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Public Schools/Charter Schools: Frequently Asked Questions
Report of Four Superintendents Panel Discussion Feb 3, 2015
Prepared by Ruth Ann Groh, March 3, 2015
An audience of close to a hundred attended our forum at which the superintendents of four local school districts discussed the impact of changes in state funding on their districts. Held on February 3, 2015 at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and moderated by Dr. Wynetta Lee Dean of the School of Education at NCCU, it was covered by reporters from The Herald Sun, Education NC, and Chapelboro.com.
All four superintendents from school districts in Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties participated. They are:
North Carolina has 115 school districts in its 100 counties. Most districts are county districts.
At the state level there is a Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that oversees the districts, which are also known as Local Education Agencies (LEAs). Additionally, as of March 2015, there are 149 charter schools.
Media coverage of the forum
The proposed bills address a number of issues, including charter schools, Common Core Standards, and a response to Governor McCrory's intended education initiatives.
Today, this committee discussed the proposed bill that would allow open enrollment between school districts and voted to set it aside for further study and consultation with school superintendents. So, for the moment, it will not go forward to be created as a bill.
Meanwhile, my quick reading of the Draft Bill for Open Enrollment (and a Homeschool Pilot program) leads me to believe that if this passes and goes into effect then the public schools of North Carolina will be screwed up for decades to come. And not just because of the bookkeeping nightmare it will engender as school districts struggle to track students who move out of their district and whose local district funds must follow that child to another district, as well as to track those students who come to that district from another district, and whose funding must follow them. If passed, this would take effect in the 2015-16 school year.
In addition, the bill proposes a Pilot Program, allowing a limited number of public and charter schools to make a minimum of 90 hours of instruction per semester available to home schooled students and private school students. It would allow one course per semester, per student, or two classes in a year. In payment for this, `an amount equal to 1/2 of the average per pupil allocation for average daily membership' will be remitted to the local school district. Language in the bill implies that these funds would be drawn from the general funds and not taken from other monies already allocated to public education, but that could change as the bill is worked on by the committee.
This bill comes directly out of the Douglas County Colorado report and is very similar to Colorado's law. (I am going to have to look into that. If you have any insight, please share!) Section 1 covers open enrollment, which allows a parent to request assignment to another school within the district in which they live, or in another school district. Transportation to the new school is not required, but is encouraged, in somewhat vague language. The transfer cannot be requested for athletic team purposes and the school receiving the new student cannot be required to set up new programs or resources for that student. Acceptance of the new student is dependent upon availability.
And if the district the child is leaving a district that has supplemental taxation for education, those supplemental funds do not follow the child to the new school, but the regular per-student funds do follow the child.
The second part of the bill will set up a 3-year pilot program, to run from 2015-18, that will "allow" public and charter schools to set up "enrichment" / educational courses for home schooled children. In return for this, the school would receive 1/2 the ADM per student.
(Basically, the General Assembly will go out of pocket to provide ed opportunities for home schooled kids, using money that the home schooled kids were not previously receiving. Personally, I'd rather see that money go into teacher raises....)
But BOTH of these options are going back into `study' by this committee.
I will try to keep up with what happens to it from here, but we really need to alert our school superintendents. I'd like to see some school districts be able to figure out how much an open enrollment program would cost them in administrative staff time and be able to present that to the committee.
In addition, this bill makes no mention of construction costs for new schools. Wake is already building a school a year. If students in adjoining counties apply to a new district and cause that new district to have to build new school buildings, who bears the cost of the buildings?? Are out of district students expected to chip in, or will the cost be borne by citizens within that district?? The bill currently offers no financial help from NCGA for putting up new schools.
Will keep you posted!
The program will be held on Tuesday, March 25 at 7:00pm at the Eno River UU Fellowship (4907 Garrett Road, Durham, NC 27707).
League members, prospective members and the public are welcome. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties.
Under the present system of state approval, charter schools are separate from local school districts setting up competition for funding and making it difficult for school districts to project enrollment. Dr. Ladd believes there is need for all public schools, charter and traditional, to be part of coherent systems working toward common goals. Charter schools as laboratories of innovation, could then share their findings with all public schools within a particular school system.
Durham is a good case study of the problems occurring in North Carolina's present uncoordinated process of charter school approval. At present there are eleven charter schools in Durham and they serve over 12% of Durham students. Six additional charter schools have been approved to open this year. Opening new schools outside the Durham school system will result in competition, inefficiency and overlapping services.
Both state and local funding follow a child into a charter school, thus reducing funding for traditional public schools. Fixed costs, however, are not reduced. School districts need to plan facilities and programs and be able to predict enrollment.
Charter schools vary from state to state in their relationship to traditional public schools. Charter schools make sense if they are part of a larger public school system and are authorized by the local school district. As innovative laboratories they can adapt to varied learning styles and give disadvantaged students more options.
North Carolina charter schools are authorized by the State Board of Education and have fewer regulations than traditional public schools. Charter school students have to take the state tests required in traditional public schools.
Four issues arise in research on charter schools.
1. Achievement-- do students achieve more in charter schools. It's hard to do the research on this, but there is no evidence that on average charter schools are better. There is a range of quality of charter schools. (How do you measure quality?)
2. Racial segregation-- this is a hard problem to solve. The racial mix in charter schools does not match that of nearby schools.
