companies like Texas Teachers of Tomorrow to take North Carolina tax money and place pseudo-qualified candidates into our classrooms.

Another jab at de-professionalizing a profession that the GOP majority in the NCGA has already de-professionalized to a large extent.

There are so many actions to deter teacher candidates taken by the current powers-that-be in a gerrymandered legislation that it would take Sen. Jerry Tillman’s two tracks of math curriculum to begin to count them, but here’s a flavor:

  1. Teacher Pay – We are still nowhere near the national average and when adjusted for inflation, salaries really have not risen for veteran teachers who are the glue of public education.
  2. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers – Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession
  4. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness.
  5. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?
  6. “Average” Raises –If you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably surprise people. Those raises were funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay.
  7. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation just took away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession after 2020.
  8. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools.
  9. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many.
  10. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.
  11. Removal of Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.
  12. Sacrificing of Specialties in Elementary Schools – To fulfill “class size” requirements that are now being talked about, many schools are having to decide if they will be able to offer arts and physical education classes.
  13. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility.
  14. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

  1. Opportunity Grants – These are vouchers. Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring because there is no oversight. Read the report from the Children’s Law Center at Duke University and then take a look at the recent plea from an administrator at Trinity Christian in Fayetteville.
  2. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Just ask Jason Saine. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.
  3. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
  4. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus and former Rep. Rob Bryan crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of needy schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
  5. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

If Rep. Elmore wants to really help alleviate the teacher shortage, he might want to consider reversing course on the many policies and bills enacted in his three-term tenure before explaining how SB599 might be used to get more teacher candidates into our schools of education.

But he already knows that. Why?

Because Rep. Elmore is a public school teacher who was trained at a state supported school that at one time was the state’s “Teacher College” – Appalachian State University. He should know better.

Rep. Elmore was also a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. He should know better.

He was a past president of the Professional Educators of North Carolina. He should know better.

Just look at his website – http://www.jeffreyelmore.com/aboutjeffrey/.

But he’s also part of a political establishment. That’s Rep. Elmore standing next to Sen. Chad Barefoot.

Elmore.png

Our state does not have the Teaching Fellows Program any longer.

It costs more for students to go to state supported universities because the state has not funded them to the same extent that they used to and the same lawmakers claim that spending less money on per pupil expenditures in traditional k-12 schools will not hurt students?

And they claim that they are wondering why North Carolina has a teacher shortage? And they want someone to profit from “fixing” it at the expense of tax payers and the over 90% of students in North Carolina who still attend traditional public schools and their magnets.

They know exactly why we have a teacher shortage. They created the teacher shortage.

Robbing Peter to Pave For Paul – Rep. Jon Hardister’s Misguided Amendment for Charter Schools

Robbing Peter to pave for Paul.

That’s what a recent amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister would do. According to the News & Observer,

A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and want to provide student transportation – a service that many charter schools don’t offer.

“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article153682054.html).

hardister

Hardister, a former board member of the Greensboro Academy Charter School (which now has Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes on its board of directors), has not been shy about his championing of “school choice.” Along with the Opportunity Grants, the Achievement School District, and charter school cap removal, Hardister has been a leading voice in offering “reforms” that have not shown any empirical evidence of working on a broad scale.

So, it is not surprising that he offers this amendment. But his quote above gives another glimpse into the disconnect that many in Raleigh suffer from when it comes to low-income students and academic achievement.

Hardister said, “If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school.” That’s true.

But if a student is on free or reduced lunch, it can be harder for that student to learn. Period.

Beginning his fourth year in the state House, Hardister has watched his own political party craft social policies and voted along party lines on the very issues that affect why so many students are on free and reduced lunch to begin with.

Ironically, Hardister serves an area in Guilford County that literally borders the infamous 12th congressional district that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for racial profiling. In fact, it was considered one of the top ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation by many watchdogs. That charter school he was a board member of? Yep, it’s in that 12th district.

It seems that if Rep. Hardister really wanted to make sure that kids who were on free and reduced lunches had a better chance for a quality education, he would have spoken loudly about how the very students who fit that description in his hometown and their families had their voices muffled because of the GOP’s redistricting efforts to place minority voters in the same voting areas.

