Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New York Legislation Expands Pre-K and Charter Protections

Late last month, New York reached a budget deal that included a huge victory for pre-k education. New York City will receive $300 million to offer full day pre-k to 4 year olds.  Included in the deal were also significant changes for charter schools.  Per the New York Times, the new legislation requires the city to

find space for charter schools inside public school buildings or pay much of the cost to house them in private space. The legislation would also prohibit the city from charging rent to charter schools. . . . Under the budget agreement, charter schools would receive more money per student. The schools, previously barred from operating early education programs, would also be eligible for grants for prekindergarten.

Some are citing the legislation as providing charters the greatest protections of any state in the country.

April 16, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Pre-K Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Politics and Policy of Opening and Closing Charters Schools

Student First Academy, a charter school in Charlotte, NC, will close tomorrow, leaving 270 students to find some other school to attend for the final two months of the school year.  The state is revoking the school's charter based on various financial irregularities.  The full story on the closure is here.  But without digging into the specifics of this school, its closure raise four troubling issues.  First, the school has only been in operation for about two years.  In some respects, its opening, along with others in the state, was as abrupt as its closure.  Until 2011, North Carolina had capped the number of charter schools in the state at 100 (approximately one per school district). To become eligible for federal Race to the Top Funds, the state lifted the cap.  Numerous charters sprung up overnight, particularly in large school districts like Charlotte.  Now, the number of charter schools in Charlotte are higher per pupil than in most other areas in the state.  Closures of schools like Student First Academy raise the question of whether opening the gates too wide and too quickly lead to the problem these students will face tomorrow.

Second, while this school seems clearly troubled and warranting of closure, I am not sure whom it serves to close it tomorrow, rather than at the end of the semester.  The students are not at fault, but will suffer a serious burden.  Putting aside the problem of finding a new school, I wonder about the curriculum shift, grade calcuations, promotion to the next grade, etc.  My guess is that this mid-semester closure serves political interests.  It shows the state getting tough with a charter, sending a warning to others.  Yet, as some commentators point out, this school, and other schools, would have been less likely to engage in mismanagement if the state had been exercising appropriate oversight in the first instance.  In other words, the state is partially culpable, but is allowing the burden to fall on the students.

Third, this closure drives home an important difference between charters and traditional public schools. Traditional public schools do not leave students without educational options and they do not put them in the position of "looking for a school."  No one would claim our traditional public schools are uniformly strong or without financial misconduct, but they do not close the doors on students. In fact, it will be the traditional public schools that will take--and have no option but to take--the students from Student First Academy.  Charters, certainly if they are fully enrolled, will be free to turn these students away. In fact, they may be obligated to turn them away if they were a lottery school.  It is our traditional public schools that serve as the unwavering last line of defense for education.

Finally, this closure drives home the difference between marketplaces and school systems.  The marketplace failed these students or, at least, is imposing a burden on them.  The process these students will go through now is far different than that of a consumer whose favorite neighborhood grocery closed and who must now drive down the street to buy milk from Kroger's.  Of course, this oversimplifies the market debate, but captures the essence.  For a more thoughtful analysis, see here.  

April 10, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

OCR Reaches Agreement with South Carolina Online Charters over Access for Students with Disabilities

Seven South Carolina internet-based public charter schools serve more than 8,700 students.  The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights initiated a compliance reveiw of those schools in 2013 to assess whether they were providing equal access to students with disabilities.  "OCR determined that the schools' websites and online learning environments were not readily accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who required assistive technology to access the Internet. The most frequent concerns were lack of alternative text attributes on buttons, especially on video controls; lack of synchronized captioning; inaccessible PDFs; and animations that were not fully labeled. Additionally, some materials provided by third party vendors were inaccessible. These problems prevent persons with disabilities, particularly those with visual, hearing, or manual impairments, or who otherwise require the use of assistive technology to access the website or the online learning environment in an equally effective and equally integrated manner as persons without a disability."

