It’s past time North Carolina increased funding for student support services

*this piece was published by Greensboro News and Record

When NC Child’s 2019 Health Report Card came out earlier this year, it contained some sobering data:  The number of North Carolina youth committing suicide has nearly doubled over the previous decade.  While thoughts of suicide and actual attempts are more common among children with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, other risk factors include bullying, persistent stress, trauma, and social isolation.  African American students were more than twice as likely as white students to attempt it, and gender and sexual orientation also play a major role, with 43% of LGBTQ students seriously considering suicide.

So where do our young people turn when they need help?  That depends largely on how much money they have. Research shows that living in a low-income household is linked to elevated levels of mental health problems that can continue throughout the lifespan, but children of poverty–who make up 33% of all people living in poverty despite being only 23% of the population–are least likely to be connected with high-quality mental health care.  Lack of access is a huge barrier for people who need help the most.

Our public education system is in a great position to fill the gaps and provide support that our children so desperately need.  After all, we see them every day. Unfortunately, insufficient funding for school counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers has left them so understaffed that they are constantly stuck in reactive mode, unable to utilize their training in the preventative services that can most effectively address our students’ social and mental needs.

Recommended ratios for school counselors and social workers are 1:250. This year NC students are supported by counselors at an average ratio of 1:367 and by social workers at just 1:1427. The suggested ratio of psychologists per student is 1:500-700. Statewide, our ratio is 1:2083. Ratios for nurses are more complicated, as the National Association of School Nurses maintains that ideal staffing levels depend on the needs of each individual school population.  However, we are not yet where we need to be on nurses either.

There are signs that lawmakers are beginning to realize that our schools need to do more along these lines.  After the Parkland, FL massacre, the NC House convened a select committee on school safety which looked at the ratios mentioned above.  Representative Craig Horn, who sat on that committee and also chairs the House Education Committee said in a subsequent interview that he foresaw a  “significant increase in funding for mental health services.”  

Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child, says there are “enormous opportunities for public schools to more effectively address the mental health needs of our students,” but that health and mental health professionals in our schools are so understaffed that funding will need to be increased incrementally over the next few years in order to get up to nationally recommended ratios.  

Our students today are under more pressure than ever, and their ability to endure should not depend on their socioeconomic status. We need to provide adequate resources for our public schools’ support services so that staff can use their training in preventative strategies. We need to put professionals in a position to build trusting relationships with children and nurture the coping skills students so clearly need.

As state legislators begin the process of crafting the 2019-21 budget, the community will be watching to see whether they are ready to make a real commitment to our students’ social and emotional well being.

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NC Virtual Pre-K program moves forward despite experts’ grave concerns

A bill which would bring online preschool to children of poverty in North Carolina took one step closer to becoming law this week.

If approved, a three year pilot program would deliver the software via computer to families living below the federal poverty line and test the feasibility of scaling the project to bring online preschool to “all preschool-age children in the State.”

On Tuesday, the House K-12 Education Committee heard from the bill’s sponsor, Representative Craig Horn, and Howard Stephenson, a retired Utah Senator who lobbies for Waterford Institute, the Salt Lake City-based organization that developed the Upstart software.

Speaking to the committee, Horn claimed the program is not intended as a substitute for high quality Pre-K:  “We are targeting our most underserved children, four year olds that for whatever reason don’t have access to a Pre-K or just can’t get to one.  Transportation issues, health issues, socio-economic issues, issues that we can’t even imagine.”

Stephenson displayed research of the program’s impact to the House members and spoke hyperbolically of gains made by four year olds who spend just 20 minutes a day sitting in front of a screen working on the Upstart, saying “There has never been, in the history of Pre-K programs, anything that has produced this kind of initial first year start.”

