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The Friday Report

February 17, 2017

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Forum News

This Weekend on Education Matters: NC’s Private School Voucher Program

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This week’s episode of Education Matters focuses on North Carolina’s Private School Voucher Program.

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education has shined a spotlight on programs like NC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides state funding for children to attend private, mostly religious K-12 schools. This week we explore NC’s private school voucher program.

Guests Include:

  • Jane Wettach, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Children’s Law Clinic, Duke Law School
  • Matt Ellinwood, Director, Education & Law Project, NC Justice Center
  • Jessica Holmes, Education Law Attorney and Member, Wake County Board of Commissioners

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When and Where to Watch Education Matters

Saturdays at 7:30 PM, WRAL-TV (Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville)

Sundays at 9:00 AM, UNC-TV’s NC Channel (Statewide)

Online at https://www.ncforum.org/

Note: The North Carolina Channel can be found on Time Warner Cable Channel 1276 or check local listing and other providers here.

If you missed last week’s episode on School Calendar,
you can watch it online here:
https://www.ncforum.org/education-matters-the-school-calendar-question/

State News

Unanimous NC House Votes to Raise Class Size Cap to Avoid Cuts to PE, Arts Classes

The N.C. House voted unanimously Thursday morning to soften a class-size reduction that school districts said could force them to cut arts and physical education classes.

Legislators had reduced maximum class sizes starting this fall in kindergarten through third grade. Under the current law, maximum individual K-3 class sizes will drop from 24 students to between 19 and 21 students, depending on grade level, and the maximum average class sizes for a school district would be even lower.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican who sponsored the bill approved Thursday, said the mandate had “an unintended consequence” because school districts “just couldn’t adjust that quickly to the change that was mandated in the budget.”

Rep. Gale Adcock, a Cary Democrat, said Wake County school officials have told her that the class size mandate would cost the district about $320 million for additional teachers and classroom construction.

House Bill 13, which now heads to the Senate, would cap individual K-3 class sizes at 22 to 24 students, depending on grade level. Maximum average class sizes would range from 19 to 21 students.

North Carolina doesn’t separately fund specialists such as arts and PE teachers so school districts pay for them out of state dollars for regular classroom teachers. The reduction in maximum class sizes limits the flexibility that districts have to spread money around for special classes.

In This Issue

This Weekend on Education Matters: NC’s Private School Voucher Program

Unanimous NC House Votes to Raise Class Size Cap to Avoid Cuts to PE, Arts Classes

Bill Would Change Funding System for Schools

Despite Report Findings, Advocates and Lawmakers Clamor for Calendar Flexibility

Employee of State’s Largest Recipient of School Voucher Funds Accused of Embezzling Nearly $400,000 in Public Tax Dollars

NCSU, UNC to Offer Online Program for Teacher Licensure

The Reality of Fewer Teaching Assistants in NC

Betsy DeVos: I’ll Look for Unnecessary Programs to Cut at the Education Dept.

Study Finds Online Charter Students in Ohio Perform Far Worse Than Peers

NC CAP Annual SYNERGY Conference

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Accepting Applications for Student Science Enrichment Program

NC STEM Center

Upcoming NCCAT Professional Development Opportunities

Public School Forum Programs

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Bill Would Change Funding System for Schools

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North Carolina legislators are looking for a new way to budget public school dollars.

A bill filed in both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly would create a task force to study new ways to distribute money among the state’s 115 public school systems and 148 public charter schools. Should the bill pass, the task force would move the state toward a weighted student-funding model — a concept being adopted by school districts and states around nationwide.

Under that model, the task force would set a new base amount of money to be distributed per student, then identify characteristics of both students and school systems that would be considered for weighted funding. Characteristics could include such things as disability status, family income level and a school system’s size.

State Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said the state’s current funding system is outdated and favors larger, wealthier school systems. Legislators are looking for a model that would distribute money more equitably, Horn said.

