For Those NC Lawmakers Who Blindly Believe In The Opportunity Grants, Read This

As a loyal follower of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s blog, I came across this nugget that she posted today. And while I do not make it a habit to repost stuff as of yet in this relatively young blog, this bears attention in light of the voucher-happy North Carolina General Assembly.

Ravitch’s blog entry references another posting in the New York Times by an individual, Kevin Carey, who is a staunch advocate of the charter school movement and has in the past challenged empirical research against the anti-charter school movement that many public education advocates like Dr. Ravitch draw warning to. I certainly count myself among Dr. Ravitch’s camp in opposing how charter schools are growing without regulation, especially here in North Carolina.

But Carey in this post actually talks about the shortcomings of rather well-known voucher inititives across the country.

Dr. Ravitch’s blog post is here: https://dianeravitch.net/2017/02/24/kevin-carey-researchers-surprised-by-dismal-results-from-vouchers/.

The Kevin Carey post is here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html?_r=0.

Here are some of the more revealing comments:

“But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.”

“The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.”

“They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.”

“In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.”

These research reports dealt with Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio – all of which are hotbeds for voucher use.

North Carolina is quickly advancing its own use of vouchers. Within the next ten years, Opportunity Grants will have proportioned almost a billion dollars in tax-payer money for vouchers that until this point have heavily been used in religious private schools.

Many of those schools have come under investigation like this recent development where a coach at a religious school in Fayetteville was arrested for supposedly embezzling nearly $400,000 over an almost eight year period. That school, Trinity Christian, also receives more voucher grant money than any other school in the state (http://ajf.org/employee-states-largest-recipient-school-voucher-funds-accused-embezzling-nearly-400000-public-tax-dollars/).

Currently, the Opportunity Grants give a maximum yearly amount of $4200 to low income families for use in tuition.

I have yet to see any empirical information from Opportunity Grant advocates that the students being served with these vouchers are experiencing any growth in academic achievement.

I also do not know of the more well-known private schools in the state who have really accepted funds from the grants. Typically these types of schools have a yearly tuition price tag that far exceeds $4200 for a single quarter of school, much less an entire school year.

And it also might be of interest to see exactly how many new private schools have been established in the state since the advent of the Opportunity Grants.

Either way. Someone is making money from them.

 

 

 

“CheeBerger, CheeBerger!” -Sen. Phil Berger and the Art of Walking Contradictorily

cheeberger

Sen. Phil Berger’s words that introduced BEST NC’s fourth annual legislative meeting which featured Michelle Rhee is yet another indication that the powers that be in North Carolina are still addicted to reform ideas that not only further harm public schools but erroneously claim that schools should run more like businesses.

But at least he is consistent.

These words are featured on his website and have been widely shared, and they serve to show the deliberate ignorance that perpetuates the “reform” movement (http://www.philberger.org/berger_highlights_major_teacher_bonuses_commitment_to_raise_average_teacher_pay_to_55k).

First of all, this legislative meeting was not open to the media. BEST NC, which claims to be neutral and non-partisan, did not seem to want media coverage or even teacher attendance. Having someone like Sen. Berger open the meeting with an introduction already casts a partisan shadow over the rest of the meeting. If the purpose of the meeting was simply to be informational and an exchange of ideas, then conducting it behind closed doors would not have been needed.

Besides, aren’t we talking about a public institution that uses public money?

Ultimately, Berger’s comments are filled with claims that need to be debunked, especially when it comes to merit pay, incentives, and teacher salaries.

Berger states toward the beginning of his remarks,

“It is good to join so many business leaders, educators and policymakers all with a shared interest in the future of public education in North Carolina.”

The fact that business leaders and policy makers were in the meeting is not in question. But what educators were in the meeting, specifically teachers? Is it not ironic that the public has not heard from one teacher about what was discussed in the meeting? I would have LOVED to be in that meeting as a teacher, and if good ideas were shared, I would be the first to trumpet them.

But alas.

Berger continues,

“But we’ve also focused on ways to incentivize outstanding performance and provide financial rewards for teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed.”

Oh, merit pay and bonuses. As a teacher, I can tell you that merit pay does not work. Allow me to refer to a letter I wrote to Rep. Skip Stam last year.

“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?

Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?

Besides, if you think merit pay is effective, then I would question your willingness to fund that merit pay. Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. One problem with that model (and you stated it in the interview) was that it pitted teachers against each other. Another problem that you did not mention is that Raleigh decided not to fund it any longer.”

And then Berger backed his point with a singular example.