And since Hardister is an ardent supporter of vouchers, he probably subscribes to the standard party mantra that “parents know best where to send their kids for school.” Give those parents a voice in voting and they may choose that what’s best is that the state fully fund public schools where their kids already have transportation and are already part of the community.

Did Rep. Hardister stand against recent budget proposals that literally wiped out a quarter of the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction? No. But he surely knows that while DPI is far from perfect, many rural counties with high populations of free or reduced lunch students depend very much on DPI’s services.

Did Rep. Hardister question the further investment in the Opportunity Grants when there still is a lack of oversight of the schools that take vouchers? Did he read the report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University that showed how flawed the voucher system really is all the while voting on budgets that brought down the per-pupil expenditure for traditional public schools?

Did Rep. Hardister consider that the budgets he greenlighted made the state’s public university system more expensive for the graduates of our high schools? NPR did a report just yesterday that talked about how the dwindling investment by states like NC in their university systems is actually preventing more low-income kids from going to college. And after the catastrophe of Betsy DeVos’s first 100 days in office, the promise pf getting a student loan that could actually be paid off in a reasonable amount of time disappeared.

Did Rep. Hardister even fight to expand Medicaid for those in the state who have students in their families that receive free or reduced lunches? Hungry students have a hard time learning. Sickened ones do as well.

So this amendment to take money from the transportation budget to make sure that some of these charter schools can transport students to and from school seems more like lip service from a politician. Because if Rep. Hardister really wanted students who received free or reduced lunches to succeed in school, he would do everything in his power to make sure that those students did not have to get on a bus already hungry or sick.

But if those students did come to school hungry and sick, why not fully fund the public schools and give them the resources to combat the very needs that plague these students. More teaching assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, counseling, before and after school programs would help, but that would require investment. Is he willing to do that?

If Hardister is keen on helping kids, then he would invest in the very things that helped them.

And if education is the road to a better life in both the literal and metaphorical manner, then Hardister better not take money from the “road” budget; he should be adding money to it.

The North Carolina Senate’s Education Budget and The Rise of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum”

NC_General_Assembly

“Frankly, we believe a better use of tax dollars is to move those from an unaccountable bureaucracy and into the classroom where those dollars will actually benefit students.” – Sen. Chad Barefoot, May 17th, 2017 (http://www.wral.com/senate-proposes-cutting-8-state-education-staffers-including-42-year-employee/16707728/).

The above was stated by Barefoot in response to questions as to why the recent NC Senate budget proposal calls for a 25 percent cut to the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction and the elimination of eight positions in state education offices.

This is also the same budget that actually according to an NEA report is reducing the amount of money our state will spend per student.

“NEA’s report also found that North Carolina is projected to be ranked 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending. It ranked 42nd last year. North Carolina is projected to spend $8,940 per student, down from $8,955 the prior year” (http://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-35th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-ranked-41st-last-year/16693105/).

That certainly puts Barefoot’s mantra of “The money should follow the child” into perspective (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/09/23/bill-sets-up-charter-schools-to-receive-funds-for-services-they-dont-provide/).

But of course Barefoot’s explanation is nothing more than a political form of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” which is a euphemistic way of saying that lawmakers like Barefoot may have reached a point where they truly believe the very lies they continuously spout about prioritizing public education.

Ironic that much of that tax money Barefoot claims to be saving from “unaccountable bureaucracy” to make sure that money “reaches classrooms to benefit students” actually has been tagged by Barefoot and his ilk for other forms of “unaccountable bureaucracy” and will never “reach classrooms to benefit students.”

Consider the Opportunity Grants that have not been shown to increase student achievement in comparable measures for students who use them. Barefoot was a sponsor of Senate Bill 862 that called for more money for those vouchers.

And these voucher are anything but transparent and free from proper oversight. Just read Duke University’s report:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf. Furthermore, they almost all go exclusively to religious-based schools.

Consider then the new “super-voucher” bill, SB603. Dr. Diane Ravitch, probably the foremost voice in educational history and reform research, even shared reasons why such a bill would be disastrous to public schools – https://dianeravitch.net/2017/05/13/an-urgent-message-to-the-citizens-of-north-carolina/.

She mentions potential for fraud and lack of accountability. It also seems odd that it would alienate children who were not able to get the “super voucher” who remained in traditional public schools that were receiving less money because of the senate’s budget.

