Charter schools snatch another exception

Jul 31, 2014

A bill is currently sitting on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk that would exempt some North Carolina charter schools from disclosing the salaries of employees.

Under the Open Meetings and Public Records Acts, the salaries of public school teachers are open to the public because they are funded with taxpayer money. Legislators who have supported charter schools have been fighting for years to make people understand that a charter school is a public school, but then here they are making charters less accountable for the public funds they are receiving.

Senate Bill 793 states that charter schools being managed by for-profit companies are not required to make public the salaries of employees even though those salaries are state funded. Charter schools that operate as nonprofits would still have to release their employees’ salaries. But it shouldn’t matter whether the school is managed as a nonprofit or for-profit because the fact remains that those salaries are publicly funded and the public deserves to know how its money is being spent.

The entire purpose of the Open Records Act is to provide safeguards against government abuse and corruption. Any entity or program receiving tax money should be accountable for that money by allowing the public to inspect the records and see how that money is being spent.

This law also creates a sizeable loophole for organizations starting a charter school. It seems like more charter schools would move toward being managed by a for-profit business if it would allow them more secrecy. Placing restrictions on public information is a slippery slope, especially when it involves a new public education venture like charter schools.

Ben Butler, the school director for the charter school forming in Haywood County, said this legislation would not affect Shining Rock Classical Academy. Shining Rock will be operated by a local board and will not have a management company, meaning its teachers’ salaries are public record.

A recent study done by the University of Arkansas found that North Carolina gives about 17 percent less funding to charters than traditional schools yet the achievement scores measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at charters are much higher in math and reading.

If in fact charters are outperforming traditional schools with less money, administrators should be more than happy to share their financial information with the public. If charter schools want to be considered public schools and take public money, they need to operate under the same rules as everyone else.

Gov. McCrory has a clear choice in this matter. He needs to do the right thing and veto this bill.

Comments (7)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 31, 2014 18:13

Hmmm.  I'm starting to think the strategy is to start a shift toward pay per student and less about pay per teacher.  If that's the case, then I could understand why we might not care HOW a school does its business - so long as students keep electing to go there and they perform well.  That would be a huge shift but one that might be interesting to consider.  Taxpayers would then be concerned with how much per student and not how much per teacher.  It would be left to schools to figure out what the best "secret sauce" is to get the best education and keep students enrolling in their school.  Some schools might try paying teachers a bigger share -- others less.  Good teachers would naturally gravitate to those schools who pay more and that would undoubtedly cause students to favor those schools.  Yes, if that's where we're going, it might be a good thing.  Whoever drafts these bills though should explain them.  This brief opinion piece clearly says "I don't like it and here's why" -- but what's missing is the "why you should like it" from the bill's sponsor.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 01, 2014 10:07

              Unless and/or until N.C. legislators change OUR N.C. Constitutional mandates, public moneys cannot be used to create private schools, which is one of the goals of the John Birch Society handbook. Another is funding religious oriented schools verses secular. That and home-schoolers want pay for their duplicity.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Aug 01, 2014 11:16

"Unless and/or until N.C. legislators change OUR N.C. Constitutional mandates, public moneys cannot be used to create private schools" -- How would providing scholarships be any more unconstitutional than the Excellence in Public Schools Act that expands public school operations for summer camps -- beyond the constitutional requirement of a 9-month public school term?


"Another is funding religious oriented schools verses secular." -- Article 9 Section 1: "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."  Notice RELIGION is the first item on the list of things necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind.  Allowing scholarships to schools that may be affiliated with religion is directly compatible with Article 9 Section 1 so long as the choice to be religious is that of the student and not the government.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 01, 2014 13:39

         Article 9 Section 1. is not legally binding. It sets out no commands as to governance.    


 This is from N.C Ratifying convention:

20. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men have an equal, natural, and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.

             It takes precedence. As does the 1st Amendments establishment clause. and "No taxation without representation!".

             Taxes may not be used to promote religious opinion. Except that We most certainly should teach the Deistic notion of Naturally inherent inalienable rights as given by a God that by definition chose to never interfere after the original creation. This is not an establishment of any particular religious opinion, but creates a basis from which all opinions were derived.