“Please take a look at what happened in one Cumberland County elementary school when the faculty learned two of their peers would be rewarded for their outstanding work with students.”

Here’s that video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/brt9glwz4razc5y/Elizabeth%20Cashwell%20Elementary.mp4?dl=0.

Only one example? That’s hardly proof. That’s almost staged. What teachers show their principal in a meeting may not be what they actually feel. And if Berger really wanted to know if teachers in North Carolina thought this bonus pay was effective, then he should have allowed each teacher to answer an anonymous questionnaire.

And I am sure that what was shown by Berger is the exception rather than the rule.

Berger’s comments also included a jab at NCAE and other teacher advocacy groups.

“Instead, what we hear from many entrenched education bureaucrats – and from the North Carolina affiliate of the national teachers’ union – is that this kind of policy creates jealousy and dissension in our schools. In fact, some even deride it as “treating teachers like assembly line workers.”

Of course he used the word “union” because he is among business leaders in a right-to-work state. But it is ironic that he does specifically point out NCAE which has successfully appealed policies made by a Berger-led constituency like the removal of due-process rights because they were deemed unconstitutional.

Besides, if BEST NC wanted to bring all stakeholders together to discuss what is best (pardon the pun), then NCAE would have been present there as well.

Berger continues:

“Instead, that policy initiative treats teachers like the professionals they are, and creates a compensation model in line with how most other professionals are paid.

“This is the kind of innovative solution – one based on business principles – that my colleagues in the General Assembly and I have worked hard to implement over the past six years in order to improve education outcomes.”

This claim that we should run public schools more as a business rather than a service is old, worn-out, and erroneous.

And I have made this argument before.

“Every one of the assertions about adopting a business model in public schools that I have encountered always places the schools in the scope of a business. Maybe that paradigm needs to be shifted. If you want to truly envision a business model in schools, you might want to view all angles of the argument.

Try and see if you could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because you’re not even comparing apples to oranges. You’re comparing apples to rocks.”

What if businesses had to:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited. We don’t even do that with private schools that receive Opportunity Grants.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you. ALL OF THEM. And those salries are stipulated by the government, not the market.
  • Know that you must allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • You will not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, you will have to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to work hours, schedule, and calendar will be dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally Be prepared to understand that YOU WILL NOT MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Berger ended his manufactured resume of “improving” public education by offering a string of “accomplishments” which are more contradictory than literally true.

  1. “Improve(d) graduation rates” – Graduation rates are one of the easiest statistics to manipulate. Create a statewide 10-point grading system and have school systems dictate that a “50” is the lowest grade possible for a student, then it would be hard for a student who chooses not apply himself to actually NOT graduate.
  2. “Better inform(ed) parents of what our public schools are doing and how well they are doing it (transparent school grades)” – And that Jeb Bush style of school performance grading shows exactly how poverty affects school systems which is ironic for Berger to say considering that he boasts of a state surplus while nearly 25% of children in our state suffer from poverty and are still serviced by the underfunded public schools.
  3. “Empower(ed) parents with greater choice and greater innovation in their kids’ education (charter schools, opportunity scholarships)” – The word “choice” is very interesting. Charter schools have not shown to improve outcomes, but have been shown to be most selective in whom they allow to attend. And when over 75% of the vouchers go to religious schools that can discriminate based on religious beliefs, the word “choice” doesn’t carry the same meaning. It also does not take much research to find charter schools that fail in their purpose and see monies pouring into schools that do not even teach viable curriculums.

    Sometimes there can be embezzling (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/local/fayetteville-man-accused-of-embezzling-more-than-from-church-withholding/article_c75b83cc-3cd1-59fb-a002-bd240e46858c.html). Ironically, the school where this occurred, Trinity Christian, is located in Fayetteville. That’s in Cumberland County – the same county where the two teachers highlighted earlier in Berger’s remarks hail from. Apparently, having these fantastic teachers in the public school system in Cumberland County did not deter the allowance of Trinity Christian to receive more money ($990k+) in Opportunity Grant scholarships (vouchers) than any other school in THE STATE!

  4. “And attract, retain and reward the highest quality teachers in our classrooms” – Actually that’s laughable. The same General Assembly eliminated due-process rights, graduate degree pay bumps, and the Teaching Fellows program as well as put a vice on the NC university system. That’s driving potential teachers away and forcing other teachers to leave NC or the profession altogether. One simply needs to see the seismic drop in teacher candidates in our schools of education and see how well we are “attracting” people.

