Privatizing problem public schools

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015


NC News Service

RALEIGH – A proposal that would privatize or close low-performing school systems in the state and take control away from local school districts is among the programs being considered by North Carolina lawmakers in the extended session.

The low-performing school districts would be called Achievement School Districts. Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg County, is crafting the legislation. Supporters say the plan could help underperforming schools.

Tennessee tried a similar model in 2012, and today the majority of schools in that program remain in the bottom five percent in terms of performance.

Mark Jewell, spokesman for the North Carolina Association of Educators, is among those concerned about the legislation.

“The details are being hashed out behind closed doors, so we don’t know exactly what the plan is going to look like for the Achievement School District,” he said. “The Achievement School District has not proven to be a great strategy for turning around underperforming schools.”

If the legislation is passed, the five underperforming school districts would be selected by Nov. 15 and the handoff could take place as early as the 2016-17 school year. Jewell said he is concerned about the loss of accountability if Achievement School Districts are put in place.

“Basically what this is doing is taking five schools in North Carolina and converting them into charter control,” he said, “with no accountability and transparency, and not a proven track record of success.”

While the identity of the five underperforming school districts is not known at this time, the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education sent a strongly worded letter to the Halifax County Board of Education earlier this month, saying it will immediately take a more direct role in the district’s budget, employment decisions and student course assignment decisions.

The letter, signed by William B. Cobey Jr., says he is “writing, once again, out of the utmost concern for the children of Halifax County Schools.”

The letter says the state board “is united in its resolve to assist students of HCS to receive the opportunity for a sound, basic education. With the start of the 2015-2016 school year a few days away, it is clear that the HCS board and leadership are unable or unwilling to make sound financial decisions in order to sustain a financially viable school district. To our dismay, irresponsible decisions by the HCS Board signal a failure to cooperate with the recommendations by the SBE’s designees.”

The letter notes in 2009, after years of chronic poor academic performance, the county agreed to comply with a court order in which it would fully cooperate with the state board to improve educational opportunities and provide all students with the equal opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education. The letter also notes the school system was to independently exercise its judicial functions and to appear and testify at any future hearing in the case involving the court for not taking action or voting against any proposals endorsed by the state board or its designees.

It is the second strongly worded letter to the school system written by Cobey since one sent in 2013.