“Anytime you’ve been using the same formula or the same method for more than 30 years, you need to rethink it,” he said. “The state is not the same it was 30 years ago. Student needs are not the same as they were 30 years ago.”

House Bill 6 would create a task force of 18 members, nine each from the House and Senate.

The bill tasks the group with studying various types of weighted-funding models, including those in other states. Pennsylvania, Florida and Rhode Island are among the states that have adopted such models.

The changes could also affect the way in which money is distributed among schools within a school system and how those dollars flow into public charter schools. It would likely result in more money following students to whatever school they choose.

“There’s reason to believe charter school students are not receiving a fair level of funding support from the state,” Horn said. “But people make all kinds of claims and allegations. Let’s hear the facts.”

The proposal stems from a report released last year by the General Assembly’s program evaluation division that identified numerous problems with the current funding model. The report did not look at funding levels but instead the system for distributing money.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Herron, A. “Bill would change funding system for schools.”” The Winston-Salem Journal. 2/15/17.

Despite Report Findings, Advocates and Lawmakers Clamor for Calendar Flexibility

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For years, education advocacy groups and legislators have tried to change North Carolina’s uniquely strict law that mandates when school districts begin and end.

A report from the Program Evaluation Division of the General Assembly released Monday, however, advises the General Assembly to maintain the school calendar law as is — with an exception for low-performing schools and districts.

The report addresses the conflict between state government, parents, teachers, and the tourism and travel industries. School being out for the month of August, the report says, is important for tourism and travel, whereas educators would prefer the semester start earlier so that schools could be done with exams before the holidays and align with community college calendars.

“The disagreement among stakeholders about when North Carolina should start and end the school year can not be reconciled,” the report’s recommendation reads. “This conflict poses a dilemma because no choice can satisfy all stakeholders and any decision will be perceived as favoring the interests of some stakeholders over others.”

Right now, traditional-calendar schools must start no sooner than the Monday closest to August 26 and finish no later than the Friday closest to June 11.

For schools and districts deemed as low-performing by the State Board of Education, the report says calendar flexibility could increase student performance and help with summer learning loss. The report suggests that the Department of Public Instruction evaluate whether flexibility actually does help in struggling schools.

Many lawmakers are filing school calendar flexibility bills for their specific counties — but at least one House bill is trying to modify the law statewide.

Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Cherokee, a primary sponsor of the bill, said giving local governments authority to decide what’s best is key. “If you look at it strictly from an education standpoint, I firmly believe, and I think every superintendent that I’ve spoken to so far believes, that that flexibility is a positive thing for education,” Corbin said.

Terry Stoops, the director of education studies at the right-leaning John Locke Foundation said he didn’t see why flexibility shouldn’t be extended to all school districts in the state. “If it’s a tool that can be used by low-performing schools and districts to raise student performance, then surely it can be used to do the same in other schools and school districts,” Stoops said.

The John Locke Foundation is part of a coalition called L.O.C.A.L. (standing for Let Our Calendar Authority be Local), along with seven other organizations that cross ideological lines and interests, including N.C. FreedomWorks, the N.C. Justice Center, the N.C. School Boards Association, Professional Educators of NC, the N.C. Association of School Administrators, N.C. PTA, and the N.C. Association of Educators.

Leanne Winner, the director of governmental relations at the N.C. School Boards Association, said the coalition remains in support of calendar revision for all schools. She said long breaks in the summer affect all students. Winner said there are “a litany” of reasons why that revision is needed — from availability of community college courses to high school students, to missed revenue from sports events held before the start of the school year.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Employee of State’s Largest Recipient of School Voucher Funds Accused of Embezzling Nearly $400,000 in Public Tax Dollars

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The athletic director of a private religious school that has received the most publicly-funded school vouchers in the state of North Carolina was arrested this week on charges of embezzling from the school nearly $400,000 in public tax dollars, the Fayetteville Observer reports.