    Oh, and that HB2 debacle that has cost our state millions in lost revenue and even more in reputation still looms while Berger blames others for its effect even though he helped to craft it and pass it with a supermajority during a “special” session of the NCGA. That’s quality!

But the most egregious misrepresentation offered was saved for last and it deals with teacher salaries.

“Most of you have probably heard me talk about the average 15.5 percent pay raise that we’ve provided teachers since 2013.
“And you’ve heard me explain that, prior to 2011, public schools were struggling with declining state support; that thousands of state-funded teaching positions had been eliminated, teachers had been furloughed, and teacher pay had been frozen.
“And all too often, the people most critical of what this Republican-led General Assembly has done are the same people who were directly responsible for those cuts and furloughs.
“But under Republican leadership, state funding for our public schools has reached record levels.
“Beginning teacher pay is at an all-time high, and average teacher pay has climbed to $50,000 for the first time in state history.
“And this General Assembly has already publicly committed in our last budget to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years. It is encouraging that our new governor has committed to partnering with us to continue increasing average teacher pay.
“But there is one data point – one significant fact – that hasn’t received a lot of attention, and that is how much more teachers will earn over the course of a career thanks to our pay reforms.
“The old pay scale was a ball and chain – it took teachers 30 years to reach the top. I can’t think of any other professionals who have to wait three decades to get to the top.
“I cannot believe that the policymakers who designed such a system could honestly contend it was done in an effort to treat teachers as professionals – on the contrary, a 30-year trek to maximum pay is what assembly line compensation looks like.
“Under the new scale for the 2018-19 school year, teachers will reach a base salary of $50,000 in half the time – or 15 years in the classroom.”

This is the same BS offered by former governor Pat McCrory who became the first incumbent governor to not get reelected in a year that saw 20k more North Carolinians vote for Trump than Clinton. In response to McCrory, I countered last summer with:

“The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule within 15 years without really any raise for the last fifteen years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over 50K. So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

Any veteran teacher who is making above 50K based on seniority, graduate pay, and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the CURRENT average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay, and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In actuality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. If the top salary that any teacher could make is barely over 50K (some will have higher as National Board Certified Teachers, but not a high percentage), then how can you really tout that average salaries will be higher?”

But remember that this meeting was closed and the audience was not there to question. They were there to reaffirm the very myths that guide the actions of the current powers in Raleigh to further dismantle public education.

So much for transparency.

 

 

Mark Twain and the Fight Against “Eduperialism” in North Carolina

“We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”
– Mark Twain

The above quote by Mark Twain was delivered on November 23, 1900 in a speech to the Public Education Association at a meeting of the Berkley Lyceum, New York. It is sometimes called his “Boxer Speech” as Twain makes reference to the Boxer Rebellion in China that was initiated in response to imperialistic influences from other countries entering China.

If one was to read the entire speech within today’s political construct (http://mrholbrookbc.weebly.com/uploads/7/7/5/2/7752425/i_am_a_boxer.pdf), one might fall victim to the nationalistic, patriotic, anti-foreign gloss that may shine on the surface of the speech and automatically relate it to the rhetoric that came from the xenophobic verbiage of the past presidential election.

That is not what Twain is saying. What he is saying is that a country should be free to be its own without outside influences controlling it for profit. He was making a statement on imperialism.

twain

At the turn of the 20th century, the imperialistic endeavors by many advanced countries through places like Africa, India, and the Far East were violent ventures in capitalistic greed: seizing the resources of a defenseless but asset-rich country and selling manufactured products to boost your country’s economy at the expense of the violated country. Some countries sent in missionaries to “convert” the natives first with organized religion, then they conquered, enslaved, and raped the land.

Read Achebe. Read Conrad. That history is not that long ago.

And Twain said a lot about organized religion. He certainly said a lot about slavery.

Just read Twain.

But imperialism still is happening today, even within our own country – even within our own public services.

Take for instance, public education.

At least in the state of North Carolina (and I am sure in most other states), the top expenditure is the public education system, whether just K-12 or public university system or both. All of that tax payer money going to allow for an educated citizenry that will then make decisions through a democratic process in a representative republic for the advancement of our country.

Sounds great. Sounds fundamental. Sounds American. It’s even in the state constitution of North Carolina and most every state constitution I have read through.

However, the resources that public education has, mainly funds, have become targets for many people who want to capitalize from those ventures: privatizers, “re-formers”, advocates for choice, charter school advocates, voucher supporters, etc.