Last month, South Carolina's charter school district entered into an agreement with OCR to address the issues.  Per the agreement, the district "will ensure that all websites and on-line learning environments are accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who use assistive technology to access the internet."  The full agreement is here.

Given the challenges that some students with disabilities have in physically accessing regular public schools, this is an important victory, and probably a much needed one given the various reports last fall regarding virtual charter scandals.  The additional web development costs to make online material accessible to disabled students are likely modest, but an easy place for online schools (or their subcontractors) to cut corners when they try to maximize profit.

April 9, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Charter Bill on the Way

Edweek reports that John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, and Rep. George Miller, the top Democrat on the panel, will introduce a bipartisan charter school bill in the coming days or weeks.  Apparently, the bill largely mirrors one that the House passed in 2011, which would have allowed charters to access federal funds to replicate successful charters, and included additional facility funds.  That bill did not make it through the Senate.

This new forthcoming bill's only significant shift from the prior bill is to place greater emphasis on funding charter management organizations, as opposed to individual charter operators.  The obvious upside is to reduce the risk in funding untested start-ups.  On the other hand,  preferencing management organizations raises the question of whether this change is a response to an organized lobby rather than  some actual data driven findings.  Funding organizations also potentially adds administrative expense onto the education process, unless the organizations' efficiencies offset the administrative costs.

April 2, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Opt-Out Education: School Choice as Racial Subordination

Osamudia R. James' new article, Opt-Out Education: School Choice as Racial Subordination, is now available on westlaw at 99 Iowa L. Rev. 1083 (2014).  Her abstract summarizes the article as follows:

Despite failure to improve academic outcomes or close the achievement gap, school-choice policies, advanced by education legislation and doctrine, have come to dominate public discourse on public education reform in the United States, with students of color disproportionately enrolling in voucher programs and charter schools. This Article moves past the typical market-based critiques of school choice to analyze the particularly racialized constraints on choice for marginalized students and their families in the public school system. The Article unpacks the blame-placing that occurs when the individualism and independence that school choice and choice rhetoric promote fail to improve academic outcomes, and the ways in which choice merely masks racial subordination and the abdication of democratic values in the school system. Students of color and their families may be opting out, but their decisions to do so neither improve public education nor reflect genuine choice. This Article ultimately argues that the values underlining school choice and choice rhetoric?like privacy, competition, independence, and liberty?are inherently incompatible with the public school system. The Article concludes by suggesting an alternate legal and rhetorical framework acknowledging the vulnerability of minority students, as well as the interdependence between white students and non-white students in the system, and it advances strict limitations on school choice, even, if necessary, in the form of compulsory universal public school education.

March 17, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Court Holds That Charter Schools Can Tap Into School Districts' Rainy Day Funds

Ne raleighCaptureThe North  Carolina Court of Appeals has issued a set of decisions in companion cases dealing with charter schools' access to locally raised funds.  In Charter Day School, Inc. v. New Hanover County Bd. of Educ., 2014 WL 619562 (2014), and Northeast Raleigh Charter Academy, Inc. v. Wake County Bd. of Educ., 2014 WL 640976 (2014), charters schools alleged that they were underfunded for the past several years, relying on a North Carolina statute that provides, “[i]f a student attends a charter school, the local school administrative unit in which the child resides shall transfer to the charter school an amount equal to the per pupil local current expense appropriation to the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year.” N.C. Gen.Stat. § 115C–238.29H(b) (2007).  The Court of Appeals in both cases held that the charter school was entitled to a pro rata share of the local current expense fund of the school district in which they are located.  The local expense fund is, in effect, the district's rainy day fund.  Funds not spent in one year are saved there for a later date.  

This holding, while a reasonable interpretation of the statute, may create some awkward deliberations for school districts.  Regardless of whether they save or do not save money, charter schools' allotment is the same.  If the district decides to save, charter schools would get their money now, whereas traditional public schools would be deferring their funds.  Theoretically, it all evens out in the end, but the notion that a charter school down the street is getting funds for the current school year that traditional public school is not will not be received well by many.