The abbreviated version of the study Stephenson showed neglected to mention that the results were for children whose demographics are vastly different from those Horn proposes targeting:

91% Caucasian

96% English speaking

83% of the parents had at least some college

88% married

30% had household income of 50K or more

80% had household income of 25K or more

76% needed no additional technology or services

14% required computers

6%  required computer and internet

                        (full study text)

Senator Stephenson also declined to tell North Carolina lawmakers about the fact that last fall more than 100 early childhood education experts, educators, and child advocacy organizations signed a statement calling for an end to online preschool programs.  These experts expressed concern about the proliferation of virtual Pre-K and cited Upstart specifically:

As educators and advocates, we are alarmed at the adoption of online preschool across the United States. The state of Utah, citing the need to serve families in remote areas without spending much money, sponsored the first state-funded online program of this kind, called UPSTART, and thousands of families have enrolled. Alarmingly, UPSTART has expanded pilot programs to at least seven other states.

The experts identified a whole host of problems related to online Pre-K:

Research shows that screen overuse puts young children at risk of behavior problems, sleep deprivation, delays in social emotional development, and obesity.  Extended time on screens diminishes time spent on essential early learning experiences such as lap-reading, creative play, and other social forms of learning. Relational learning requires healthy interactions with adults, and online experiences falsely marketed as “preschool” sabotage the development of these essential relationships. Diminishing the role of early educators both deprives kids of crucial relationships and threatens needed investment in actual high-quality preschools. Children without access to quality pre-K (often the targets of these online programs) already face a higher risk of academic difficulty than their peers, and online pre-K threatens to expand, not close, that gap.

After Stephenson’s sales pitch, Horn took the microphone again to beseech his fellow lawmakers to support the virtual Pre-K pilot for North Carolina.  He reminded them it was not intended as a replacement for actual Pre-K and assured them that we probably, uh, might continue to expand that too:

“Now I think it’s time for North Carolina to address the needs of our own kids, our own 4 year olds that are missing out.  Not just because we don’t have the funds for more Pre-K slots, cause these kids will miss out even if we had the funds for more Pre-K slots.  And we may, and I think we will, continue to expand access for Pre-K. But I’m not willing to leave these kids that are not on that list for any reason, I’m not willing to leave them behind.”

The bill was approved by the House committee and is now headed to Appropriations.

If our lawmakers are serious about wanting to improve the lives of North Carolina’s high-poverty four year olds, they need to expand access to high quality Pre-K and work on removing impediments to children attending those programs.  In the meantime, virtual Pre-K is nothing more than an ill-conceived Band-Aid solution to a problem that deserves our legislators’ genuine commitment.

NC school districts working hard to limit teacher leadership on May 1

As the numbers of people planning to head to Raleigh for the May 1 Day of Action swells, a broad strategy for preventing educators from mobilizing is emerging.

In numerous counties, superintendents and school boards are offering to ‘facilitate’ delegations of teachers going to Raleigh to advocate.  Union County Public Schools, for example, is congratulating itself as a ‘forward thinking’ school district for being on the front lines of fighting for good education policy and encouraging teacher leadership by allowing teachers from each school to be in Raleigh on May 1 (while ensuring schools stay open that day).

Don’t get it twisted.  

These districts are doing everything they can to keep teachers from leading. What they’re after in this case is the appearance of supporting teachers, but their premise is that the terms must always be dictated from the top down rather than through a powerful movement created by everyday teachers like you and me.  Their goal from the very beginning this year has been to do whatever it takes to keep schools open on May 1. Their goal has been to make sure that teachers do not have the power.

Let me be clear that the goal of May 1 is not to shut down schools.  The goal is to win on five specific policy needs that thousands of educators had a voice in choosing.  But the only hope we have of winning is to fill the streets of Raleigh with a powerful sea of red, to pack the legislature with folks using their teacher voices to be sure members of the General Assembly hear the echo when they’re writing this year’s budget.  That means turning out in massive, unlimited numbers.

We don’t win by riding to Raleigh in the principal’s minivan with three other teachers that he’s handpicked to have the privilege of attending.  We don’t win by co-signing a plan that deprives our fellow educators of the opportunity to get out there and fight for the schools our kids deserve.

There’s a lot of ugly rhetoric about Communists and far left agendas beginning to circulate around May 1.  Haters gonna hate. Do not forget the moral authority that you carry as someone who has dedicated your life to public education.  We are trying to win enough nurses and psychologists so our students can be healthy. We’re marching to ensure that our custodians don’t have to work 3 jobs to pay their rent.  Picture their faces as you put in the personal day which is your right under state law.  