Maybe they could be called “eduperialists” who practice “eduperialism.”

“Ed u pe ri al ism” – the policy of extending the rule or authority of a lawmaking body or private entity over public funds set aside for public education to promote privatization of education for a select few.

Think of vouchers. That’s public money being used to allow for people to send students to private schools and religious schools that can alter their admissions policies to ensure that all who may want to attend may not have that opportunity. Eduperialists in North Carolina even call their vouchers the “Opportunity Grants.”

Think of unregulated charter school growth. Especially in rural areas, public money that could be used to strengthen the very public schools for the local students is being used to help fund charter schools that will serve a fraction of the students but without the regulatory constructions placed upon traditional public schools.

Think of the Achievement School Districts. The one in North Carolina is about to start and it is being run by a “foreign” entity.

Someone is making a profit in all of those ventures with public resources.

And what’s happening in North Carolina is by far not the only example in the country. Michigan with the work of Betsy DeVos already displayed, Ohio with its charter school debacle, and Tennessee with its ASD troubles just begin the list.

Just like the old imperialistic handbook states, people with power came in and took away local control, dehumanized the system, and placed in authority puppets to prolong the partisan policy. Here in North Carolina, they put in nearly impossible accountability measures, school performance grade protocols, took away teacher due process and other benefits, and then egregiously placed incredible amounts of power in the hands of a new political ally elected as a state superintendent in a rather contentious election season.

Sounds about right.

Now that is not to say that all ventures in charter schools are bad. Originally, they were constructed as experimental labs to help instruct students not serviced well in traditional schools, but they would than share those methods and styles with traditional public schools to help bring more pedagogical diversity to public schooling. Those do exist. Some are very good.

Some students need financial help to attend very specialized schools if they happen to have developmental delays, learning disabilities, or physical impairments. But when “school choice” and vouchers are being touted as measures to help low income families maybe government needs to look more at how neighborhood schools can be helped to help low income families.

Maybe state governments like North Carolina’s can look more at helping communities where low income families live. With nearly 25% of NC school children living in poverty, efforts to take public money for vouchers, unregulated charter schools, and other privatization efforts simply take more away from those in need.

Later in his speech Twain exclaims,

“It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”

And again, history is repeating history. It also makes a case for the liberal arts.

“It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. He’ll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.”

I wonder what Twain would say today.

Probably not much different.

Especially here in North Carolina.

Open Letter to Sen. Richard Burr – Do Not Confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education

Senator Burr,

As the senior senator of our state embarking on your third term in office, your voice in the national arena carries both weight and experienced perspective. And while you and I share many differing opinions on issues that affect our country, I do believe that we share a passion to make sure that all students have access to a great public education.

In preparing to cast my vote this past election, I did review your website to glean your perspective on some issues that seemed to become lost in the national debate with what might be one of the more bombastic presidential elections in history. On your www.burrforsenate.com website, you posted on op-ed you wrote for the Fayetteville Observer entitled “Giving our children a better future.”

In it you made statements such as:

“Our children are the future of North Carolina, and they represent the best of us. I am proud to be an avid defender of North Carolina students in the Senate.”

“As a part of my commitment to defending North Carolina students, I was proud to offer an amendment to fix a long-standing inequality in education funding that has shortchanged North Carolina’s teachers, schools and low-income students for over 15 years.”

“My amendment makes sure that federal education funding meant for schools that serve kids from low-income families actually goes to those very schools.”

“This means that with more education dollars coming to North Carolina, we will have more teachers in North Carolina helping our students get a great education.”

“We have made great strides this Congress to deliver control of K-12 education back to local communities, while making sure limited federal education funding is going to the communities that need it the most. But making sure that our children are getting the best education possible is going to be an ongoing fight for North Carolina families in Washington. I’m pledging to continue fighting for North Carolina’s schools, teachers and students, because a brighter future for North Carolina students means a brighter future for North Carolina.”

What I sense in these words is a commitment to our public schools.

In fact, you are the son of a former public school teacher and a graduate of R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem. I teach at another school in Reynolds’s district, West Forsyth High School, and am proud to report that Reynolds still holds an incredible reputation as a historically effective institution and I know many of the fantastic teachers who work there.

However, we are experiencing in North Carolina a decline in teacher candidates. Why? Because public education is under attack. And when public education is under attack by “re-forming” efforts like vouchers and unregulated charter school growth then communities suffer. Your wife is a leading realtor in the Triad area. I feel very confident that she could tell you the effect on the “value” of property that the public school system has on communities.