Now that’s making sure the money is following the child. Not. It’s just replacing “unaccountable bureaucracy” with “unaccountable reform.”

But Barefoot is no stranger to “unaccountable reform” movements. His championing of the Achievement School District has still not spurred any traction in saving targeted schools.

Maybe another fact to consider when listening to Barefoot’s recent fit of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” comes when he tries to explain that the eight positions being eliminated were in and of themselves part of the “unaccountable bureaucracy.”

Why? Because the same budget also calls for this:

unnamed2

Actually, this sounds like Barefoot is simply replace “unaccountable bureaucracy” with “bureaucracy loyal to him and his cronies.”

Some of the eight positions that were eliminated in this act of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” are from the office of the state board of education, the very same people who are fighting against some strange proposals to shift power to the office of the new state superintendent, Mark Johnson in a bill called SB4 that was constructed in a special seesion at the end of the 2016 calendar year to safeguard against a new democrat governor.

Ironic then, that Barefoot talks about ““unaccountable bureaucracy” when another part of the senate budget calls for this:

unnamed1

That’s for Johnson to fight the state board over that power in SB4 on which Barefoot was quoted as saying something about the role of bureaucrats.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said lawmakers created the bill to clarify the constitutional role of the superintendent. “I can tell you from personal experience that the superintendent needs more administrative control over his department” (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-chair-house-bill-17-raises-significant-legal-concerns-/16357128/).

Clarifying a constitutional role? Giving money to a neophyte in education to get more power over public school monies? Slashing the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by a quarter and still lowering per pupil expenditures? Giving more money to unaccountable vouchers? Championing reforms with horrible track records?

And he wants to call it “a better use of tax dollars” because it is supposedly moving money “into the classroom where those dollars will actually benefit students.”

That’s willful display of hogwash, nonsense, crap, rubbish, poppycock, bunk, piffle, drivel, baloney, codswallop, blather, gobbledygook, and prattle.

It’s “Pathologia Boven Excrementum”.

Open Letter to Sen. Chad Barefoot Concerning His Words on HB13

Dear Sen. Barefoot,

Your recent comments concerning the stalled House Bill 13 that would help local school districts navigate a stubborn legislative obstacle is yet another example of why so many people who advocate for the constitutionally protected public school system view you as hypocritical and piously partisan.

While Guilford County has already served notice to many teacher assistants about their possible non-renewal, systems such as the one I work for (Winston-Salem / Forsyth County) are waiting to see if waivers will be given by DPI.

As reported by WRAL on April 6th,

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, co-chair of the Senate Education/Higher Education committee, says lowering class size is a priority.

“For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money?'”

Lawmakers requested financial data from school districts in the state and are analyzing it to try to get that answer.

“The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request,” Barefoot said. “What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?” (http://www.wral.com/law-reducing-class-size-has-music-art-pe-teachers-anxious-about-future-/16628678/).

First, did you remember that teachers of classes for vital subjects such as art, music, and physical education are not dictated by a particular state allotment and ,therefore, do not count into student-teacher ratios for core subjects in the early grades?

Also, how will help these schools build more physical facilities to house the vast numbers of new classrooms that will be needed?

But more importantly, can you explain how your comments are not duplicitous when taken as a part of a bigger conversation?

You mentioned “tens of millions of dollars” over a period of “years.” Or at least, that is your assumption. The truth is that over the last several years we have seen a lower per-pupil expenditure for our students and an average teacher salary that still ranks in the last tier within the nation all while this state has experienced a boom in population.

But you talk about “tens of millions of dollars” that need to be accounted for so thoroughly that you are willing to hold LEA’s hostage.

If you want to look at how money is being spent (or not spent) with a fine-tooth comb, then maybe look at the Opportunity Grants program.

Just this past summer, you introduced a bill to further increase vouchers in NC under a system that many in the nation have found to be one of the most opaque in the country. Adam Lawson from the Lincoln Times News reported in May of 2016,

Senate Bill 862, filed by Republican state Sens. David Curtis (Lincoln, Iredell, Gaston), Chad Barefoot (Franklin, Wake) and Trudy Wade (Guilford) calls for 2,000 additional Opportunity Scholarship Grants to be available each school year beginning in 2017-18.