And if your request is denied, screenshot that denial and get it out there for the world to see what ‘facilitating teacher advocacy’ really looks like.  Then put it in that personal day again. And again. And again.

We need your power and leadership in Raleigh on May 1.  

Latest move by Mark Johnson and state lawmakers would be really bad for schools

A bill filed by Lincoln County Representative Jason Saine in the NC House this week would bring the State Board of Education’s legislative director Cecilia Holden and general counsel Eric Snider under NC State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s supervision.

As Johnson already has a legislative director and general counsel (Kevin Wilkinson and Jonathan Sink), it’s very possible that Holden and Snider would then be relieved of duty.

Let’s unpack the implications of this move for North Carolina’s school system.  

The State Board’s legislative director serves as the primary point of contact between the board and state and federal policymakers.  The loss of Cecilia Holden would deprive our State Board of Education of a valuable source of information which is essential to shaping the work it does on behalf of 1.5 million students and nearly 100,000 teachers every day.  

Recently, Holden was instrumental in laying the groundwork for collaboration between the State Board’s J.B. Buxton and Senator Berger’s office in working to improve Read to Achieve legislation.  On the other side of the coin, the school supply bill which was proposed last week by Senator Wells included zero input from the State Board. That legislation was dismissed by our last two Teachers of the Year as being a terrible idea for schools. Amid the resulting fallout, Mark Johnson was left scrambling to reassure teachers that he was working with the General Assembly on increasing funding for supplies.

The work of a legislative director in connection with the State Board can be that crucial link in the chain to ensure policies that are in the best interests of our teachers and students.  The State Board’s general counsel also plays a vital role in allowing the board to effectively carry out its management oversight, through legal services that impact school personnel directly such as contract review and responding to litigation.

The loss of the independent check and balance of the board’s legislative director and general counsel would allow Mark Johnson to work even more in isolation with the General Assembly than he already does.  That would come as a serious blow to our public school system at a time when constructive working relationships between the various bodies that serve North Carolinians are more needed than ever.

NC educators gearing up to win big for our schools on May 1

House Chamber packed with teachers, May 16, 2018

*this piece appeared in the Washington Post

Last May 16 saw unprecedented action by thousands of North Carolina educators.  Energized by the boldness of our colleagues in states like West Virginia and Arizona, we marched through the streets of Raleigh to the state legislature to let lawmakers know that we’d had enough of their indefensible lack of support for public education.  We flooded the legislative building with a sea of red, filling the galleys of both Senate and House chambers and chanting ‘Remember, remember, we vote in November!’ so loudly that the Speaker of the House had to momentarily halt business because nobody on the floor could hear what he was saying.

But we’re not done yet.  

In November we held true to our word and worked tirelessly to keep education at the forefront of the general election.  Through our advocacy, dozens of pro-public education candidates were elected all over the state. We broke the 8 year Republican supermajority that was responsible for much of the appalling education policy we marched against, and we restored Governor Cooper’s veto.  We demonstrated our collective power and won big for our schools and for our children.

Earlier this year, we surveyed thousands of educators and public school supporters to find out what they saw as the biggest obstacles facing public education in North Carolina.  At the convention of the North Carolina Association of Educators last month, delegates were polled to determine, of the challenges identified, which were the five most pressing. Our delegates then voted overwhelmingly to hold a Day of Action on Wednesday, May 1.  That day we’ll be descending on Raleigh again to send a clear message to lawmakers about what our public schools need from them.

These are our five demands:

1. Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards

Youth suicide in North Carolina has doubled over the last decade, and many of our students do not have access to mental health care.  Our schools are in a position to help, yet staffing ratios for student support services in the state remain far below recommended levels (for example, the suggested ratio of psychologists per student is 1:500-700. Statewide, our ratio is 1:2083).  

2. Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees

The past few years have seen some progress on educator salaries, but North Carolina remains far behind the national average and ranks 49th in wage competitiveness.  Our veteran teachers and non-certified employees such as custodians and teacher assistants have been largely left out in the cold on recent raises, as have retirees.  It’s way past time for a significant commitment to all school employees.

3. Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families

Good health forms the foundation of success in the classroom, yet lots of children do not have access to quality health care.  Research shows that expanding Medicaid for their parents results in a ‘welcome mat effect’ with increased enrollment of children.  Closing the health coverage gap in North Carolina would remove an important barrier to learning for many of our most needy students.

4. Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017

State lawmakers eliminated retiree health benefits in the 2017 budget.  All state employees hired after January 1, 2021 will be forced to purchase their own health insurance when they retire.  This change cripples recruitment and retention of educators at a time when our teacher pipeline is already in crisis, and it must be reversed.

5. Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013

The revocation of master’s pay has led, unsurprisingly, to a sizeable decline in those seeking graduate degrees in education at UNC schools.  Recent research out of NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill finds positive impact on student attendance, achievement, and evaluation results for teachers who hold a master’s degree in their subject area.  

NC’s state legislators are in long session this year and will soon be crafting the 2019-21 budget.  Supporters of public education are in an excellent position to help shape the priorities reflected in that budget, provided we can bring sufficient pressure.  To do that we need to turn out in massive numbers on May 1.

If you’re ready to help us fight for the changes our schools desperately need, please take this survey to help All Out May 1 organizers measure statewide interest and level of commitment.  

What we saw last May is that we are powerful when we rise together.  This year we’re more focused. This year we’re more organized. And this year we can be even more powerful.  

Teachers, put in that personal day, and we’ll see you in Raleigh.

NC Superintendent’s School Supply Program is a disingenuous shell game

Yesterday State Superintendent Mark Johnson dropped a tantalizing teaser.  

On Wednesday, April 3, he’d join chairs of both the House and Senate Education Committees as well as PENC Executive Director Bill Medlin and 2017 NC Teacher of the Year Lisa Godwin in the General Assembly Press Conference Room for a ‘major education announcement.’  

Speculation ran rampant.  Would Johnson announce the return of the 7,500 teaching assistants lost to budget cuts over the last decade?  Unveil the merger of House and Senate school construction bond proposals into a $4 billion superbond?  Accede to all 5 demands of the All Out for May 1st organizers and render the upcoming march on the General Assembly unnecessary?

The first ominous sign was the absence of Lisa Godwin.  Godwin actually announced on social media the night before that she had decided not to participate in the event because of concerns about the direction of the initiative, saying “After much consideration and prayer, I have decided not to be a part of the announcement.”

When Johnson stepped to the microphone he was flanked only by Republican legislators and the executive director of a small, conservative teacher organization called Professional Educators of North Carolina.  No actual teachers were a part of the photo op, and the reason quickly became apparent.

Johnson and Senator Wells announced the creation of the NC School Supply Program, which would take back the majority of the nearly $50 million normally allocated to school districts for school supplies and instead funnel it into an app called ClassWallet which teachers can access directly.  

That’s right, there was no plan to provide a new infusion of funds for a supply allocation that is so shallow that the Governor has to hold annual supply drives to solicit donations of notebooks and pencils from the public.  No proposal to give more money to teachers who are constantly turning to Donors Choose in order to be able to put books in their students’ hands.  Instead, legislators will simply be taking the money from one pot and putting it into another.

When asked about Lisa Godwin’s absence, Superintendent Johnson said he didn’t know why she was missing and that he thought she supported the initiative.  It seems very unlikely that either of those things is true. Godwin actually commented on the issue in an interview.  She said she initially thought the program meant additional funding for classroom supplies before discovering it was simply a reallocation of existing funds.  She added, “When I reflected on that … that’s gonna hurt districts, because districts are already underfunded.”  

To explain the need for the proposed legislation, Wells claimed misspending of money by school districts was the real reason teachers had to keep going into their own pockets for classroom supplies, saying, “Bureaucrats used the money to pay for other things on their to-do list and left teachers to pay for their own classroom supplies.”

The reason that teachers have to beg the public for money or come out of their own pockets to purchase classroom supplies has nothing to do with districts mishandling money. It has everything to do with the General Assembly’s 55% reduction in funding for that budget allotment over the last decade.