I say all of this because President-elect Trump has appointed a candidate to lead the nation’s public schools who very well may be the most unqualified individual to ever be considered for the position.

And you have the power to help keep that from happening.

When you ran for reelection, you touted your experience. Experience in certain fields seems to be an important factor when running for leadership positions.

Betsy DeVos has none whatsoever. In fact, when searching her background of ill-fated credentials, I found that:

  • Betsy DeVos has no degree in education meaning she is not even educated in how to educate.
  • Betsy DeVos has no teaching experience.
  • Betsy DeVos never attended a public school or state supported university. None of her children have either.
  • Betsy DeVose’s monetary contributions to Christian-based schools and evangelical organizations has been conservatively estimated at $200 million.
  • Betsy DeVos is totally anti-union and believes that teachers are paid too much.
  • Betsy DeVos supports vouchers.

The idea of a privileged billionaire “privatizer” leading the nation’s public schools is more than contradictory or antithetical; it’s diametrically repugnant.

So, I ask that you do not confirm her as our Secretary of Education.

Senator, your election is over. You can now fully attend the business of our country while focusing on how our state can be best represented. If any of the words in the aforementioned op-ed you wrote still have weight, then Betsy DeVos cannot become our schools’ leader.

You said on your website (burrforsenate.com), “My mother was an elementary school teacher who understood the value of education and its power to lift people out of poverty.”

Betsy DeVos does not have that understanding.

 

 

Sincerely,
Stuart Egan
Public School Teacher
Parent of Two Children in Public Schools
Voter

 

Excuse Me, Elected Officials? It’s Okay to Listen to Others

It’s OK to listen to others.

On November 8th North Carolina elected/reelected to serve in the NCGA, and while I may bemoan the fact that there still exists a supermajority in the General Assembly for the GOP, I hope that the actions seen in other states’ races and ballot items might allow for some perspective as to how our representatives might handle our public education system.

The first comes out of Massachusetts. On election night, over sixty percent of voters cast their votes to not allow for the removal of the charter school cap that would have permitted for more charter schools to be created. Many of the parents interviewed (according to various reports) about “Question #2” simply said that they did not want public money to help fund charter schools.

And Massachusetts has a good public school system – like North Carolina once did before all of this “reformation.”

Our neighbors to the south in Georgia voted against Amendment 1, which would have allowed the state to take over low-performing schools and in essence allow them to become privately managed charter schools. In essence, they defeated a bill that would have allowed the state to create its own version of the Achievement School District.

And Georgia is a “redder” state than North Carolina. Much redder. Even the clay there is red. I know. I grew up there.

However, North Carolina removed the cap on the number of charter schools and even created its own version of the Achievement School District without either being on a ballot to allow for the very people who finance such measures with tax dollars to have any say in those matters.

Why?

That is not a rhetorical question. It deserves an explanation.

When my home county (Forsyth) overwhelmingly voted for bond measures to finance projects for the public school system and the local community college, they made a big statement on the importance of traditional public schools. These citizens were willing to spend money and resources on improving their schools, and every precinct in the county voted in favor of the bonds. The support for the public schools spanned all socio-economic boundaries.

And when the NCGA decided to remove the cap on charter school creation that takes siphon money and resources traditional schools did they not think to put it to a public vote?

When the NCGA decided to create an ASD district, did they not take into account that the citizens might want to have a say in how their money should be spent?

Again, these are not rhetorical questions. They deserve answers.

Considering that the same people who passed HB2 and the Voter ID bill through fairly surreptitious and opaque methods championed these very educational “initiatives,” it is not surprising to see that none of these was put to a public vote.

HB2 is being reviewed in the higher courts because it is being challenged, as it should be. The Voter ID law was overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The fact that the constitutionality of measures like these were already in question shows the shortsightedness of those who pushed these laws through. Now, tax payer money has had to finance the feeble defense for these laws.

And when you ask for the input of the citizens and ultimately receive it, heed it. THAT’S DEMOCRACY.

If rumor serves true, the governor and members of the General Assembly are considering a rather rare and highly partisan action of appointing two additional state Supreme Court justices to help flip the partisan affiliation of the state’s highest judicial body back to the GOP. This would be after the citizens of North Carolina elected Michael Morgan, a registered democrat over incumbent Robert Edmunds, a registered republican.

When representatives were elected, they took an oath to represent people and respect their opinions. They were not elected to alter policy to fit a political script that benefits a few.

When representatives were elected, they took an oath to communicate with your constituents, especially those who needed the most help from government. They were not elected to skirt questions and not ask for feedback.