February 24, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Districts Recommit to Magnet Schools to Stave Off Charters

Magnet schools have been stagnate for some time.  For instance, as Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley detail in Choosing Diversity: School Choice and Racial Integration in the Age of Obama, 6 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 219, 244 (2010), federal funding for magnet schools has been flat since the late 1980s.  At the same time, charter school funding has been exponentially increasing.

Many districts perceive charters as non-public schools or anti-public schools.  Motoko Rich's story in the New York Times indicates that some school districts are now re-embracing magnet schools as a way to fight back or push back against the pressures of charter schools.  She points to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington as examples, but focuses on Miami, where the number of students attending magnet schools has increased 35 percent in the last four years.

For those who follow the segregation debate, this pushback is more important than just charters versus magnets or public schools.  Various reports charge charter school with exacerbating school segregation (although I have argued their point may be exagerated).  In the past, the primary purpose of magnet schools, however, has been to increase integration.  In fact, federal funding for magnet schools has been explicitly conditioned on their ability to help districts meet mandatory desegregation obligations or voluntarily desegregate.  

Beyond the differing roles that they play in segregation and their differing public school status (perceived or real), magnets and charters share a tremendous amount in common.  This commonality, however, begs the question of why the federal government and reformers have placed so much support behind charters and so little behind magnets in recent years.  Is it that they object to integrated or public schools?  My article Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, 48 Wake Forest L. Rev. 445 (2013), explores theses issues further.  It refrains from labeling charters, magnets, and vouchers as inherently "good" or "bad" schools and instead asks whether they have been implemented in ways that can promote or have promoted the overall public good, which I posit is the primary question of public education.

For the New York Times story on magnets, see here.

 

February 21, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Minnesota Legislature Considers Requiring More Accountability for Charter Schools

Charter schools were envisioned as small-scale laboratories to test innovative educational programs and to reach struggling students who could thrive with more individualized attention. Minnesota is now deciding how to deal with those charter programs that are chronically underperforming. The state legislature seems to be doing the sensible thing this week by considering legislation to require an evaluation process for the state’s lowest-performing charter schools. The proposed evaluation system could prevent charter operators with underperforming schools from opening new schools. The current proposal may make it easier to shut down 17 of the state's chronically underperforming charters. (Charters that that have a high number English language learners or special education students would be exempt.) Minnesota Public News Radio reports that the head of a 2013 study by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity says that that 25-30% of the state’s 150 charter schools are “just really terrible…considerably worse than the public schools.”

February 11, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, State law developments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Indiana's Private Schools' Creationism Curriculum Raises Questions


Slate-charter-creationism-map-e1391141275856.jpg?w=600&h=349In Indiana, Establishment Clause questions are being renewed this week about private schools that receive public funds doing what public schools cannot: teaching Christian-based intelligent design doctrine and creationism with taxpayer-funded vouchers. Indiana's South Bend Tribune reports that the state's Choice Scholarship Program funds nearly 20,000 students to attend private schools with about $81 million of public voucher funds. Some of those private schools expressly state that they do not teach evolution as part of their curriculum, substituting faith-based texts for reading, history, and science classes. A recent article in Slate shows the growing amount of tax-credit scholarship and voucher programs going to schools that teach creationism as an alternative to evolution. Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program has not been challenged under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, although the Indiana Supreme Court ruled last year that the Choice Program did not violate the state constitutional probihibition against funding religious institutions because the direct beneficiaries of the program were schoolchildren rather than the schools selected, and the state clause did not exclude religious teaching from public schools. Meredith v. Pence, 984 N.E.2d 1213 (Ind. 2013). Meredith's lawsuit challenged the state's voucher system generally (Indiana now has one of the most expansive voucher systems in the country), but Establishment Clause challenges could be coming.

February 11, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Voters Don't Know Much, But They Know They Like Choice; But Why?

