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Stop the corporate takeover of public schools


N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber
Governor Patrick McCrory and the extremists in the General Assembly have been engaged in an extreme attack retrogressive campaign against public schools since the day they came to power.

Today, Governor McCrory has on his desk another ideologically-driven attack on public education, House Bill 1080, which would allow for a back-door corporate takeover of public schools through so-called “Achievement School Districts.”

Just like the voucher system the extremists put into place, this scheme would drain public education money into unaccountable private hands. This is contrary to the intent of our state constitution. In other states, Achievement School Districts have been plagued with corruption, fraud and mismanagement due to this lack of accountability. Studies in Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee have shown these virtual districts to decline in student achievement or to show negligible improvement. High staff turnover produced chaos and a decline in the number of experienced teachers. These schemes also foster more resegregation.

North Carolina’s constitution explicitly bars the use of public school funds for anything but public education. Giving those funds to private corporations plainly violates the state constitution and also drains money away from proven programs that support parent engagement, inclusive leadership, expanded pre-K programs, and professional development and coaching for teachers.

In this scheme, a politically-selected superintendent would create a virtual district comprised of five of North Carolina’s lowest-performing public elementary schools. That superintendent would grant charter school operators multi-year contracts to take control of these schools.

The charters could be for-profit corporations based in other states. They would take control of the schools away from local elected school boards. The same rules and standards that the state demands of other public school systems would not apply to these “Achievement School Districts,” so that the charter operators would get tax dollars without any public accountability.

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction already has a program to turn around failing schools that has produced proven results. Turning Around Lowest Achieving Schools or TALAS has been in place for five years. Sixty percent of schools operated under TALAS outperformed the state average performance change and 75 percent outperformed the state average growth, proving that struggling schools can make significant improvement. Unfortunately, funding for TALAS has been cut so low that it can only reach a fraction of our hardship schools. Instead of funding a proven program, the extremists in the General Assembly seek to channel public school funds into private and unaccountable hands.

Our public school dollars would be better spent on proven programs like Pre-K for every child, greater instructional time, teachers’ aides for individual attention to struggling students, and recruitment and retention of our best teachers. We also know that poverty is the real problem; all of our struggling schools are high-poverty schools where nutrition, mental health, healthcare and social services could make the most difference.

Instead, a cynical game of politics and an unbending devotion to extremist ideology continue to suffocate research-based approaches to education and undermine the foundation of public education in North Carolina. It is time for voters to hold elected Governor McCrory and the extremists in the legislature accountable.

William J. Barber II is president of the N.C. NAACP and architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement.