by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
At the beginning of the week, I had planned to write a summary of this week’s Leandro hearing. It turned out to be a much more eventful week than I expected.
In a 4-3 decision, the NC Supreme Court ruled that the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income families, is constitutional. Obviously I am pleased with the outcome, but I am even happier about the timing. The expected release date for the next batch of Supreme Court opinions is late August, which would have put voucher parents in a difficult bind. Instead, the court issued an opinion in July, something they had not done since 2005. Here are a few reactions to the news (via Twitter).
According to the News & Observer’s "Under the Dome" Twitter account,
Public Schools First, in statement on Sup Ct. voucher ruling: This is the end of public schools in NC as we know it.
Democratic state representative Tricia Cotham tweeted,
"So now all of sudden
#Ncga GOP Leadership is concerned about poor kids. #vouchers"
Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch has some specific concerns,
Many voucher schools, using your money, teach that slaves were treated well & humans coexisted w/dinosaurs http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2013/10/09/wheres-the-accountability/ …
As one would expect, Republicans, conservative activists, and school choice advocates applauded the NC Supreme Court majority for upholding the constitutionality of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program. Former Democratic legislator and CarolinaCAN executive director Marcus Brandon joined them.
For three days, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning heard testimony related to the Leandro v. State court case, which deals with the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a "sound, basic education" to all public school students.
Judge Manning did not issue an order at the conclusion of the hearing, so the waiting game begins.
Although the testimony included a wealth of interesting opinions from state education officials and others, the most interesting statement came from Judge Manning, who declared that the employment of long-term substitute teachers was unconstitutional.
According to Alex Granados of EducationNC,
Manning: says long term sub is violation of child’s constitutional right to good education
Certainly, Judge Manning may have something specific in mind, such as the employment of non-certified long-term substitute teachers or hiring long-term substitutes at the beginning of the school year. If not, large districts in particular will encounter mind-boggling staffing problems.
The NC Senate passed legislation that would move charter school oversight from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to the State Board of Education (SBE). The House will consider the bill sometime in the next few weeks.
Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson tweeted,
Moving charter schools from DPI to State Board is similar to my saying that I am moving from my current house to my current house.
She is right. If moved to the SBE, the Office of Charter Schools would still need to cooperate with DPI to assist North Carolina’s charters. But if the move is as trivial as Superintendent Atkinson claims it is, then there is no reason to object to it.
The larger question is why charter school advocates have asked lawmakers for the change. Has DPI become a toxic environment for the Office of Charter Schools? Is there a double standard for district and charter schools? In sum, what precipitated the change? If there have been ongoing problems, then perhaps this is a worthwhile change. If it is a knee-jerk reaction to a few isolated incidents, then surely there are better ways to address it.
Acronym of the Week
#NCGA — [hashtag] North Carolina General Assembly
Quote of the Week
"I came to office promising to defend and expand educational opportunities for all children and all families regardless of circumstance. Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is a victory for every parent whose child is being underserved in North Carolina. This is a victory for choice, and it’s a victory for North Carolina students and their families."
– Governor Pat McCrory, July 23 press release
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