And when representatives were elected, they were to not just hear the concerns of the people you serve, they are to listen to them and take them into account.

 

Opportunity Grants and Missed Opportunity Refunds

Irony makes this world go ‘round and North Carolina is providing plenty of it in the form of vouchers, or as proponents call them in North Carolina, Opportunity Grants.

In truth, they should be called Missed Opportunity Grants, because the money that the North Carolina General Assembly has spent and wants to spend on vouchers is literally being taken away from the traditional pubic schools who need them the most.

The following definitions for the word “voucher” come from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/voucher):

1:  an act of vouching
2a :  a piece of supporting evidence :  
proof
b :  a documentary record of a business transaction
c :  a written affidavit or authorization :  
certificate
d :  a form or check indicating a credit against future purchases or expenditures
3:  a coupon issued by government to a parent or guardian to be used to fund a child’s education in either a public or private school

How ironic is it that the first definition of the word “voucher” uses the word “proof” in it and there is no substantial evidence that the use of “vouchers” (refer to third definition above) actually even work well? Even without any “voucher” to “vouch” for the use of educational “vouchers”, the General Assembly seems hell-bent on expanding the Opportunity Grants program.

On May 31st, Sen. Phil Berger officially rolled out the senate’s budget proposal and in it set appropriations for further funding of the Opportunity Grants, NC’s version of vouchers. The table below is from page 64 of that actual budget proposal. It asks for a %300 increase in funds by the year 2027.

opportunity-1

Add up all of the money for each pf the years and you will get a sum of nearly just under a billion dollars. A BILLION DOLLARS!

Now, look at the list of eligible schools that can receive Opportunity Grants – https://www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/SCHOOLROSTER/NPS500.pgm. It ‘s a long list.  But here it the first part of it.

opportunity-2

Yep, they are mostly religiously affiliated. If you look at the entire list, you will see that trend stands true throughout. Religious schools do not have to use the same curriculum. They can and have altered admission requirements (LGBT students for instance). They can teach creationism and eschew evolution. They can use their own “tests” to measure students. They can indoctrinate students based on the belief system of the school’s religious affiliation. Also, these religious schools are associated many times with non-taxed entities.

And public tax money is being used to finance it.

Even more ironic is that literally days before this budget was presented a study by Mark Dynarski at the Brookings Institute spoke directly to the negative effects of vouchers. A link to the study was provided by Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2016/05/31/new-study-voucher-students-doing-significantly-worse-than-public-school-counterparts/). He also highlighted the Executive Summary of Dynarski’s report and it is stirring.

“Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

That does not vouch well for vouchers, especially since North Carolina’s program has hardly had enough time to even show results that would validate such an increase in funds in the budget proposal.

It has been shown that much of the money from Opportunity Grants has been used in tuition costs for small (oftentimes religious) schools who do not have to show test results unless they garner an extremely high amount of money from the voucher system. It’s like they do not even have to show growth, the very variable that lawmakers continue to hark on for public schools.

Put simply, the NCGA has created a moving and insanely difficult target for public schools to show proficiency that then creates a false need for vouchers to schools that do not even have to show any growth, a need so great that it will cost almost $900 million dollars in the next ten years to “fix”.

Until vouchers can be shown to improve academic outcomes and the recipient schools show the same transparency with tax money as public schools school must, then these are not Opportunity Grants. They are missed opportunities.

So what is to be done? Well, I propose the “Missed Opportunity Refunds”. It revolves around five basic principles.

  1. All schools who are willing to accept Opportunity Grants should be willing to submit an application to the state stating why an Opportunity Grant would be a good investment on the part of the state. Those schools should also disclose the tuition costs and the amount of scholarships available and it should be public. This would make them eligible to receive an Opportunity Grant. However, by the same token, they would now be responsible for a Missed Opportunity Refund.
  2. Missed Opportunity Refunds would be financed by the very private schools that receive Opportunity Grant money that fail to show gains in reading and math standardized tests that public schools are forced to measure students with. The Missed Opportunity Refund would go to the public school that the student would have naturally attended.
  3. When a Missed Opportunity Refund is given back to a public school, the state will have to also pay another $4,200 to the school to help make sure that the student make up for the digression in academic achievement. That money would come out of the budget for Opportunity Grants established by the NCGA.
  4. All schools that receive Opportunity Grants have to be on a registry, like the one alluded to earlier – https://www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/SCHOOLROSTER/NPS500.pgm. But now there would be a new registry kept by the state that would show how many “refunds” had to be given back to public schools and it would be accessible to the public.
  5. If a school has to give back a certain number of Missed Opportunity Refunds, then that school no longer is eligible to receive Opportunity Grants at all.

