by Jordan Green

Take it as a given that the state General Assembly will pass legislation to increase teacher pay when it reconvenes for the short session on April 25, albeit somewhere below the 5-percent raise Gov. Pat McCrory wants.

Improving teacher salaries is the kind of popular public policy the governor can take to the voters, in addition to the infrastructure bond referendum that passed last month, in his reelection bid. He’s the only one who will have to face voters across the state in November, but the ultra-conservatives in the legislature who are protected by gerrymandering owe McCrory big time after he signed HB 2.

But also expect the emboldened Republican super-majority to aggressively push through a legislative agenda that radically promotes for-profit education while punishing students in poor, low-achieving schools.

The NC School Board Association is closely monitoring a proposal by state Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) to create a so-called Achievement School District. The proposal, released in the form of draft legislation in January, would yank five low-performing schools across North Carolina from the control of local school boards and place them under the administration of a statewide Achievement School District to be operated by a private company contracted by the state.

The model of states superseding local control of education by turning academically struggling schools over to charters was pioneered in 2003 in Louisiana, where it rapidly expanded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Tennessee followed suit in 2010, and Michigan got in the game in 2013. Parallel to taking control of local schools, the state of Michigan also placed the city of Flint in receivership, with disastrous consequences when citizens were exposed to lead poisoning from the water in Flint River. It should be obvious that opaque administration and lack of local accountability invites abuse and undermines democracy.

A study by the New York-based Center for Popular Democracy found that takeover districts in Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan failed to improve test scores, while metrics were “altered from year to year, confounding accountability and transparency.”

The authors wrote, “Additionally, lawsuits and student protests demonstrate that when local oversight is stripped away, children may face harmful practices such as discriminatory enrollment, punitive disciplinary measures, and inadequate access to special education resources. Students suffer in the wake of high teacher turnover and personnel instability brought on by the rushed firing of staff. Finally, we find that a consistent lack of oversight can create an environment rife with fraud and mismanagement, where private interests gain financially while taxpayers, students and teachers are left behind. We conclude that takeover districts actually hinder children’s chances of academic success rather than improving them.”

As further warning that the Republican lawmakers intend to take away control and funding from public education, take it from Bryan Holloway, a former Republican lawmaker who now works as a lobbyist for the NC School Board Association.

A remarkable story published by the Elkin Tribune on March 30 quotes Holloway as telling the Elkin City School Board: “There could be numerous education bills go through in this short session you may not like at all.”

Last year, the state Senate approved legislation to shift funding from public schools to charters, including federal child nutrition funds, even though many charter schools don’t provide free lunch, prompting sharp criticism from many Democratic lawmakers. The House could move on the legislation and present it for Gov. McCrory’s signature in the short session.

If that’s not strange enough, the article also quotes Holloway as saying, “A bill to eliminate school boards throughout the state we’ve been told is going to be introduced. I don’t think it has legs to go anywhere, but because they are brazen enough to even be willing to file it means you’ll probably have to deal with it in the future.”

The General Assembly started down this path in 2014 when they passed a law to give every public school in the state a letter grade from A to F. Predictably, the schools that consistently earn Ds and Fs are the ones that serve communities with concentrated poverty.

Fortunately, teachers and principals see very clearly what our lawmakers in Raleigh are trying to do.

“They are putting a big red X on the schools that already have a big red X on them,” Michelle Wolverton, the principal at Hunter Elementary in Greensboro, told a few intrepid souls who braved the blustery cold for a Rally for Public Education at Greensboro’s Governmental Plaza on April 9. “They have a big red X on them because of poverty. They have a big red X on them because a high percentage of the students are immigrants. They have a big red X on them because of poverty and because the economics are not equal.”

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