NC JUSTICE NEWS: School Assignment Debate + Smart Start + Speak NC

April 5, 2011

SCHOOL ASSIGNMENTS: Groups emphasize student achievement

Debate over solutions to the school assignment issue in the Wake County Public School System has a reached a new fervor.

In February, the Wake Education Partnership and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce presented the Wake School Choice Plan as a step to end disagreements over the issue of school assignment. The plan proposed to use a methodology called “controlled choice” in order to accommodate population growth in Wake County, home of the largest school system in the state, while also satisfying families’ school preferences.

But a report from the Great Schools in Wake Coalition and the NC Justice Center argues that without fact-driven policies that are clearly defined, easy to understand, and consistently implemented, the Wake Choice Plan could easily degrade the academic quality of public schools. The plan could also cause greater instability in assignment, limit school choice and substantially increase costs—all of the things that it was precisely not intended to accomplish.

Controlled choice allows parents to select schools for their children to attend from a pre-determined list based on factors such as proximity, school capacity, sibling school attendance, and student achievement. Yet concerns remain over whether a controlled choice plan could lead to racial and economic segregation, the report says, as well as the rechanneling of funds into saving underperforming schools. The authors urged the Board of Education to make a commitment to balanced schools and reflect this commitment in its policies.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: The lasting benefits of Smart Start

Counties that receive more funding for Smart Start and More at Four produce students with higher reading and math scores, according to a new study by Duke University.

Researchers attempted to ask the question: "Do dollar investments for these initiatives lead to improvements in education outcomes for all children of a county?" So far, the answer seems to be yes. Researchers found that North Carolina third-graders—even those who were never enrolled in early childhood programs—benefitted from investments in programs like Smart Start, proving once again that a commitment to early childhood initiatives has lasting benefits.

Duke Professor Kenneth Dodge said that researchers expected the investment in early childhood education will eventually yield substantial payoffs in lower special education and remedial costs. Meanwhile, an individual student’s achievement can be positively affected by the average achievement of his or her classmates. The research found that both Smart Start and More At Four are associated with an increase in test scores that is equivalent to a total of four months extra achievement.

The research and evaluation proves that early childhood education programs are some of the best long-term economic tools available to state lawmakers.

CAROLINA ISSUES POLLS: Voters respond to charter school debate

The results of NC Policy Watch’s most recent Carolina Issues Polls, a collaboration with Public Policy Polling, shows that voters support protecting public education, oppose private school vouchers, and are suspicious of attempts to exempt charter schools from oversight.

The poll focused on education in light of recent debate in the General Assembly, as well as Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversations event on March 30, which featured Dr. Helen Ladd and State Rep. Rick Glazier in a discussion on the pros and cons of the controversial charter school system. The poll showed that voters generally have a favorable impression of charter schools (54 percent), but more than half of the voters said that charter schools should be governed by the state Board of Educations—a point of contention in the legislature—and should be required to hire state-certified teachers.

The poll shows broad support for traditional public schools, as well as for ensuring that teachers and teacher assistants don’t lose their jobs in an effort to close the state budget shortfall. Two-thirds of those polled support maintaining tax revenue at current levels to avoid cuts in public education generally, and 55 percent specifically support maintaining revenue to protect Smart Start and More at Four, the state’s early childhood education programs. At the Crucial Conversations event, Rep. Glazier pointed out that eliminating such programs could set public education back a decade. The public seems to agree.

Full results of the poll are available online.

SPEAK NC: Putting a human face on state budget cuts

Voters will finally be given a chance to tell their own personal stories on a new website by Together NC that aims to give a voice to individuals, families, and groups that rely on state services being threatened by state budget cuts.

The Speak NC website will highlight North Carolina citizens with a weekly video series that shows the human impact of state programs and services that touch thousands of North Carolinians every year. Each Monday, Speak NC will post a new video showing how public investments have enriched the lives of North Carolina citizens, and paved the way for economic opportunity. Many of these services are at risk of severe cuts, as state legislators meet at the General Assembly and strategize how to balance the state budget.

Together NC invites citizens to watch the stories on Speak NC and share them with friends, family, and local legislators to demonstrate how many of these programs provide crucial aid to families and bolster local economies. Watch the trailer announcing the launch of the new website at

TAX FREEDOM DAY: Protecting shared public investments

According to the Tax Foundation’s calculations, April 6 is "Tax Freedom Day", the day when North Carolinians—as a whole—will have earned enough to pay for their federal, state and local contributions to the public structures we all enjoy. The group calculates that national “Tax Freedom Day” will fall on April 12.

This week, the Budget & Tax Center staff offers a critique of the “Tax Freedom Day” methodology and calculation as well as a different perspective on the role of taxes in our state’s economic growth and North Carolinians’ well-being. The BTC believes “Tax Freedom Day” should serve as a reminder of the value of shared public investments, and why those investments are worth protecting, from public schools and hospitals to courts and fire protection. State policymakers are proposing damaging cuts to public education, physical and mental health services, and public safety. Denying these public investments will only damage the state’s prospects for economic recovery, as well as affect the well-being of all North Carolina citizens.

For more information, contact Alexandra Forter Sirota, Director, Budget & Tax Center,, (919) 861-1468; or Edwin McLenaghan, Public Policy Analyst,, (919) 856-3192.

RUTH COOK: A pioneer legislator

The Justice Center mourns the passing of one of North Carolina’s true champions of justice and equality, Ruth Cook, who died peacefully at her home in Raleigh on March 28.

A resident of Raleigh for over 50 years, Ruth was born in Berlin in 1929, and escaped Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II in 1939. In 1974, Ruth became the first woman to be elected to as representative of Wake County at the General Assembly. She served for five legislative sessions and focused on the plight of the disadvantaged.

Throughout her long, illustrious career, she served as the president of the local League of Women Voters, lobbied for the State Council for Social Legislation, and was appointed to the North Carolina Utilities Commission by former Governor James B. Hunt in 1984. Upon her retirement in 1992, she continued to lobby in the North Carolina legislature on a part-time basis. She will be greatly missed.


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