A new report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, Interstate Survey: What Do Voters Say About K-12 Education in Six States?, found that heavy majorities in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York favor expanding school choice through charters, vouchers and tax-credits.  Respondents did not, however, favor all public school alternatives.  They opposed virtual schools by even larger majorities.  The Foundation uses these results to support its agenda, but these results don't impress me that much.  Instead, the overall survey results suggest knee-jerk reactions, or guesses, rather than thoughtful or personally-held positions on the part of many respondents.  

For instance, the survey also assessed respondents' basic knowledge of their state's funding levels, graduation rates, and achievement scores.  On these objective measures, a large percentage, and sometimes a majority, were way off.  Of course, not knowing the facts is not a bar to voting and, thus, policy advocates and politicians probably don't care.  But to me, these responses indicate there was a fair amount of guessing going on.  Moreover, the guessing may have been influenced by what the guessers thought the questioners or public preferred  on the issues of vouchers, charters, and tax-credits.  Consider that strong majorities indicated that they favored expanding charters, but only 8 to 14 percent of respondents indicated they would select a charter for their own child.  

The other factor is that most respondents' perception of public schools is overly-deflated. A large percent perceiving public schools to be in worse shape than they are, which helps explain why a majority prefers alternatives in various forms.  Regardless, striking to me was the percentage, who, if given the chance, would select a private school.  I find this striking because, as discussed in an earlier post, public schools on the whole outperform private schools. 

Choice Capture

*chart courtesy of Foundation for Educational Choice

Yet, there is serious danger in assuming that the majority of parents who prefer school choice and private schools do so for quality reasons.  The survey does an abysmal job of sorting this out.  The survey asked what the most important factor in selecting a school was and the answers were: standards/curriculum, structure/discipline, test scores, school/classroom size, extracurriculars, religious or philosophical missions, and location.  They did not ask, or respondents did not admit, the relevance of demographics in selecting schools, ie, the school's racial and socioeconomic statistics.  Three of these states were formerly segregated by law and another two of the northern states have extremely high levels of de facto segregation, past and present.  I would not necessarily expect respondents to admit these factors (although I have seen other studies where they did), but leaving these factors entirely out of a survey about school choice hides a key issue.

February 10, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Investing in Integration: What a Second Year Law Student Knows and the Department of Education Cannot Figure Out

Jennifer Rust, a law student at Loyola University, just published Investing in Integration: A Case for "Promoting Diversity" in Federal Education Funding Priorities, 59 Loy. L. Rev. 623 (2013).  She points out that the Department of Education "first identified school diversity as a priority in granting discretionary federal funding to schools in 2011," but this step "came nearly four years after a majority of the United States Supreme Court declared school integration a 'compelling government interest.'" and only after staunch criticism from civil rights advocates.  Moreover, it is just one of sixteen priorities and not present in all programs.  She then goes on to discuss the Department and "President Obama's rigorous support and funding for charter schools[, which has] catapulted the movement to the forefront of education reform."  

The Department's Race to the Top Fund:

provides over $4.35 billion to eligible schools and awards federal funding to states that lift the cap on the number of charters they allow to operate. However, RTF provides virtually no incentive for charters to promote diversity. Under the current plan, states can win RTF funding without any effort to reduce concentrations of poverty and racial isolation within their schools. RTF is indicative of the failure by the federal government to adequately emphasize the importance of voluntary integration in its programs.

. . .[C]harter schools are uniquely positioned to promote diversity in education, but have fixated on a flawed agenda. By prioritizing high poverty schools over all others, charters have made a failed attempt to overcome the weight of history suggesting that separate schools are not better for anyone.

I was so struck by this law student's ability to capture the Department's error by omission--something not easy to spot--that I asked the usual suspects whether they had played in any role in her work.  Thus far, the answer is no.  Ms. Rust's footnotes indicate she has read several published papers by diversity coalitions and organizations, but came to her idea and conclusion on her own. If only the Department was as observant and considerate.

