FROM THE GROUND UP: Personal Education Plans, Charter Schools, and Budget Negotiations

July 2, 2009

By Rochelle Williams

Wednesday morning the Justice Center's Education and Law Project and its allies achieved another small but significant win for students who need extra help to reach their fullest potentials. The state Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 804, a measure that would amend the law regarding personal education plans (PEPs) for students at risk of academic failure.
 
North Carolina's schools are required to develop individualized plans for every student at risk of academic failure. But the current statute limits when schools can create the plans and stops short of requiring parental notice and/or involvement. House Bill 804 is a minor modification that would make it easier for schools to create individualized learning plans at the first signs that students are falling behind. The proposed legislation would also require schools to provide parents with some type of notice once their child has been identified as at-risk of academic failure. 
 
The fight isn't over. Opponents of PEPs have been pushing for legislators to make changes to language in the bill in an effort to minimize the consequences that schools would face for failing to either provide the plans or notify parents. Now, more than ever, we need your support. Please stay tuned for more information
 
Charter schools receive high-level support despite low performance.
Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Washington, D.C., and spoke about the administration's commitment to expand the nation's charter school system through a proposed $52 million increase in allotted funding in the 2010 budget.  Currently, 4,600 charter schools are in operation, serving 1.4 million of the 50 million students enrolled in public schools across the country. 
 
The plan to expand the charter system has been met with sharp criticisms in light of a report recently released by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The report found  that 37% of students enrolled at the 2,400 charter schools that were studied are being outperformed by their counterparts in the traditional public school system.  In particular, black and Hispanic charter school students scored significantly lower than their public school peers in math and reading.  Duncan said the Stanford report is an indication that the charter school system must focus on designing better accountability systems.  For more information on the ongoing debate surrounding charter schools as well as the full CREDO report, go to http://www.democracynow.org/2009/6/23/education_secretary_arne_duncan_pushes_to
 
Supreme Courts rules: Strip search unconstitutional.
In a decision that could have significant implications for students accused of breaking school rules, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 1, this week that the strip search of a 13-year-old Arizona girl by school officials who were looking for prescription-strength drugs violated her constitutional rights. 
 
Savanna Redding, an honors student who was in the eighth grade at the time of the search in 2003, was suspected of having prescription-strength ibuprofen, based on an uncorroborated tip from another student who was caught with pills. The school has a policy against over-the-counter or prescription drugs being on the grounds without prior permission. But no pills were found on Redding when her underwear was examined by two female school officials.
 
The Court's decision comes as many school districts in North Carolina and around the country struggle to create discipline policies that foster safe learning environments but also protect the due process and constitutional rights of accused students.
 
Join the fight to protect high-quality public education.
The state is currently facing a record budget shortfall of $4.7 billion.  Legislators are working hard to close the enormous gap, but the proposed budget cuts to public education, including increases in class size and the elimination of more than 6,000 teachers and thousands more teaching assistants, will have a brutal effect on the children of North Carolina if allowed to pass.   In response to these proposed cuts, Gov. Perdue has called on the General Assembly to make some cuts while also raising revenue.
 
Please join Gov. Perdue in her fight to protect our classrooms and our children.  The General Assembly passed a continuing resolution this week which will allow them to continue operating state government on the existing budget until July 15th.   Until that date, house and senate members will continue their negotiations of the final budget. Let your voice be heard in support of high-quality education for low-income and minority students.
 
What can you do to help?
1. Call, e-mail, or write your legislators.   Ask them to join Gov. Perdue in her call to raise at least $1.5 billion to preserve our investments in children, families, and communities across the state.   Urge them to protect public education in the state budget by saying "NO" to devastating budget cuts and "YES" to a balanced solution for the state budget that enacts smart cuts and raises new revenue.  Personal calls and emails will have a greater impact than a form email, but we welcome those as well!   Feel free to use our latest action alert as a starting point for calls and emails, or to send to your members, friends, etc as a quick way to take action on the budget.
 
2. Commit to talking to your friends, family, colleagues, fellow parishioners, etc. about why now is the time to be investing in our communities, children and families, not divesting.  Without new revenues, the deep and damaging cuts on the table would be devastating.  Ask them to call or email their legislators and/or send them the included action alert.
 
3. Write a letter to the editor to your local paper about the need to raise revenue in response to a story on the budget.   Letters to the editor are a great way to reach a wider audience and express your views on the budget. 
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