Heath Curtis Vandevender is charged with embezzling $388,422 between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2015, from Truth Outreach Center Inc., located in Fayetteville. Trinity Christian School, which has received nearly $1 million in publicly-funded school vouchers since 2014, is under the Truth Outreach Center’s umbrella, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

The funds that Vandevender is accused of embezzling over a seven year period are allegedly taken from employee withholding tax money that was to go to the N.C. Department of Revenue.

Vandevender “aided and abetted the corporation to embezzle, misapply, and convert to its own use $388,422.68 in North Carolina Withholding Tax,” according to the Department of Revenue’s press release.

It’s unknown whether or not federal tax funds that the organization is supposed to withhold from employee paychecks and submit to the federal government were also misappropriated.

Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville has received $958,440 in Opportunity Scholarship funds (also known as school vouchers) since 2014. The program allows low-income families to use up to $4,200 annually in state-funded vouchers at private, mostly religious schools. While proponents of the program say it offers low-income families access to better education alternatives than what may be offered by public schools, critics point to the fact that there is not enough accountability associated with the state-funded program.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Wagner, L. “Employee of state’s largest recipient of school voucher funds accused of embezzling nearly $400,000 in public tax dollars.” A.J. Fletcher Foundation. 2/15/17.

NCSU, UNC to Offer Online Program for Teacher Licensure

N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill are teaming up to offer a new online teacher licensure program for lateral entry hires.

Lateral entry hires are those who have degrees or training in a particular subject but lack the full teacher certification to be able to work in the classroom.

The program aims to help the state address a growing teacher shortage by providing a new entry path to the profession. The accelerated program, offered online only, is expected to take a year or 18 months to complete. It will cost less than $5,000, according to the announcement Thursday by the two universities.

The program was designed to be online so that working adults could take advantage of the training without leaving their jobs. It will start this fall with 50 students.

North Carolina employs more than 4,300 lateral-entry teachers, according to a 2015 report by the State Board of Education. But they tend to leave the profession at a rate 79 percent greater than other teachers, suggesting that they need better preparation for the classroom.

Faculty from the two campuses will teach the courses, in mathematics, science, English/language arts and social studies, and eventually special education. Students will have mentors. The courses will be designed so that students achieve targets and show their mastery of skills. The competency-based approach, which can move students through more quickly, was awarded a $148,000 grant from the UNC system’s General Administration.

For more information on the program, go to nando.com/lateralentry.

To continue reading the complete press release, click here.

Excerpt from:

Stancill, J. “NCSU, UNC to offer online program for teacher licensure.” The News & Observer. 2/9/17

The Reality of Fewer Teaching Assistants in NC

Over the past few years, teachers across North Carolina received highly publicized pay raises. The increases were generally met with few objections and heralded as long overdue.

Left out of the press releases, however, was a shift that reduced teaching assistant positions, something that will hurt disadvantaged students across the state.

After steady, if slight, growth in teaching positions through 2009, the number of positions has taken steps backward in the following seven years. The 21,048 teaching assistant positions during the 2015-16 school year was 30 percent below the number of similar positions in 2008-09.

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Image Credit: NCDPI

The downward trend has happened despite legislative promises this decline wouldn’t happen. After approving a pay raise for teachers in 2014, Senate leader Phil Berger said, “The budget will also preserve teacher assistant positions, protect classroom funding and continue to give superintendents broad flexibility to tailor classroom spending to their district’s needs.”

When asked about his comments, Berger’s spokeswoman Shelly Carver said that funding levels stayed the same, but the state did not narrowly dictate that local school boards use the money only for teaching assistants.

“In other words, the General Assembly has maintained the FY 2014-15 level of funding for teacher assistants and stopped local school districts from transferring funds out of the teacher assistant allotment since 2015,” Carver wrote in an email. “Obviously we cannot control fluctuations in federally/locally funded positions or changes due to declining enrollment in some districts.”