January 28, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Republican Choice Agenda Explains the Fervor in Louisiana's Voucher Battle

Stephanie Simon's article in Politico Pro this morning explains a lot about the Jindal-DOJ-Voucher fiasco that I have posted on several times.  Simon explores the new Republican agenda to attract minority voters through school choice.  High profile congressional leaders have been pushing choice and the the Republican Growth and Opportunity Project included it as a fulcrum issue.  They believe that, at the very least, talking about choice and opportunity for minorities will soften the party's image.  Even if it doesn't equal minority votes, it could equal votes from moderates.

This concerted national agenda confirms the continual suspicion in my posts that something beneath the surface of Louisiana voucher case was driving Jindal's fervor.  I had intimated it was simply his stumbling across an issue that provided a platform for a national spotlight.  While it achieved that end, it now seems it was probably spurred on by the national party; remember the random editorial by the Chicago Tribune, the letters of support from Cantor, and the outside research by choice advocates.  This effort now seems concerted, not happenstance.  The party had likely been lying in wait to find a case it could blow out of proportion.  All this effort, however, does not seem to account for the fact that this is not the first time the party has tried this strategy.  As James Foreman detailed in The Rise and Fall of School Vouchers: A Story of Religion, Race and Politics, 54 UCLA L. REV. 547 (2007), the republican party and the religious right sought to use minority support as a means by which to present vouchers in religious neutral terms, but the movement for vouchers eventual fell apart because it was not genuine in its commitment to minorities and they recognized it.  With that said, the increased availability and ease of charter schools also disincentivized voucher policies.  Regardless, this means the Louisiana voucher fight will not be the last.  Whether voters will be more receptive to the national agenda than last time remains to be seen.

 

 

January 22, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jindal Switches Tactics in Battle Over Louisiana Voucher Program: End Desegregation

The last time we saw activity in the Louisiana voucher case things were deescalating.  My reading of Jindal's comments then was that he was disappointed.  This was a fight with DOJ that he was itching to drag out.  Playing the victim served any number of local and national political ends.  It took him six weeks, but Jindal figured out a way to revive the fight.  Since there was not much more to say about vouchers (because DOJ is only asking for reporting data), Jindal has now moved to terminate the underlying desegregation order altogether.  

The underlying order arose out of a 1976 case, Brumfield v. Dodd decision, in which Louisiana had facilitated white flight out of integrating public schools into segregated private schools--the same concern DOJ has with the current voucher program.  The burden for terminating desegregation orders generally rests with the state, but in an interesting turn, Jindal's argument attempts to flip the burden.  By his reasoning, unless DOJ can show the current program is violation, the state is entitled to terminate the standing order.  As noted in earlier posts, the reason why DOJ has always, at least procedurally, been on the right side of this case is that, once a violation was found (in Brumfield), it is the state that must show its policies do not perpetuate segregation, not the plaintiff who must show that they do.

Given recent history, I am sure there will be something new to report soon.

January 9, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Decision on the Constitutionality of Washington's Charter Schools: They Do Not Fit Within the Uniform System

Just two weeks after hearing arguments regarding the constitutionality of Washington's Charter Law, the trial court has issued its opinion.  The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that legislature had improperly delegated its educational duties and that the funding mechanisms for the charters were unconstitutional.  The court, however, agreed with one of the plaintiffs' key theories and issued language making the point that anti-charter advocates have been screaming for over a decade.  On the question of whether charter schools are "common schools" and part of the constitutionally required "general and uniform system of education," the court wrote that under existing case law in the state:

the legislature cannot "by any designation or definition" establish a common school that does not meet the minimum constitutional criteria.  [That precedent] has not been overruled. . . . A charter school cannot be defined as a common school because it is not under the control of the voters of the school district.  The statute places control under a private non-profit organization, a local charter board and/or the Charter Commission.

But the court followed that holding with the conclusion that, on their face, charter schools were not  inconsistent with the obligation to provide an adequate education.  To make that claim, the plaintiffs will have to show an actual deficiency in the quality of particular charter schools.  The court said the same in regard to whether the Act removed the State Superintendent's constitutional supervisory authority.  While the Act potentially could remove the Superintendent's authority, the court indicated that the statute on its face was did not require a removal of authority.  Thus, plaintiffs would need to demonstrate some specific factual instance where this ocurred.