That comes with a $10 million annual rise in cost, from $34,840,000 in 2017-18 until 2027-28, when taxpayers would begin paying nearly $135 million for vouchers on a yearly basis. According to the Charlotte Observer, the state has spent just $12 million on the program this school year, 93 percent of which has gone to faith-based schools.

Actually, legislation that you championed will funnel nearly one BILLION dollars into North Carolina’s voucher program within the next ten years. And what results has the state seen from that venture so far?

I would invite you to look at the Duke Law School of Law’s Children’s Law Center’s recent March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA: THE FIRST THREE YEARS.

Duke study

The entire report can be found here:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

But just to give you a flavor of what the Opportunity Grants have done according to one of the more respected research universities in the nation, consider the following excerpted observations:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (p.3).
  • Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. (p.3).
  • It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (p.3).
  • The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students (p.8).
  • Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (p.12).
  • In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. No accreditation is required of private schools (p.13).
  • Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (p.15).
  • In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. (p.15-16).
  • THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (p.18).
  • The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (p.19).

If you are analyzing the data from districts that have spent these “tens of millions” of dollars you mentioned earlier, are you analyzing the data from this report that spends this much taxpayer money?

Are you also analyzing recent improprieties of the use of monies in schools that use vouchers like Trinity Christian in Fayetteville? (http://ajf.org/employee-states-largest-recipient-school-voucher-funds-accused-embezzling-nearly-400000-public-tax-dollars/). The financial reports that were sent by Trinity were also incomplete (https://www.ednc.org/2017/04/07/serious-questions-arise-states-largest-voucher-school/) . It would be interesting to see if the financial reports from the suspected systems that you have focused on in your recent investigation, but you will not identify them.

And if analysis is so important to you to ascertain how money is being spent, then would you also not question analysis that talks about how your own actions have cost our state much more than “tens of millions of dollars?”

Your zealous defense of HB2 has according to many outlets cost the state of North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars. A recent AP report even put that figure at over 3.5 BILLION (http://abc11.com/news/ap-hb2-estimated-to-cost-north-carolina-$376b/1819978/).

While lawmakers such as Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and possibly yourself may question the validity of the AP’s report, they were very transparent in their findings. And that does not even account for what may have been invested in North Carolina but never made it into public record.

Even if half of that number is correct, the loss to our state is tremendous.

Yet you remain steadfast in helping stall a bill that would greatly aid public school systems and greatly help students.

But in light of the actions you have taken and the comments that you have made that are simply rooted in biased politics, I am more prone to believe in the transparent analysis of Duke University or the Associate Press or even the unanimous passing of a bill in the highly divided North Carolina General Assembly House of Representatives (HB13) than your words.

For Once I May Have Liked What Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Said – But Not For the Reasons He Would Like

Rural Center county classifications

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s recent comments concerning “bridging the digital divide” at the “Advocacy Day for Making Rural School Districts a Priority” event were actually very heartening to hear – for more than one reason.

If you have followed the North Carolina public school funding discussion, disparities between affluent metropolitan areas and economically depressed rural areas are hard to ignore, especially when it comes to getting local funds to help subsidize teacher salary supplements and resources. It might be one of the reasons that charter schools and voucher advocates have has so much traction in the rural parts of the Tarheel state.

But Lt. Gov. Forest said something that was very encouraging. Refer to Alex Granados’s article in EdNC.org entitled “State leaders speak out on education at rural advocacy day” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/30/state-leaders-speak-education-rural-advocacy-day/).

He said that five years ago, before he was in his current position, he thought the state could lead the nation in high speed broadband access to classrooms. Now, North Carolina is on the verge of achieving that goal. That will help “students in poor rural North Carolina have the same hope and opportunity for an excellent education as students in wealthier parts of our state that have had for years,” he said.  

He also decried the fact that even with all the technological advances, the education field still is not level. 

“Shame on us in this day and age that we still have schools that are not at par with one another across our state,” he said. 

There are two operative words here: “poor” and “shame.” However, the reasons for the propagation of poverty in North Carolina and our need to feel shame for that is more than a single post could ever handle. But it is something that the Lt. Gov. could do a much better job of addressing on West Jones Street. Instead of using poverty and shame as fuel for privatizing education, he should listen to what he said very closely and then read this op-ed that appeared in The New York Times this past Sunday entitled “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?” by David Kirp (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/opinion/sunday/who-needs-charters-when-you-have-public-schools-like-these.html).