This trend has happened at the same time that new research directly links student success with the existence of teaching assistants, particularly for economically disadvantaged students, according to a 2016 study by led by Helen Ladd, a Duke University professor of economics.

Combined with other factors, fewer teaching assistants could lead to more inequities within North Carolina’s public schools.

“The evidence shows that additional teaching assistants for disadvantaged student groups contribute to higher test scores,” according to the study’s findings. “… The consistency of the general patterns suggests that TAs are more productive for the disadvantaged students than for their more advantaged counterparts.”

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Debruyn, J. “Fewer Teaching Assistants Means Fewer Minority Staff In Classrooms.” WUNC. 2/15/17.

National News

Betsy DeVos: I’ll Look for Unnecessary Programs to Cut at the Education Dept.

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For the third time since she was confirmed as education secretary, Betsy DeVos spoke with a Michigan media outlet to discuss her confirmation process and her priorities. And she made it clear she’s looking for ways to reduce the size and scope of the U.S. Department of Education.

In a Tuesday interview on the Michael Patrick Shiels radio program, DeVos said the confirmation was an “interesting and protracted” process, and that she was glad to get started as secretary. Asked by Shiels about the education department’s responsibilities, DeVos noted that it was only her fourth day on the job at the department. Then she said:

I can’t tell you today what is being done that’s unnecessary. But I can guarantee that there are things that the department has been doing that are probably not necessary or important for a federal agency to do. We’ll be looking at that. We’ll be examining and auditing and reviewing all of the programs of the department and really figuring out what is the core mission, and how can the federal department of education really support and enhance the role of the departments in the states. Because really, when it comes down to it, education and the provision of education is really a state and local responsibility to a large extent.

You can listen to the full interview with Shiels here.

DeVos did not specify which programs or policy areas at the department where she might explore or be potentially interested in cuts. Right now, the department has an approximately $68 billion annual budget, and just under a third of that is taken up by discretionary Pell Grants for higher education.

Lawmakers and the Obama administration already cut a number of K-12 programs when they passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. That means there are fewer small programs for DeVos to target than there were just a few years ago.

Study Finds Online Charter Students in Ohio Perform Far Worse Than Peers

Students in Ohio’s burgeoning full-time online charter schools perform far worse on state assessments than similar students in brick-and-mortar charter and regular schools, according to a new study from researchers at New York University and the RAND Corporation.

The schools, which deliver instruction entirely or primarily via the internet, tend to attract lower-income, lower-performing white students, then fail to provide those children with the supports they need, the study concluded.

“Students in Ohio e-schools are losing anywhere between 75 days and a full school year of learning compared to their peers in traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools,” Andrew McEachin, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, said in an interview.

“If kids are in e-schools for a long time, they’re likely going to fall very far behind their peers.”

The findings are outlined in a study titled “Student Enrollment Patterns and Achievement in Ohio’s Online Charter Schools,” published Thursday in the academic journal Educational Researcher. They closely mirror a nationwide 2015 study of cyber charter school performance by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which found that more than two-thirds of the country’s 200 or so cyber charters perform worse than comparable traditional schools.

The findings are more bad news for Ohio’s e-schools, nine of which are currently being targeted by the state education department as part of an effort to claw back more than $80 million in taxpayer funds. Following a series of attendance audits conducted last year, state officials contend the nine schools were paid for more than 9,000 students who did not complete enough coursework to be considered full-time. The state’s largest e-school, the 15,000-student Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, has contested the results via a lawsuit and administrative appeals.

The new analysis is based on state data covering nearly 1.7 million Ohio students per year from the 2009-10 school year through the 2012-13 school year.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Herold, B. “Online Charter Students in Ohio Perform Far Worse Than Peers, Study Finds.” Education Week. 2/16/17.

Opportunities

NC CAP Annual SYNERGY Conference

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Registration is open for the NC Center for Afterschool Programs (NC CAP) SYNERGY Conference. The 2017 SYNERGY Conference will be held April 3-5, 2017 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place. We invite you to join NC CAP to Spring into STEM!