The Center for Educational Reform, a charter advocacy group, rushed to ward off the notion that the case was a loss for charters.  In its press release, it wrote:

Egged on by hyperbolic media headlines, teacher union chiefs and their anti-reform surrogates declared the Washington state charter school law unconstitutional, treating it as the kiss of death to innovative educational solutions in the Evergreen State. However, the ruling actually upholds the law’s constitutionality, albeit not to its fullest, which no doubt sets up an appeal decision in an attempt to satisfy one side or the other.

. . .

According to leading interpretations of the judgment, the law itself is constitutional, allowing for the approval of charter schools to move forward in 2014. But the judge also ruled charter schools don’t fit the definition of a “common school” stipulated in the state constitution, which could present a barrier to receiving facilities funding from the state budget.

At the end of the day, all of this represents the feeble attempt at which the teacher unions and like-minded allies are trying circumvent the democratic process and impose their will on students and families in need of better schooling options. . . .

By "leading interpretations," the Center means a local newspaper, not a legal scholar.  My reading is that holding that charters are outside of the definition of common schools is huge because the state has a constitutional obligation to common schools, but none to charters, even if charters might otherwise be legally created.  This is key because when budgets are lean the constitution will demand that common schools are first in line.  Moreover, the court left open the availability of a factual legal challenge to charters' qualitative adequacy and their supervisory structure.  

Does this mean Washington cannot create charters? No.  Does it mean that charters lack the unfettered access to funding and freedom from standards that charter advocates want?  Yes.

With that said, this case will undoubtably make its way to the state supreme court for the final word.

December 18, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 13, 2013

New Voucher Lawsuit Uses School Finance Litigation to Make Its Claim

Last night, LaJuana posted the lawsuit by a group of educators and taxpayers challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina's recently enacted voucher program.  I wanted to add a little more commentary on how the case fits into the broader framework of voucher and school finance litigation.

The plaintiffs rely on school finance precedent and specific language in the state constitution to argue that the program is unconstitutional.  First, the North Carolina Constitution indicates that state funds deriving from public lands and proceeds that are set aside for education "shall be paid into the State Treasury and, together with so much of the revenue of the State as may be set apart for that purpose, shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”  Thus, the use of any of these funds for private vouchers is a violation.

Second, the state supreme court has held that, "[u]nder the North Carolina Constitution, the State must provide all students an opportunity to receive a sound basic education."  But the state has yet to fulfill that guarantee for all students and, thus, the diversion of resources away from meeting this obligation is a violation of the constitution.

Third, even if one could characterize the voucher program as somehow being part of the delivery of public education, it would still violate the constitutional requirement of a "uniform system of public schools."  The voucher program is essentially standardless and makes no attempt to ensure the constitutionally mandated uniformity of opportunity between voucher students and public school students.

In many respects, this lawsuit mirrors Bush v. Holmes, 919 S.. 2d 392 (Fla. 2006), in which the Florida Supreme Court held that the state's  voucher program was an unconstitutional diversion of public education funds to private schools.  Both cases draw on the same type of explicit

Continue reading

December 13, 2013 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Will the Word “Exclusively” in the State Constitution Make a Difference in N.C. Suit to Stop Vouchers?