3. Financing issues-- Money follows the student to a charter school and away from the local school district. The school district's fixed costs are not reduced. Public schools have to provide for students to return from charter schools. Charter schools are not doing their share of educating the most costly students.
4. Expansion of the number of charters in NC is leading to inefficiency and overlapping services. Shouldn't we have a coherent system?
Other issues and comments:
1. Magnet Schools are public schools created under the authority of a local board of education to attract students. They have specialized programs to achieve diversity voluntarily.
2. Charter Schools are public schools under the authority of a board of citizens who come together to create a school with a special focus. Innovation was an impetus for the creation of charter schools. They are funded by local, state and federal monies that come with their students. Rules for charter schools vary from state to state. In North Carolina they have a "charter" with the State Board of Education and are provided both financial and educational flexibility.
3. Vouchers are monies from school districts that can be applied to tuition for public or private schools outside those districts. Voucher programs vary historically and from school district to school district. North Carolina does not have voucher programs at present (March 2013.) Legislative proposals to allow vouchers have been opposed by public school superintendents.
Why do parents want "school choice?"
School districts focus on what is best for the whole community while parents focus on the needs of individual children. School districts assign students to specific schools to achieve diversity, racial integration, avoid concentrated poverty and address other educational goals. Parents may want additional options such as specialized programs for specific populations.
How many magnet schools are there in these three counties?
As of 2013 the Durham Public School District is home to 23 magnet schools including both program and calendar options for students. In Orange County, the Chapel Hill Carrboro Public School District is opening a dual language magnet school in 2013-2014. Chatham County Public School District has no magnet schools.
How many charter schools are there in these three counties?
The LWVODC Citizen's Guide provides a list of charter schools in Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties. For information about these schools and the Office of Charter Schools of NC and information on all NC charter schools click here.
The NC Department of Public Instruction has published a 40 page document with clear charts and graphs to supplement the text and numbers. Titled Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget, February 2012, it explains public school budget allocations as of that year. See the full document here.
Read the most updated version of the National League's position on the role of the federal government in education here.
DATE DECISION MAKER IMPACT 1954 US Supreme Court Racial segregation of children in public schools is unconstitutional. 1965 US Congress The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA,) part of the "War on Poverty" allocated large resources to meet the needs of educationally deprived children, especially through compensatory programs for the poor. 1971 US Supreme Court The Court upheld busing of public school students as a "remedial technique" for achieving racial desegregation. (Charlotte/Mecklenburg, NC) 1974 Judge Garrity, US District Court for MA Judge Garrity ruled that the Boston School Committee had maintained racial segregation and must create racial balance by busing students to various city schools. 1975 US Congress The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. 1983 A commission appointed by the US Sec. of Education "A Nation at Risk" This report called for more rigorous high school graduation requirements and general strengthening of the curriculum. It was a blunt critique with recommendations. 1994 Lynne V. Cheney, Chair of Nat'l Endowment for the Humanities Proposed new voluntary national history standards aroused the opposition of Lynne V. Cheney who called them "the epitome of left-wing political correctness." 1996 NC General Assembly The Charter Schools Act (CSA) allowed persons or groups to propose charter schools. The State Board of Education was given the power to accept or reject proposed schools. The number of charter schools was capped at 100. 2002 US Congress The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandated testing of students in math and reading as a way of evaluating the effectiveness of their teachers and their schools. 2009 Obama Administration & US Congress "Race to the Top" (RTT), a contest to spur innovation and reforms, is created and funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. 2010 NC State Board of Education Common Core State Standards, a curriculum developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are adopted. 2011 NC General Assembly The cap limiting charter schools to 100 is lifted. (SB 8). This bill was a response to "Race to the Top," a federal fund that excluded states that limited the number of charter schools.
As a start, we have reviewed the local League's positions on education and are recommending that these be re-examined. We plan to propose a study of LWVODC Education positions with emphasis on school redistricting policy. We would aim at greater understanding of these positions and consider the need to clarify and strengthen them in response to recent lifting of the 100-limit on the number of charter schools in NC and the resulting increase in the number of applications for charter schools. Specific wording for the local program proposal will be presented to the LWVODC board and membership for consideration at the May annual meeting. (The present wording of the position is shown below.)
To kick-start a possible study, we are following up on a suggestion that arose at the 12/11/12 meeting and have scheduled a discussion of Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, and its implications for local, school-related issues. Dr. Barbara Chapman, retired educator and expert in curriculum and instruction, has agreed to lead the discussion, which is scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, at 4 pm. The location has yet to be determined, and we'll let you know as soon as it is.
Meanwhile, read the book, and please let us know if you have suggestions either for this book discussion or for a subsequent study. Contact us at Info@lwvodc.org to receive e-mail updates about plans and about additions to this web page.
Thanks for your interest.
Niki Jordan and Ruth Ann Groh
Local Positions are positions on local governmental issues to which the LWVODC has given sustained attention and in which it may continue to act.
There are three categories: REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT, NATURAL RESOURCES and SOCIAL POLICY
Education is listed under Social Policy. The present position is:
Support redistricting policy that maintains racial balance, continuity of individual educational experience and supports the quality of integration within the schools and individual classrooms (2006).
Support actions to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of school bus transportation systems (2006).
Support for adequate funding of the capital needs of local schools (2006)