Kirp is a professor at UC-Berkley which is considered by many to be the finest public university in the nation. California’s public university system is also a leading world-class system. Ironically, so is North Carolina’s, despite what the current administration in the General Assembly and the past administration in the governor’s mansion have done to weaken it.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has been a part of both of both of those.

In this op-ed, Kirp talks about the use of technology in poor rural areas for public schools that are helping students bridge achievement gaps that people have been touting charter schools and vouchers as being the solutions for –people like Lt. Dan Forest and another recent visitor to North Carolina, Betsy DeVos.

The same technology that Kirp talks about in his op-ed is easily facilitated in the scenario that Forest claims North Carolina has put into place, so much that we as a state are “on the verge” of “lead(ing) the nation in high speed broadband access to classrooms.”

Here are some of Professor Kirp’s observations:

“Ms. DeVos, the new secretary of education, dismisses public schools as too slow-moving and difficult to reform. She’s calling for the expansion of supposedly nimbler charters and vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private or parochial schools. But Union shows what can be achieved when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.”

Investment? Recruitment of high-quality teachers? Retaining those teachers? Allow for ties between schools and communities? Wow! Novel ideas.

But lawmakers like Lt. Dan Forest seem to be too busy protecting us from nonexistent transgender sexual assaults in school locker rooms, clouding up any transparency for charter school growth, and funneling untold amounts of money into a voucher system that is inappropriately named “Opportunity Grants.”

Kirp further discusses,

“The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.”

Again, wow!

Supporting the arts and a holistic approach to curriculum? Health care clinics? Job training?

But lawmakers like Lt. Dan Forest have been too busy in the last few years suffocating public school systems to the point where they have to meet demands for class sizes that force them to sacrifice these very same programs. And health care? Just look at the hardened reluctance to expand Medicaid for these “poor” rural people.

That’s real “shame.”

Kirp concludes his op-ed,

“Under the radar, from Union City, N.J., and Montgomery County, Md., to Long Beach and Gardena, Calif., school systems with sizable numbers of students from poor families are doing great work. These ordinary districts took the time they needed to lay the groundwork for extraordinary results.

Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?”

Ironically, you would only have to substitute LT. Dan Forest’s name in that op-ed for Betsy DeVos as Forest is an avid supporter of DeVos’s policies. He was one of 70 leaders and organizations to sign an open letter of support for DeVos during her contentious confirmation process (http://www.excelined.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017.01.27-OpenLetterEndorsementforBetsyDeVos-FINAL.pdf?utm_source=ExcelinEd&utm_campaign=50bf72e4fa-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_01_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0473a80b81-50bf72e4fa-).

“Betsy DeVos is an undisputed champion of families and students. For nearly 30 years she has devoted time and resources to improving education options for our nation’s children. Yet millions still languish in failing schools in an education system more than a century old. It’s time for a new vision.

Betsy DeVos provides that vision. She embraces innovation, endorses accountability and—most especially—trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child’s best interests. She also believes in providing every parent with the resources and choices to pursue those decisions.

On this week, National School Choice Week, we the undersigned endorse this champion of choice and the education reforms needed to improve the future of every child in America. And we strongly advocate for her confirmation as our next U.S. Secretary of Education. “

Remember that last year, Forest admonished DPI for its report on charter schools because it was not “positive” enough. He also is one of the most ardent supporters of HB2 because of his strident cause of protecting women and children from a nonexistent threat. And in a recent visit to Texas during their push for a bathroom law, he was keen to point out that there has been no economic fallout from HB2 in North Carolina contrary to multiple reports including a recent one from the Associated Press.

He called it “another attempt to mislead and confuse the public through a bogus headline.” The he added, “Our economy is doing well. Don’t be fooled by the media.”

But that internet thing and getting the rural areas connected? He’s totally right about that.

Why I Am Applying For An Application To Open An Accounting Charter School to Audit All Religious Schools In NC That Take Voucher Money…Or

Why Lindsay Wagner’s article today on Trinity Christian School should make us rethink the Opportunity Grants.

We need this kind of journalistic integrity more now than ever.

http://ajf.org/ncs-largest-voucher-school-embroiled-embezzlement-scandal-submits-incomplete-financial-statements-state/

“NC’s largest voucher school, embroiled in embezzlement scandal, files incomplete financial statements with state”