School-vouchersIn a lawsuit filed yesterday in Wake County, North Carolina, plaintiffs are relying on the word “exclusively” to argue that private school voucher funding is unconstitutional in North Carolina. This summer, North Carolina became one of thirteen states to offer tuition tax credit vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools. Before 2013, the state had never appropriated public funds directly for private school education. (Readers may remember the voucher law’s controversial passage—the provision was buried in a huge budget bill that passed in the wee hours of the session—that helped spark Moral Mondays demonstrations.) Unlike its sister states, however, the North Carolina constitution provides that public education funds are to be "used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools." That language is not just verbiage, argue the 25 plaintiffs, who are an interesting mix of a former state education superintendent, parents, teachers, the daughter of Julius Chambers, and a prominent Republican county chairperson. The N.C. Constitution gives an express right to education and requires the General Assembly to provide “for a general and uniform system of free public schools.” The Constitution then provides that that education revenue “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.” That language means, the plaintiffs allege, that the state cannot transfer taxpayer dollars from public schools to any institutions outside of the public school system. The plaintiffs also object to the lack of oversight and restrictions on private schools, stating in the complaint that “[t]he Voucher Legislation does not include any enforcement or accountability provisions to ensure that institutions receiving vouchers do not exclude minority students, disabled students, or students from poor families.” If the voucher law is upheld, eligible students could receive up to $4,200 starting next August to attend private or religious schools. The lawsuit is being sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the North Carolina Justice Center. Read the complaint here.

December 12, 2013 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pennsylvania Charter School Reform Bill Advances through the State Legislature

The Pennsylvania legislature is expected to act this month on a hotly contested bill to reduce funding to the state’s 15 cyber charter schools but release all charters from local school district control.  For example, under the proposed law, the Philadelphia school district would have no authority over charter schools in its area, but would still be obligated to pay $708 million of its funding to them. Education advocates are concerned that removing local control of charter schools will place an unbearable financial burden on already-troubled school districts like Philadelphia. The Education Law Center of Philadelphia (ELC) is even more concerned about a provision that allows any Pennsylvania higher education institution with 2,000 students the power to authorize new charter schools. About 100 higher education institutions have 2,000 students, so the provision could lead to an exponential growth in public charter schools with no input from local school districts. Given that every higher ed institution is looking for new income streams, the ELC’s prediction is likely correct that colleges and universities will enthusiastically take on the challenge of charter schools if the provision passes. Derek’s recent post on Pennsylvania Staying on the Bandwagon to Halt Cyber Charters questioned poorly-conceived start-stop education policies. States like Pennsylvania throw their doors open for cyber-charters and then put moratoriums on them when something goes wrong--in Pennsylvania’s case widespread fraud. To be fair, the back-and-forth on charter schools generally (and cybers particularly) is tied to who has the power at any given time. Read more here

December 9, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

North Carolina Court of Appeals Holds that State Board Can Refuse to Act on Virtual Charter School Application

The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a superior court's decision yesterday that the State Board of Education could refuse to act on a virtual charter school's application. According to North Carolina station WRAL.com, the appellate court found that "[u]nder state law, the State Board of Education 'is vested with sole authority regarding charter schools in North Carolina, including all decisions regarding the formation and operation of such school.' " The case highlights some of the complexities of having parallel authorizing procedures for new schools. When the North Carolina legislature lifted the 100-school cap on charter schools in 2011, it did not address virtual charter school programs. Following the new law, the State Board of Education (SBE) developed a “Fast Track” approval process limited to traditional charter schools.  In November 2011, a nonprofit organization called North Carolina Learns (NCL), created by online education company K12, Inc., submitted a Fast Track application to open the North Carolina Virtual Academy.  NCL and K12, Inc., brokered a deal in 2012 with the Cabarrus County's School Board to set up a charter school with a statewide reach. According to WRAL.com, NCL agreed to pay 4 percent of its revenue to the school system in Cabarrus, located north of Charlotte, as well as pay K12." NCL was approved to open by the Cabarrus County Board of Education (CCBE), with the caveat that “[i]f the preliminary charter entity is other than the State Board of Education please contact the Office of Charter Schools for guidance.” NCL did not do that, but did forward its application to the SBE. The SBE did not respond, having announced in October 2011 (before NCL's application) that it would not approve any virtual charter schools in the 2012-13 school year. The rebuff prompted NCL to sue, arguing that the SBE's failure to respond to NCL's application within the Fast Track period stripped the agency of jurisdiction over the matter. NCL argued that its application should be approved by operation of law. See N.C.G.S. § 115C-238.29D(a). Last year, a North Carolina Superior Court judge held that SBE was within its discretionary power to ignore NCL's application, reasoning that a local board of education "is not experienced in, nor equipped as the SBE, with the staff and know-how to review, evaluate, and approve the application of a charter school designed to serve a statewide clientele, nor is it authorized to give final approval for such operation." Read more about North Carolina State Board of Education v. North Carolina Learns, Inc. here.

