AT THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR: March (and April) Madness

April 1, 2013

One of the most exciting sporting events of the year is NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Part of the greatness of the tournament is that there are levels of winners. Some teams are happy to make it in the field of 68. Some teams are happy to win one game. Some teams are thrilled to make the Final Four. For some teams, anything but a national championship is disappointing. In the tournament there are always underdogs who are fighting incredible odds and Goliaths who are poised to crush any and everything in their path.

There are some similarities between the tournament and the education related legislation that has been released this legislative session.

Goliaths:  Anything that helps to privatize public education through the myth of failing public schools leading to the rapid expansion of charter schools, vouchers and/or the devaluing the profession of teaching.

House Bill 144 creates a tax credit of $2,500 per year for families who home school.

  • There are about 80,000 children who home school which means that there will be $200 million dollars will be drained from public education.
  • There is no accountability for the money used. Families do not have to use it for educational expenses. In fact, they can use it to put a down payment on a car or get a new flat screen television.
  • Home school students must take national standardized tests but there is no requirement for academic growth.There is no accountability for student success as there is in public schools, yet $200 million will be taken from public schools and given to unaccountable home schools.  

Senate Bill 337 creates the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board. Click here to take action and ask your Senator to VOTE NO on SB 337.

  • The bill creates a potentially unconstitutional board that governs charter schools even though the state constitution says that the State Board of Education has the responsibility to administer and supervise public schools. Part of the responsibility of this board would be to accelerate the already high speed pace of granting more charters to schools.
  • SB 337 allows charter schools to get public education money even though the constitution states that money designated for public education must be used to keep a uniform system of free public schools. The new charter schools board would create a dual system but still requires LEAs to provide charters with dollars devoted to public education.
  • SB 337 eliminates the need for any teacher certification or college degrees for teachers in core courses. This certainly devalues teaching by allowing anyone without study or qualifications to teach in a charter school.

House Bill 269 creates scholarship grants for children with disabilities.

  • The program provides $6,000 per year to a student with disabilities to attend a private school.
  • The bill takes money directly from public school budgets of local school boards.
  • HB 269 allows up to $3 million for students who are eligible which means only 500 students can be served out of the 190,000 exceptional children in the state.  $3 million dollars would be far more helpful to LEAs than private schools.
  • Students with severe disabilities are unlikely to be accepted into a private school and $6,000 is not enough to educate a student with severe disabilities.

Senate Bill 361, the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, is a follow-up to the sweeping education reform that passed in the budget last year.

  • This bill eliminates career status for teachers (also known as tenure).
  • If a teacher has less than three years of experience, s/he can be offered a one-year contract.  If a teacher has three or more years of experience, s/he can receive a contract from one to four-years.
  • It will be difficult to get people motivated to become teachers when SB 337 says a person needs no certification and SB 361 eliminates any job security through career status.
  • SB 361 also includes a section for performance pay.  This state is 46th in the country in teacher pay but is willing to set up a gimmick that has never worked so that teachers receive money for test scores.  As Diane Ravitch stated during her speech in Raleigh, teachers are not holding back on lessons waiting for a bonus.
  • SB 361 also contains a section about school performance grades. Other states have used an A-F grading system as a reason to give vouchers to students to attend private schools. In Louisiana, if a low-income student attends a school that receives a C, D or F, s/he can receive a voucher.  This will lead to “creaming” of the best students and lead to the self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.  A “C” school can be raised to an “A” or “B” but only if there are some students left to help. In Alabama, a student can receive a tax credits if s/he lives in a community that has a failing school in its zone.

The underdogs in this fight for public education are parents, students, teachers, community members. and advocates.  These underdogs fight for adequate and equitable funding. We fight against privatization which drains our traditional public schools of resources. We fight against school performance grades which put the emphasis on high-stakes testing rather than demonstrated proficiency over the course of the year. 

Public school advocates may look like the underdog now but North Carolina public schools can continue to be a perennial powerhouse. Our children are depending on us. Our brackets will not be busted and our will cannot be broken.

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