Posted by: John C Sanderson | Aug 02, 2014 17:05

First of all, I want to thank The Mountaineer for taking the position that charter schools should at least be held to the same standards as traditional public schools when it comes to financial disclosure about how taxpayer dollars are spent in them. This is a “common sense” position, and I have a difficult time understanding what possible rationale could be offered to justify Senate Bill 793, which would make charter schools being managed by “for-profit” companies exempt from the requirements of the Open Meetings and Public Records Act. It would seem that at least some of these publicly funded “for-profit” operations, for some reason or another, do not want the general public to be able to find out exactly how their tax dollars are being spent in them, and that is completely unacceptable. Again, I applaud The Mountaineer for taking this position in opposition to Senate Bill 793.

That said, I do have some serious concerns with one of the statements offered in the body of your editorial, and I would like to address those concerns. The statement in question reads as follows:

"A recent study done by the University of Arkansas found that North Carolina gives about 17 percent less funding to charters than traditional schools yet the achievement scores measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at charters are much higher in math and reading."

With all due respect, I think your reference to this particular “study” offers a far too simplified, incomplete, and therefore, misleading picture of this study and its conclusions. I believe closer consideration of the nature of the study cited, as well as the researchers involved in conducting this study, are in order before referencing this study as evidence that charter schools may be outperforming traditional schools in NC. Allow me to offer some additional - and quite relevant - information regarding the study you cited and the people associated with it.

1. The study was conducted by the Department of Education Reform (EDRE) at the University of Arkansas. EDRE is the newest department in the U. of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions.

2. EDRE was created in 2005, as a result of a $10 million anonymous "private gift" and $10 million from the university's Matching Gift Program. I have to wonder what individual had both the means and the desire to give such a generous “gift” to the Univ. of Arkansas, as well as what that individual’s motivations for his/her generosity might have been. But the public cannot find out this information ….. shades of Senate Bill 793??

3. The person chosen to be EDRE department head was Jay P. Greene, PhD. Prior to this appointment, Greene worked for five years as a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative "think tank" founded by William J. Casey, President Ronald Reagan's CIA director. Greene's focus in his career so far has been on "school choice," and he has written a couple of books and numerous articles arguing strongly in favor of using taxpayer funds for school vouchers and other “school choice” initiatives. Greene, in other words, is hardly an unbiased scholar. Rather, he is someone who came to his current position with a clearly established bias and a record of trying to expand so-called “school choice” efforts. Is it possible that the individual who so generously gave $10 million to the Univ. of Arkansas specifically sought out Dr. Greene to lead EDRE because of his clear and unquestioned efforts to justify and expand vouchers, etc? Again, the public can’t find that out.

4. The seemingly impressive conclusions you cite from this "study" about the effectiveness of charter schools have been reported primarily in the Carolina Journal, a media arm of The John Locke Foundation, perhaps(??) in the hopes that mainstream media outlets would pick up on this message of supposed charter school superiority and spread the “news” through references much like those The Mountaineer made in this editorial.

5. From the Carolina Journal Online report comes the following information about the study itself:

* One of the authors of the report said: "Our report isn’t really a study of absolute achievement levels, but how much bang do you get for your buck..." So, this "study" is not looking at comparing "absolute achievement levels" between charters and traditional schools, which are fairly easy to determine (i.e., by looking at the actual National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] scores). Rather, it is reporting the results these researchers arrived at after "processing" the actual "achievement levels" through various formulas they created .... to arrive, no doubt, at the result they wanted to arrive at.

* Again, from the Carolina Journal Online: "The researchers devised a value measurement showing how many NAEP points were earned for every $1,000 invested in per-pupil spending. " While I would hope and imagine the researchers in this study limited their per-pupil spending comparisons to the dollars spent in public and charter schools only in those grades involved in NAEP assessments (i.e., grades 4, 8, and 12), this would be an incomplete comparison by any standard, even if this type of comparison were conceptually sound - which it absolutely is NOT.