Seems fair to me.

When the chance or occasion or prospect arises to spend money on a student to be more successful in a school, then does it not make sense to spend money helping ensure that all students become more successful in school?

And we already have that opportunity  – by fully funding our public schools.

Teachers, EpiPens, and “Educational” Anaphylactic Shock

In the summer of 1988, I was at the family farm in northeast Georgia feeding calves in a shelter located behind my uncle’s veterinary clinic. I entered the doorway and immediately was greeted by a red wasp who took a small divet out of the tip of my nose while injecting its venom.

I immediately went into anaphylactic shock. My eyes were literally swelling up to the point that I couldn’t see straight.

Luckily someone called ahead and because it was a small town (3,500 people), there was not much of a drive to “downtown” where the doctor was waiting for me. He drove a large needle into my thigh and told me to sit down and wait to see if I had any reactions to the medicine that he gave me for having an allergic reaction to a wasp sting.

My face had swollen up so much that I had a hard time even closing my lips together. For the next month, I looked as if I had barely escaped a bar room brawl with my life.

So began a life married to EpiPens.

epipens

You have to replace them regularly. Their shelf life lasts maybe a little of over a year. And in the space of maybe three to four years, the price of this drug, which has no generic, has skyrocketed almost %500.

Any food allergy can cause anaphylactic shock which requires the use of an EpiPen. That’s about 15 million people, many of whom attend public schools.

The company that owns the market on EpiPens is Mylan, whose price gouging of the life preserving drug has become the subject of a government inquiry. The CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, has defended the price hike as a necessary move within the business world, part of which is a compensation package for her and other executives that has grown faster than the price of EpiPens themselves.

It’s business world setting the price standard and availability for a necessary, life-preserving product that many cannot afford now.

All in the name of profit.

There’s a strong correlation to what is happening to the people who need EpiPens and those who need public schools to be supported and fully funded by tax payer money.

How so? When business style corporate reform movements ventured into the world of public education here in North Carolina in the form of unregulated charter schools and veiled vouchers schemes, many students and their families were submitted to a form of “educational” anaphylactic shock.

The very education that is constitutionally stipulated for every student by the state through public schooling was now being controlled by entities like a Mylan. Think of the Achievement School District. Think of charter schools that claim to be public, but run privately. Think of the virtual online schools run by for-profit companies. Think of all of the tests and assessment initiatives contracted out by the state.

In truth, all of society is allergic to “educational” anaphylactic shock. When public schools are not supported adequately, society suffers from a narrowing of societal pathways, a loss in collective blood pressure, and an outbreak that distorts the appearance of our state. We all suffer from that.

Now think of the very remedies that help to offset conditions that could lead to “educational” anaphylactic shock – teachers and support staff like teacher assistants.

That’s right. Teachers and staff are the adrenaline that keep the pulse of public education strong, especially in times of social change.

And just like Mylan is doing with EpiPens, our state government is allowing people to do the same with our teachers – making it more expensive to keep them in our schools for all of our students.

While the price of making an EpiPen has not really changed at all, the desire for profit at the expense of those who really need EpiPens has outweighed the call to provide a necessary service to help people stay alive.

Likewise, as the expenditure of training, resourcing, and respecting the teachers of public schools has been driven down, the desire for profit using tax payer money has grown, like the price of EpiPens.

And what makes this more egregious is that the state of North Carolina is obligated to fully fund and resource public schools along with help from federal and local monies.

It will be more expensive to carry on with “re-forming” efforts like unregulated charter schools and Opportunity Grants (vouchers) in the long run, than to fully support public schools, especially in poverty stricken counties.

Ironically, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. He has defended her actions under the light of scrutiny as legal business practices.

Maybe it would make sense to investigate the relationships between those who profit from public educational “re-forms” and those in state government who allow for them to happen at the expense of people who will be sent into “educational” anaphylactic shock because of them.

Remember, we are all allergic to under-funded public schools.

“Because Every Second Counts”  – just like the package for EpiPens says.

The Book of Leviticus and the Opportunity Grants

A recent NC Policy Watch article by Chris Fitzsimon entitled “More taxpayer funding for voucher schools that openly discriminate against LGBT students and parents” offers yet another example of how taxpayer money is being used to fund schools that are allowed to teach any curriculum they choose. Furthermore, many of these schools are religious schools and can discriminate against certain prospective students based on a variety of criteria, especially sexual orientation or identity.