It’s a pattern that has become all too common in the General Assembly: attempt to divert public attention from problems created by their own lack of funding by claiming others are negligent, then offer a bad solution that doesn’t include more resources.

This time the bad solution is ClassWallet, a tool which teachers in other states have complained has a very limited selection, charges prices far higher than their schools can get buying bulk, and is not available until well into the school year.  It’s likely that a simple conversation with a teacher or two could have revealed some of the flaws with this approach, but Johnson admitted that he hadn’t actually spoken with any teachers about it.

As a wise state senator said to me not long ago, you can’t be number one in both tax cuts and public education.  You have to choose. Right now we have state legislators who want to be number one in tax cuts but would like to maintain the appearance of steadfast support for public education, and we have a state superintendent who is all too ready to sign off on bad ideas and pretend teachers are on board with them.  Our students and teachers deserve better than this disingenuous shell game.

NC lawmakers file bill that would create virtual Pre-K for children of poverty

*note: this article appeared in The Washington Post

It’s the latest shockingly bad idea out of North Carolina.

This week state legislators filed a bill which would create a 3 year pilot program to deliver Pre-K education at home via computer to what it terms “at risk” children.

The program, called UpStart, costs a mere $500,000 per year.  It would be available to families living below the federal poverty line and children of active duty military personnel and would provide both internet access at home to families that can’t afford it and technical support to help them operate the software.  

According to HB 485, the goals of the pilot program are as follows:

(i) evaluate the effectiveness of giving preschool-age children access, at home, to interactive individualized instruction delivered by computers and the Internet to prepare them academically for success in school; and
(ii) test the feasibility of scaling a home-based curriculum in reading, math, and science delivered by computers and the Internet to all preschool-age children in the State.

I can’t believe I am actually writing these words, but the idea of having 4-year-olds going to preschool by looking at a computer in their home is horrendous.

Many of the advantages of a quality preschool education require children to actually be in the presence of other people.  Those advantages include, among many other things, learning how to communicate effectively with peers, how to work together to solve problems, how to share and wait for your turn, how to be independent, and how to be respectful toward peers and adults.  Those lessons form a critical foundation which helps prepare children for the transition to kindergarten.

Another issue with this bill, as NC Justice Center policy analyst Kris Nordstrom points out, is that it fails to appropriate any funds for an evaluation to determine whether the virtual preschool is working.  If we really want to ‘evaluate the effectiveness’ of preparing students for success in school by putting them in front of a screen at their house, we need to provide funds to do so.

HB 485 is yet another attempt to mask a serious legislative shortcoming by tossing a few dollars and a terrible idea at it.  If we are serious about wanting to prepare children for success in school, then we need to put up the money for universal Pre-K.

North Carolina educators prepare to march to restore benefits stripped by state legislators

On May 1, public education advocates will march through the streets of Raleigh to the state legislature to demand five things.  While student support services, compensation, and Medicaid might be more sexy, there’s another goal on our agenda which is also crucial, as it aims to make it easier to attract good teachers to North Carolina.  

After the last state budget was passed in the summer of 2017, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger was quick to congratulate his Senate and House colleagues for what he referred to as an ongoing effort to “improve education outcomes.” But provisions buried deep in that budget actually made it even more difficult for our state to address its teacher shortage, by discouraging teachers from entering the profession.

The budget changed eligibility of retired state employees for health benefits to include only those who “earned contributory retirement service … prior to January 1, 2021.” Teachers hired after that date who devote their lives to serving the children of North Carolina will be forced to purchase their own health insurance after they retire. That’s a really scary prospect considering the exorbitant costs and uncertainty surrounding health care in the United States.  

This pending change comes at a time when North Carolina is already mired in an education crisis and facing a teacher shortage. As teacher salaries have continued to lag far beyond the national average, career protections have been stripped, pay for advanced degrees has been revoked, and insurance premiums have steadily risen, the number of students choosing to enroll in UNC teacher preparation programs has predictably declined.  Just as troubling is our state’s 49th-and-dropping teacher pay competitiveness ranking, which compares teacher compensation with the wages of other industries requiring a college degree.  With so few perks remaining, it’s no wonder we’re struggling to attract people to the teaching profession.

