Making Democracy Work

Frequently Asked Questions and Reports of Previous LWVODC Forums and Events

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Charter Schools?

Charter Schools are technically public schools. They are created by a board of citizens or an entity that has been granted authority to run under the terms of a charter with a local or state authority. Rules differ by state; in the case of NC, granting of charters currently resides at the state level. Initially designed as "lab schools" intended to foster, field test and share innovations with traditional public schools, charters may run independent of the many of the regulations and policies required of traditional schools. Examples of areas in which charters do not have to comply with state educational regulations include: educator certification, assessments, student services, student transportation and student lunches.

Innovation may have been the impetus for the creation of charter schools; however, since that time the construct has been expanded to serve issues related to an array of constituent groups advocating for school choice.

The number of charters allowed in NC was significantly increased several years ago, creating a new level of concern, especially with respect to the impact on traditional school funding; adequacy of planning timelines and impact on school demographics and equity.

For a clear and concise summary of controversies over charter schools see the summer 2017 Harvard Graduate School of Education article.

How many charter schools are there in these three counties?

List of charter schools in North Carolina

What are school vouchers?

Vouchers, called Opportunity Scholarships in NC, are state funds that families can apply for and use to pay tuition for private schools. Voucher programs vary significantly from state to state. In NC qualifications are essentially income based. NC Opportunity Scholarships have been available since the school year 2014-2015 and the current state plan has significant dollars being channeled into the vouchers over the next few years. Accountability for the quality of program and outcomes are issues of concern given use of taxpayer dollars.

Read more at the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority:

Ned Barnett's Three out of four N.C. voucher schools fail on curriculum piece in the News and Observer on the voucher school report from the Lower Cape Fear!!

A recent study by LWVNC on the quality and monitoring of curriculum standards for schools using opportunity scholarships was completed by the Lower Cape Fear League is on their website.

What are magnet schools?

Magnet Schools are public schools created under the authority of a local board of education (LEA). Each school has a unique focus area that expands the traditional curriculum or organizes it by specific themes. Magnet programs often attract students to the district, allow districts to pursue innovation and help to address other issues related to school assignment. Students from across the district choose to attend Magnet programs (in some cases lotteries are used to select participants). Magnet schools can also help achieve diversity goals by bringing together students from an array of neighborhoods who might otherwise not attend school together.

What is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

Alyson Klein writing for Education Week has explained: "The new Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law Dec. 10, 2015, rolls back much of the federal government's big footprint in education policy, on everything from testing and teacher quality to low-performing schools. And it gives new leeway to states in calling the shots."

"That's a big change from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which ESSA replaced and updated. The Every Student Succeeds Act takes full effect in the 2017-18 school year."

The ESSA updated and replaced the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act,which was enacted in 2002. The law was scheduled for revision in 2007, and became the focus of extended struggles since, over time, NCLB's prescriptive requirements became increasingly unworkable for schools and educators.

- Find more information on the US Department of Education website
- Read the Education Week article


January 11, 2018 Discussion: What's new in NC Public Education

At a forum sponsored by the LWVODC on January 11, 2018 LaTanya Pattillo, Teacher Advisor to Governor Roy Cooper, addressed the pressing issue of the class size mandate. Ms Pattillo asked:
- How is this impacting each district?
- What are your thoughts?
- How do we fix it?

She said, "We need to hear from you on this issue. The governor's position is: Either fund this mandate or phase it in." Ms Pattillo said that Governor Cooper's policy team aims to:

1. Insure that all children arrive in kindergarten healthy and ready to learn
2. Insure that all children graduate from high school career ready or college ready, and
3. Work to raise the credentials of both high school graduates and other adults with the goal of a well-qualified workforce.