In this particular article, Fitzsimon focuses on Bible Baptist Christian School in Matthews. He describes the situation:

The school collected more than $100,000 in public support for the 2015-2016 school year to pay for the education of 26 students who signed up for a voucher.

But not all taxpayers have access to the school.  Gay students and students with gay parents are banned from attending Bible Baptist Christian School even though their tax dollars support it.

That’s not an unwritten policy quietly enforced by the admissions office.  It is quite explicit that gay students and students with gay parents are not welcome.

Page 76 of the student handbook of the school includes a “Homosexual Conduct Policy” that makes it clear.

“The school reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a current student. This includes, but is not limited to, living in, condoning, or supporting any form of sexual immorality; practicing or promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity;”

The handbook lists Bible verses as references for its policies. One of the verses cited to support the anti-LGBT provision is Leviticus 20:13, that reads:

“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/07/27/more-taxpayer-funding-for-voucher-schools-that-openly-discriminate-against-lgbt-students-and-parents/). ”

Bible Baptist is not the only fundamentalist religious school that receives tax payer money that is allowed to do this, but the direct use of a Bible verse to validate discrimination seems to be a violation of the separation of church and state. Ironically, churches already are tax exempt, but now those churches with schools can stay tax exempt and use tax payer money to further their doctrines.

The legality and the merits of that are for another post. What I am focused on is the use of a single Bible verse to allow for some students to be denied admission when there are so many other “laws” within the same book of the Bible.

If Bible Baptist Christian School chooses to use the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, one of the books of the Torah, as a basis for admission criteria and student conduct, then it cannot just adhere to just one of the verses and its commands, but all of them. And breaking any of these should be grounds for having to refund the public school system with the very money taken with a voucher to pay for tuition at the private, religious school.

No Red Lobster!

Lev. 11: 9-12 says,

  1. “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
  2. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
  3. They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
  4. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.”

One cannot be caught eating at the Red Lobster or other seafood restaurant that serves certain prepared aquatic delicacies. Even if a student is not eating one of the forbidden menu items, watching others do so and not acting to stop it is just as much a sin.

No polyester / cotton blended t-shirts!

Lev. 19:19 says,

  1. Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

It doesn’t matter if the t-shirt has the school’s name and a picture of a cross; it breaks the law!

Hair better be done right! And no tattoos.

Lev. 19:27-28 says,

  1. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
  2. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

That’s right. No cutting of beards or tattoos of crosses on arms or legs, or anywhere.

Make sure to discriminate against those who are different.

Lev. 21: 17-21 says,

  1. Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.
  2. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
  3. Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
  4. Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
  5. No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.

That’s right. If one is short, has a flat nose, is blind, crippled, has a curved spine, or wears glasses, he is not good enough to become a priest. Would that also mean that one who possesses one of those traits is not qualified to be a student at Bible Baptist? The web site says, “We are dedicated to equipping the saints of God for the 21st century.” Can saints have the aforementioned “deformities”?

No more sports. Or change the balls.

Lev. 11: 6-8 says,

  1. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
  2. And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
  3. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.

Athletes can’t use pigskins. Bible Baptist has an athletic program. Basketballs, volleyballs, and soccer balls used cannot have any leather. That would also include shoes. Athletic shoes in these sports tend to be made of leather.

Associating with mothers who went to church right after the birth of their children.

Lev. 12: 4-5 says,

  1. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
  2. But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.

That’s no church for the mother for 33 days after the birth of a boy. For girls it is 66 days.

No eating of fruit from a tree that is less than four years old.

Lev. 19: 23-24 says,

  1. And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.
  2. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal.

That might be a lot of wasted fruit, but that is what the verses stipulate.

Your family can not own any land.

Lev. 25: 23 says,

  1. The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.

There should be no land deeds or evidence of property tax found in any home of any student.

There are many more laws in the other books of the Torah to explain, but if a religious school is to abide by one of them, then should they not abide by all of them? And if someone breaks the rules of the school is the school not allowed to expel the student? Sure. What if the school does not enforce the very statutes that is espouses? Then the penalty may have to be to give back the voucher money to the public schools.

However, there is one fundamental law that comes from the Bible that I think all schools should keep in mind whether public or one of the 336 religious schools or private academies that receive voucher money. That is what Jesus said in Matthew 18 : 2-6.

  1. And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
  2. And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
  3. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  4. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
  5. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.