Across North Carolina, thousands of teaching vacancies have resulted in many students seeing an endless procession of substitute teachers. While these substitutes deserve a lot of credit for the incredibly difficult work they do, they are not equipped to provide the education outcomes we want for our children.  

A study by the Rand Corporation found that, among school-related factors, having a high-quality teacher in place has the largest impact on student achievement – two to three times as much impact as factors such as services, facilities and school leadership. The Center for Public Education echoes Rand’s findings and adds that, in order to ensure that every child is taught by excellent teachers, states must step up efforts to recruit and retain top candidates. That’s exactly the opposite of what’s happening in North Carolina.

If our legislators are serious about improving education outcomes, their policies need to make this a more attractive state to teach in. Stripping retirement health benefits merely gives prospective teachers one more reason to turn their back on North Carolina’s schools.  On May 1, supporters of public education in NC will be putting legislators on notice that we expect them to reinstate those benefits and to do so this session.

NC school employees will converge on Raleigh May 1 to press for much-needed change

This weekend, hundreds of educators from all over North Carolina met in Raleigh for the 49th annual convention of the North Carolina Association of Educators.  We celebrated victories in the past year, including the unprecedented May 16 Rally for Respect. The May 16 rally was instrumental in making public education the number one issue in the November general election.  That election ended the supermajority responsible for many catastrophic education policies since 2011 and restored a little balance to our state government.

NC teachers pack the House chamber, May 16, 2018

Now it’s time to begin the hard work of rebuilding, and we need all hands on deck once again.

On May 1, we’re calling for all employees of North Carolina schools to take a personal day and join us in Raleigh as we converge on the General Assembly to press for the following 5 changes:

  1. Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards
  2. Provide $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees
  3. Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families
  4. Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017
  5. Restore advanced degree compensation stripped by the General Assembly in 2013

There will be opposition to the May 1 All Out rally, including people who say folks that take a personal day to fight for their students are selfish.  There will be those who use fear to try to prevent North Carolina educators from uniting to demonstrate our resolve.

Let me remind you that North Carolina’s Professional Teaching Standards encourage you to be active in your advocacy, to work to improve teaching conditions and change policies that negatively impact our profession.  It’s an area where we all need to be rated ‘distinguished’:

Teachers strive to improve the teaching profession.  They contribute to the establishment of positive working conditions in their school, district, and across the state.  They actively participate in and advocate for decision-making structures in education and government that take advantage of the expertise of teachers. Teachers promote professional growth for all educators and collaborate with their colleagues to improve the profession.

  • Strive to improve the profession
  • Contribute to the establishment of good working conditions
  • Participate in decision-making structures
  • Promote professional growth

So go ahead and put in your personal day for May 1 and ready your marching shoes.  Encourage your colleagues to do the same. Let’s stand up and fight for the public schools our children deserve.

Private white flight academy turns charter, set to deprive some of NC’s neediest students

*note: This article was republished by the Washington Post

Last month the North Carolina State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the conversion of Halifax County’s private Hobgood Academy to a public charter.  Halifax County ranks 90th out of 100 NC counties in terms of per capita income, and more than 28 percent of its residents live below the poverty line–nearly double the national average.  Hobgood’s student population is 87% white, while only 4% of those attending Halifax County Schools are white.

If you read the charter application Hobgood submitted to state officials, you might be inclined to think that the very purpose for the school’s existence is to lift children out of poverty by offering them a better education.  The application notes the ‘low performing’ status of the public schools in the area and the ‘vicious cycle of poverty’ that contributes to that low performance. It lays out the applicants’ supposed view that ‘the potential exists to turn the tide of poverty in this community through excellence in education’ and refers to Hobgood as ‘the perfect place to impact the most vulnerable of our children.’

The real reason Hobgood is converting to a charter school is something entirely different.  In the application’s section about enrollment trends, applicants admit to a ‘significant decline in enrollment,’ acknowledging that the private school’s $5000 annual tuition could be a barrier for some families.  A Google Site called Let’s Charter Hobgood, set up to organize Hobgood parents to push for the charter conversion, shows the motivation has nothing to do with extending opportunity to people who don’t currently have it.  Rather, it’s for parents of students who already attend the school to be able to keep going there without paying tuition. In addition, responses to recent questions that are posted on the parent site include the statement “No current law forces any diversity whether it be by age, sex, race, creed.”  The question isn’t posted, so you’ll have to infer what it was.