The audience included two superintendents, a school board member and other persons with expertise on this issue. Comments from the audience included:

- There is economic disparity in the state. In some counties the teachers are paid more than the median income of residents.
- Teachers are not solely responsible for what happens in schools: students' ability to learn is impacted by poverty, hunger, homelessness and other community problems.
- Durham would have to build 63 classrooms to comply with the mandate.
- We need a bold vision from the Governor.
- There is a shortage of effective teachers to meet resulting in potentially causing the mandate district to fall back on hiring less qualified teachers.

Janet Hoy, co-president of the LWV of North Carolina, closed the discussion with the comment that we need to see questions about public education in the context of larger issues of poverty, inequality and the lack of an adequate social safety net for families.

The video of the forum is divided into 3 parts because of its length. Click on each of the videos below to watch. Video 1 of 3, Video 2 of 3, and Video 3 of 3

November 14, 2016, Presentation: Public Education and the Legislature: What's on the horizon?

With a politically divided government -- a Republican majority in the NC legislature and a probable Democratic Governor, how can advocates for public education be effective? Representative Graig Meyer spoke to this question at a LWVODC forum on November 14, 2016. Representative Meyer has led equity work in public schools. He was the director of the nationally recognized Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program. He also served as the Director of Student Equity and Volunteer Services for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro (NC) City Schools. He is a member of the North Carolina General Assembly. A summary of his advice follows.

How do you advocate in a polarized situation?

Be informed
We need to inform ourselves, listen, explain our problems and try to find agreement on solutions. Political division and disruption, while disconcerting, may offer fertile ground for new and innovative ideas and proposals. Those who are not part of an entrenched political system may have a chance to emerge and garner bipartisan support.

Preparation, data, specificity about goals and accountability measures, and personalization of message through narratives also matter.

Find Partners
Advocacy organizations can play a mediating role by coordinating their efforts and numbers. Unite in solidarity around a message, request or action. By uniting around key principles and desired outcomes, activists and leaders can ultimately serve the general welfare of their neighbors and community - be it local, state, national or global.

Advocacy groups must answer the essential questions:
- Where and how do we take stands?
- Where do we find common ground?

Listen, Explain, Persist
Throughout the forum, Representative Meyer stressed the importance of organization, coordination and persistence. Educating legislators needs to be an ongoing process, not a one-time visit or message.

Large numbers of volunteers provide leverage, a powerful message and multiple contacts over time.

Read more about Meyer's views on issues in public education and higher education and educational concerns of the audience.

Representative Meyer's presentation can be watched on Youtube. Because of the length of the video, it is posted in two parts. Part 1 and Part 2

April 27, 2016 Forum: The View from the Classroom

"The View from the Classroom: How policies and budgets impact opportunities, services and learning in our public schools."

The Education Action Team sponsored a forum in Chapel Hill on April 27, 2016 for parents, educators and the interested public. The panel of seven local educators discussed problems related to funding and policy changes at the state and national levels and described approaches and innovations adopted to alleviate them.

The attached article highlights the key messages coming out of the forum and urges the North Carolina General Assembly to take specific corrective measures.

Aleta Donald, who is the granddaughter of Ruth Ann Groh, wrote an article on the April 27th forum for her school paper, the ECHO. Click here to read Aleta's article.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools

  • Dr. Ridell Harrison, Executive Director of Professional Learning- is leading an exciting district initiative focused on teacher professional learning and advancement- Project Advance.
  • Dr. Todd LoFrese joined ​the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in 2008 ​and serves as the Assistant Superintendent ​for Support Services.  He is responsible for human resources, facilities; budget and finance, student enrollment, child nutrition, transportation, and safety. 

Chatham Public Schools

  • Dr. Justin Bartholomew is the principal of Northwood High School in Chatham County where he is also the 2015-2016 Principal of the Year.
  • Dr. Keith Medlin, currently Executive Director for Technology & Media Education, began his career 15 years ago helping to launch the Michigan Virtual High School and to roll out the Michigan LearnPort statewide Teacher Professional Development system.

