NC Expected to Take Leading Role in Education Reform – Dan Way, Carolina Journal

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Unified state government, expansion of charter schools cited as reasons
By Dan Way
Nov. 19th, 2012

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — The number of students attending public charter schools continues to rise, and Durham Public Schools is ranked 21st nationally, the only district in North Carolina with 10 percent or more of its students in charter schools.

Meanwhile, the school choice movement continues to be the object of major research, and analysts in North Carolina and other states are examining with heightened interest an education savings accounts program quickly growing in Arizona.

In its just-released report “A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools calls charter schools “the fastest-growing sector of America’s public education system.”

There are more than 2 million students — nearly 5 percent of the national school population — enrolled in charter schools in 41 states and the District of Columbia, the annual report said.

“Today, a record number of school districts — seven — have at least 30 percent of their public school students enrolled in public charter schools,” the report said.

Charter schools in New Orleans enroll 76 percent of public school students. A total of 25 school districts have 20 percent or more of their public school students enrolled in charter schools, 18 more than when the first report was published seven years ago.

More than 100 districts now have at least 10 percent of public school students in charter schools, including Durham Public Schools, which enrolls 3,450 students in its nine charter schools and 32,654 in noncharter schools.

The report “is a reminder of what is happening in North Carolina — that families are demanding high quality educational options,” Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said in a written statement.

There will be 132 charter schools in North Carolina in 2013.

“The fact that these schools can individualize their curriculum to a student’s particular needs while producing results is why the demand for public charters is growing across North Carolina,” Allison said. He hopes to see the number grow, particularly in rural areas.

According to the report, there are more than 610,000 students nationwide on waiting lists to attend charter schools. In North Carolina, more than 30,000 families are on charter school waiting lists.

School choice was a hot topic here last week at the 20th annual meeting of the State Policy Network. John Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., led a discussion of reform efforts among national education leaders and public policy experts. Butcher will be the featured speaker at the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society luncheon at noon Monday.

As school choice continues to resonate with parents, states such as Arizona are shifting energy toward education savings accounts.

“I do think that Education Savings Accounts are the future. They are school choice 2.0,” Butcher said. “Think of health savings accounts … and take that and put it in the world of education. The parents essentially become private contractors for the state, for education.”

Under the program Butcher described — which has been adopted on a limited level in the Grand Canyon State — the state takes 90 percent of the money a school district would receive to educate a child and puts it into a limited-use debit account operated by the family. The money can be used for private schools, licensed therapists, tutors, textbooks, and other materials. Unspent money can be rolled into a college savings account.

“Financial accountability and academic accountability are two very important things, but they’ve got to be crafted in a precise way,” for this program to work as it expands, Butcher said.

“We don’t want to make it something that is unusable by parents, and it’s critical that it’s something that parents are required to report to the state,” he said.

“This is a program that leaves behind us debates about what is a good school, what defines a good school, and how do we get kids in just a good school,” Butcher said.

“We need to talk about effective programs, effective tutors, effective online courses, effective private schools,” Butcher said “And we need to be thinking about how do we give a child a great experience in K-12 and beyond, and that’s what education savings accounts do, they allow us to craft such a program.”

Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, has been monitoring the Arizona model, which Florida and Ohio legislatures have rejected to date.

“North Carolina should consider the education savings account model. It gives families nearly complete control over education dollars and, thus, nearly complete control over the education of their children,” he said.
Stoops said state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, has been one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic proponents of school choice in the General Assembly.

“Many legislators look to his leadership in the area,” Stoops said. “The growing market share of charter schools in North Carolina is a testament to the popularity and success of these public schools of choice.”

Legislators relaxed the charter enrollment restrictions and lifted the 100-school cap on charters in 2011, “so I expect that the market share of charter schools, particularly in urban and suburban counties, will grow exponentially,” Stoops said.

“In 2013, I believe that North Carolina will join Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana as leaders in the school reform movement,” Stoops said.

The Arizona program started with 400 special needs students of 125,000 eligible because they had either an Individual Education Plan or a 504 plan. In the spring Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill allowing children of active-duty military families, students adopted from the state’s foster care system, and students in failing schools to participate in the 2013-14 school year.

The expansion grants eligibility to up to 200,000 students, or 20 percent of statewide enrollment.

As school choice gains momentum, Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, said reformers should be aware of research with public policy implications. It shows that up to a third of private school students transferring to charter schools are using vouchers, and tax credits end up being less regulated than vouchers.

McCluskey said polling shows people have an emotional attachment to public schools and believe they are “what keeps us from becoming Balkanized.” But intrigued by a body of anecdotal evidence, he is currently researching a hypothesis that the opposite may be true.

One-size-fits-all, traditional government school models attempt to instill shared values, culture, and traditions. That creates conflict because students maintain deeply held beliefs, values, racial and cultural practices and behaviors, political preferences, and religious affiliations they may not be willing to compromise, McCluskey said.

“What they think is binding us is tending to rip us apart,” McCluskey said of the ubiquitous public school model. “It’s dividing us and it’s giving us terrible academic outcomes.”

“Arizona has long been a leader in providing educational options to families, and we should monitor the implementation of their ESA program closely. If the program lives up to the promise, then North Carolina should not hesitate to replicate it here,” Stoops said.

“I am certain that the Republicans will introduce a handful of tax credit scholarship bills in the upcoming legislative session,” Stoops said. “Legislative leaders will build on the success of the special needs tax credit passed in2011.”

Stoops said state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, has been one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic proponents of school choice in the General Assembly.

“Many legislators look to his leadership in the area,” Stoops said. “The growing market share of charter schools in North Carolina is a testament to the popularity and success of these public schools of choice.”

Legislators relaxed the charter enrollment restrictions and lifted the 100-school cap on charters in 2011, “so I expect that the market share of charter schools, particularly in urban and suburban counties, will grow exponentially,” Stoops said.

“In 2013, I believe that North Carolina will join Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana as leaders in the school reform movement,” Stoops said.

The Arizona program started with 400 special needs students of 125,000 eligible because they had either an Individual Education Plan or a 504 plan. In the spring Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill allowing children of active-duty military families, students adopted from the state’s foster care system, and students in failing schools to participate in the 2013-14 school year.

The expansion grants eligibility to up to 200,000 students, or 20 percent of statewide enrollment.

As school choice gains momentum, Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, said reformers should be aware of research with public policy implications. It shows that up to a third of private school students transferring to charter schools are using vouchers, and tax credits end up being less regulated than vouchers.

McCluskey said polling shows people have an emotional attachment to public schools and believe they are “what keeps us from becoming Balkanized.” But intrigued by a body of anecdotal evidence, he is currently researching a hypothesis that the opposite may be true.

One-size-fits-all, traditional government school models attempt to instill shared values, culture, and traditions. That creates conflict because students maintain deeply held beliefs, values, racial and cultural practices and behaviors, political preferences, and religious affiliations they may not be willing to compromise, McCluskey said.

“What they think is binding us is tending to rip us apart,” McCluskey said of the ubiquitous public school model. “It’s dividing us and it’s giving us terrible academic outcomes.”

Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.

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