Hobgood’s conversion to a charter means the school could see a windfall of more than $2 million from the state.  Of course, that money is coming out of someone else’s pocket.  Remember those impoverished students Hobgood’s charter application claimed to be so concerned about?  They’ll be paying much of that tab via pass-through transfer funding from Halifax County Schools.

Halifax County’s entire education budget, including community college, is $11.2 million.  In the Department of Public Instruction’s most recent facility needs survey, the district reported $13.3 million in capital needs, including more than $8 million in needed renovations to existing school buildings.  Financially, Halifax County school district is most definitely not in a position to be bailing out private schools.

The history of racial segregation in Halifax County is crucial to understanding what is currently playing out.  Rodney Pierce teaches 8th grade Social Studies and Civics & Economics in Halifax County. An avid local historian, he was recently named the 2019 North Carolina Council for Social Studies Teacher of the Year.  Shortly after Hobgood Academy’s charter was approved, Mr. Pierce posted a comprehensive Twitter thread in response to a News & Observer article about the move.  The thread offers a lot of relevant background information around the founding of Hobgood Academy fifty years ago, and it appears below:

Hobgood Academy was founded in 1969 and opened in September 1970. IMO, this was a direct response to the U.S. Justice Department’s rejection of the Halifax County Schools District’s plan of desegregation in March 1969 that did not comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The county’s White residents resisted integration in public education so much so that the late Rep. Thorne Gregory, who was from Scotland Neck, actually filed a bill in January of 1969 to establish a separate school district for his hometown.

Blacks made up only 18 percent of the town’s population at the time and the bill would allow the town’s mayor and commissioners to set up a five member school board and establish a supplemental school tax of 50 cents for each $100 property valuation.  Additionally, there were 8,000 Black students and 2,300 White pupils in HCS, a ratio of nearly 4:1.

Thorne’s bill passed the House in February 1969 and the Senate in March, with some impassioned pleas from late Senator Julian Allsbrook of Roanoke Rapids.  The Justice Department filed suit against the district in June 1969 and the case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiffs in June 1972 (U.S. v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education).  

Given the proximity of the town of Hobgood to the city of Scotland Neck, and the history of White residents of Scotland Neck attempting to establish their own separate public school district, I don’t think it’s a reach to think that some of those families who resisted integration banded together to start a private academy for their children. The school’s website says families from five counties worked together to start the school.

Now at the same time, Thorne’s bill allowed Warren County and Halifax counties to attempt to start new districts in Warrenton, Scotland Neck and the Littleton-Lake Gaston area.  The irony of turning to the same public school system you resisted decades ago to save the institution you started to resist integration – through Opportunity Scholarships, vouchers and now a charter system.

As stated in the article, it was the third time that Hobgood has applied to become a charter school. According to an NAACP amicus brief filed in 2014, Hobgood’s enrollment was 95 percent White. Today, it is 88 percent White, largely due to the Opportunity Scholarship program.

According to the article, “Hobgood Academy could receive more than $2 million a year in state funds, up from the $69,300 a year it now gets from the voucher school program. Eighteen of Hobgood’s 98 students receive vouchers.  Whites make up only 4 percent of students in Halifax County Schools. The Hobgood community is 49 percent African American and 46 percent White.

I neglected to mention that the desegregation plan of Halifax County Schools in March 1969 also did not comply with the 14th Amendment.

Additionally, [Halifax County Representative Michael Wray] wrote a letter in 2017 supporting Hobgood’s charter application, saying “As the economy has declined, the number of families able to pay tuition has fallen.” What about the families who never could afford to pay that tuition until recently?

In view of Hobgood’s sordid segregationist history, it’s worth asking which students will want to apply to attend Hobgood Charter Academy now that the $5000 tuition is no more.  What’s certain is that children who remain in Halifax County Schools will continue to suffer from an ever dwindling pool of resources as a result of our state’s broken charter school policy.