December 4, 2013 in Cases, Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oral Arguments in Constitutional Challenge to Washington's Charter School Law

In July, a group filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington's charter law. The complaint included the standard arguments about funding and uniformity, but also included the relatively unique claim that the charter school structure moved the control of those schools outside of the authority of the state superintendent, violating the constitutional provision that provides:

The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law. He shall receive an annual salary of twenty-five hundred dollars, which may be increased by law, but shall never exceed four thousand dollars per annum.

Wash. Const. Art. 3, § 22.

Late last week, the trial court heard oral arguments in the case.  A local media outlet, Kumo News, summarized the proceeding:

The state attorney general's office, representing the people of Washington, argued the charter law enhances education in Washington and does not circumvent anything in the state Constitution or the court decisions that have clarified sections on education.

. . .

Charter school opponents, represented by Attorney Paul Lawrence, say the law passed by voters last year is unconstitutional because it interferes with the state's obligation to pay for public schools, set a uniform curriculum and establish other rules. Lawrence also argued the law takes authority granted by the Constitution away from the superintendent of public instruction and from the Legislature.

However Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier said the charter does exactly what the Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to do: continue to innovate and change to meet the needs of Washington children.

"There's just not enough here to overturn the voters' will in this case," Stolier said. The state is asking the court to grant a motion for summary judgment and stop the lawsuit from going forward.

Both attorneys - and a third lawyer representing the sponsors of the charter school initiative - quoted extensively from recent Supreme Court decisions on education, with a major focus on what's known as the McCleary decision, in which the court ruled that the way the state pays for education is unconstitutional.

One would assume that plaintiffs' primary concerns are the funding shifts and lack of uniformity, but as noted in my earlier posts their strongest claim may be the one in regard to the superintendent.  Unlike other school financing claims, there is a technical hook here and the charter school statute seems to explicitly violate it.

November 27, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pennsylvania Staying on the Bandwagon to Halt Cyber Charters: How Did We Get to This Point?

Pa doeCaptureOver the past six months, a growing number of states have either ended their virtual charter school or placed a temporary moratorium on them.  Late in the summer, I posted on Chicago, Maine, and North Carolina.  Shortly thereafter, Florida followed.  In some instances, the impetus was low quality and negative study findings.  In other instances, the impetus was outright scandal, the largest of which was in Pennsylvania and led to a federal indictment.  Now, the Education Law Center is asking Pennsylvania to join the list of moratorium states.  At the very least, the Center asks the state to refrain from granting new charters, citing poor performance, high student turnover, fraud, and a huge price tag.  But according the the Pennsylvania Department of Education, it lacks the statutory authority to impose a moratorium. In the meantime, the Department has been denying cyber applications on a case by case basis.  Last year, it denied all eight cyber charter applications.  This year it has six new applications.  My guess is that it will deny them as well.  If it does, the moratorium would be de facto if not explicit.

Stepping back from the particular merits of cyber charters, education policy in this area unprincipled.  On the one hand, cyber charters, like other charters, were ushered into these states with almost no strings attached.  Now that those "chickens have come home to roost," states are taking the opposite approach and banning them altogether.  Whether you are a friend or foe of cyber charters, this makes little sense.  A category of schools does not go from inherently good and trustworthy to inherently bad in a matter of a few short years.  The closer truth is that they are probably neither, but simply the product of poor conceived legislation.  A little more thoughtfulness on the front end about how to fund them could have avoided many of these problems.  Bruce Baker and Justin Bathon's recent guide is an excellent example of this thoughtfulness.

November 26, 2013 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)