This year’s conference will focus on STEM and healthy living in afterschool and expanded learning. We will continue the SYNERGY trend of engaging keynotes, a plethora of workshop opportunities, and networking with providers across the state!

Registration is online here

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Accepting Applications for Student Science Enrichment Program

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund has opened its application for the 2017 Student Science Enrichment Program (SSEP) grant awards. SSEP supports diverse programs with a common goal: to enable primary and secondary students to participate in creative, hands-on scientific activities for K-12 students and pursue inquiry-based exploration in BWF’s home state of North Carolina. These awards provide up to $60,000 per year for three years. The application deadline is April 18, 2017.

For more information or to access the application, visit http://www.bwfund.org/grant-programs/science-education/student-science-enrichment-program.

NC STEM Center

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Did you know that the NC STEM Center has a STEM calendar of events across North Carolina? The NC STEM Center’s goal is to be the first stop for parents and educators to gain information about STEM programming across the state. By collaborating with other nonprofits, this online portal helps introduce parents and educators to STEM organizations in North Carolina. 

Upcoming NCCAT Professional Development Opportunities

North Carolina educators have plenty of opportunities throughout the summer to attend the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT), a recognized national leader in professional development programming for teachers. Applicants are encouraged to register as soon as possible to ensure a spot. Programs are available to North Carolina educators at the Cullowhee and Ocracoke campuses, online and with NCCAT faculty visiting school districts. NCCAT provides food, lodging and programming. Teachers and or their districts are responsible for travel to and from the center and the cost of the substitute teacher. For more information visit www.nccat.org.

Some upcoming programs:

14359 • TECHNOLOGY TOOLS TO ENHANCE STEM-CULLOWHEE
March 27- 30
The study of STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—stimulates children to think critically and problem solve. STEM skills are crucial to building workforce readiness. Purposeful integration of tools found in the workplace can make STEM learning more authentic and relevant. Explore various types of technology and tools that can be incorporated into these existing lessons to make them even better. Maximize classroom time by integrating technologies that can make data collection and analysis easier. Experience lessons that give students a desire to ask questions and engineer solutions. Various technologies will be explored including Vernier sensors, coding software, design software, Cubelets, Spheros, web 2.0 resources, Makey Makeys, and more. Join us as we make messes, break things, fix things, and create minds-on STEM learning environments.

14387 • USING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY TOOLS AND DIGITAL RESOURCES TO IMPROVE THE LITERACY SKILLS OF EXCEPTIONAL STUDENTS-OCRACOKE
April 18-21
Meeting the needs of exceptional children can be a challenge for teachers who have these students in regular classroom settings. It can also be a challenge for EC teachers who have experience, but who must teach in multi-grade and multi-categorical self-contained classrooms. NCDPI mandates that public schools identify and serve students with disabilities, and that these students demonstrate progress on regular or extended content standards. Join teachers of EC students and experts in the field of special education as we investigate technology tools and digital resources and other strategies to provide enhanced literacy instruction integrated across the curriculum. Create lessons that differentiate for all learners. Explore the policies and best practices of EC expectations, create ways to challenge EC children, enhance literacy, and encourage continual intellectual and developmental growth.

14389 • READING FOR MEANING: THE ROLE OF QUESTIONING-OCRACOKE
April 24-27
Designed for teachers of grades K–5.
Good readers ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sense of text. Questions provide the opportunity to interact with the text and figure out the deeper meaning of what is being read. How do teachers model good questioning strategies? How do teachers pose questions that foster critical thinking? What types of questions help readers understand confusing parts of a book? Learn how to use questioning strategies to enhance reading comprehension for all students.

The Friday Report is published weekly by the Public School Forum of NC and is distributed to Forum members, policymakers, donors, media, and Forum subscribers. Archived editions can be found at www.ncforum.org.

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