* Furthermore, the researchers (again from the CJO) devised a “return-on-investment component, which arrives at an ESTIMATE of students’ lifetime earnings POTENTIAL [Emphases added] based on gains in student achievement.” I don’t have a clue what the formula these researchers concocted for this part of their research could even look like, but the fact that this “study” bases its conclusions that charter schools are outperforming traditional schools on limited data (i.e., a single, voluntary assessment given every other year in only three out of thirteen possible grades) and comparisons of “estimates” about “potential” earnings causes me to question this entire effort.

6. Of course, all of this mumbo-jumbo about "bang for the buck" and "return on investment" fails to consider the very simple fact that traditional public schools must invest a tremendous amount of funding on students with identified special needs - some of whom require phenomenal amounts of funding to best meet their educational needs. Naturally, those funding needs increase the AVERAGE per-pupil spending in traditional public schools.

7. Dr. Greene, the EDRE department head, however, has argued that traditional schools try to “blame” special education for their own shortcomings, and in fact, he has taken the position that public schools purposefully qualify undeserving students for special education in order to receive additional funding. As the parent of three adopted children, all with special needs, and as a career educator who worked for years with special needs children and their parents, I take personal offense at such an argument. But this is the person primarily responsible for the “study” you referenced in passing.

You will have to excuse my cynicism here, but from what my checking has revealed, this "study" you cited - in words that a casual reader would probably accept as simply being the truth (i.e., that charter schools in NC are outperforming traditional schools in math and reading) - is a bunch of junk. It is a piece of propaganda dressed up like a legitimate research study, coming from a well known university, as it does. The methodology employed in this “research” is all but laughable. The funding for this academic department is anonymous, and one has to think there is reason for that anonymity (again, Senate Bill 793?). The department created by this anonymous “gift” is headed by an established ideologue - a scholarly ideologue, no doubt, but an ideologue nonetheless. All of this information provides reason to take anything coming from this particular institution (i.e., EDRE) with something other than a mere grain of salt …. maybe a king-sized shaker of salt would be more appropriate.

Again, I sincerely appreciate the position The Mountaineer has taken with regard to Senate Bill 793, and I am not suggesting for a second that there was any intent on the part of The Mountaineer to misrepresent anything about how charter schools and traditional schools compare to each other in NC. But references to questionable reports and claims can result in inaccuracies being accepted as truth by casual observers. Furthermore, I do believe there are some very dedicated and motivated individuals and groups who have a desire to profit monetarily from the dismantling of traditional schools in NC and across the nation. It is imperative, therefore, that all media outlets that still believe in providing honest and accurate reporting look closely at the sources of various reports and claims before offering them for general consumption. Thank you for your consideration of my concerns.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Aug 03, 2014 10:38

Regarding the study that suggests public schools are less efficient measured in per dollar per pupil, I think that's a common sense conclusion.  Why they are less efficient and by how much is something to debate.  I don't think the general reference to the study is inappropriate.


Regarding why we need to know salaries of for-profit schools.  Sure, taxpayers need to know EITHER how much we spend per pupil or per teacher.  As an example, we know and care how much we spend on roads -- but we don't care how much we spend on the foreman's salary that builds the road.  We only care that the road is built well and performs well.  Paying as little as we can toward that objective is a good thing.  If road-building companies compete with one another and find more efficient ways to build better products, that is good for the taxpayer.  If one particular road-building company has a "secret sauce" to be in favor, they would want to keep that to themselves and not disclose the recipe.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 04, 2014 10:40

           Most road building is put up for bid. This does not dismiss any deviation from certain pre-existing standards. What the company that wins the bid pays their crew is their problem.

           There are alreddy many instances of for profit charter school systems failing. Some have closed altogether. Some are being sued for their failures. When compared straight up there is no advantage to charter schools. That is the problem. In no case does any charter school attempt to encompass the totality of what OUR public schools are required to do. Nor are for profit or not charter schools required to abide by OUR shared Constitutions. That is unacceptable! It can certainly lead to an undermining of OUR secular republic by OUR own taxes.





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