Durham Public Schools

  • Dr. Deborah Pitman serves as Assistant Superintendent for Student, Family, and Community Services in Durham Public Schools.
  • Elizabeth Shearer, Executive Director of Student Support Services has worked for over twenty years in the Durham Public Schools as an Exceptional Children's teacher, Principal and Central Services Student Support Services leader. 

Orange Public Schools

  • Dr. Todd Wirt is the Superintendent of Orange County Schools located in Hillsborough, North Carolina where he leads 7,500 students in 13 schools.

February 3, 2015 Forum: The Economics of Education: What We Owe Our Children and Our Nation


The Economics of Education: What We Owe Our Children and Our Nation

On February 3, 2015, The League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties and the North Carolina Central University's School of Education, co-sponsored a forum on The Economics of Education: What We Owe Our Children and Our Nation, featuring a panel of local superintendents discussing the impact of the NC budget on local schools. Dr. Wynetta Lee, Dean of the School of Education at NCCU, moderated the discussion. Below is a report of that meeting.

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

All four superintendents from school districts in Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties participated. They are:

  • Dr. Del Burns, Orange County Interim Superintendent;
  • Dr. Tom Forcella, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent;
  • Dr. Derrick Jordan, Chatham Superintendent and
  • Dr. Bert L'Homme, Durham Superintendent.

The four school districts in our three counties vary significantly in the number of students they serve. The Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers for these districts in FY 2013-14 were:

  • Durham 33,100
  • Chapel Hill-Carrboro 12,300
  • Chatham 8,300
  • Orange 7,500

The sources of school funding, statewide in North Carolina, for FY 2012-2013 were:

  • State 62.2%
  • Local 25.8%
  • Federal 12.0%

According to the NEA, NC's ranking for the highest percentage of state funding has declined from 5th (in 2007) to 13th in the nation (in 2013) and from first to third in the southeast (from "Highlights of the NC Public School Budget February 2014" by the NC Department of Public Instruction.)

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

Click here, for questions asked but not answered at the forum.

February 25, 2014 Helen Ladd Talk

Public Education in North Carolina: A discussion of current issues, including charter schools, took place at Extraordinary Ventures, February 25, 2014. An estimated 50 persons listened to Dr. Ladd, Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy as she analyzed the relationship between charter schools and traditional public schools.

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:

  • Charter schools may be hijacked by management companies. Management companies get political power and want fewer regulations. Who are the persons on the boards of charter schools? Are there educators on the boards? Are there developers on the boards?

  • What are measures of the quality of schools? We spend too much time focusing on academic achievement. Measures of emotional health may be more important. Graduation rates may be another good measure. KIPP schools have used other measures.

  • Ladd is not a fan of test-based accountability. Some countries have inspector-based accountability. Inspectors look at whether students are engaged.

  • How valuable is the concept of charters as laboratories of innovation? There hasn't been much transfer.

  • Flexibility and parental choice have been increasing in school systems. Charter schools are schools of choice.

  • Competition does not work well in schooling.

November 2012 Report from Charter Schools

Posted February 4, 2013

Christopher A. Cody, Director of Public Policy Research at the Public School Forum of NC, spoke on charter schools at a LWVODC meeting in November 2012. He said that although charter schools are public non-profit institutions they may contract with for-profit management companies. North Carolina has about 108 charter schools (in 2012) and an estimated 15% of these have contracted with for-profit management.

Mr.Cody explained that he works with a non-profit think tank on an ongoing study of extended learning. As part of that study he is involved with after school programs as well as charter schools. He is interested in both the positive and the negative effects of charter schools.

Following Mr. Cody's talk on charter schools and a subsequent meeting of League members interested in learning more about charters, several questions arose, including:

  • How will charter schools impact funding for public schools?

  • To what degree are charter schools promoting innovation in education?

  • How is their non-profit status affected by sub-contracting with for-profit entities?

Reported by Niki Jordan and Ruth Ann GrohPosted February 4, 2013