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The year in education: Five stories that shaped public ed in 2017

#1 - Class-size chaos North Carolina public schools—long roiled by sharp funding cuts, a blossoming school choice movement and an often touchy relationship with GOP lawmakers—faced a new kind of challenge in 2017. How do you speed smaller classes in the vital early grades without sacrificing later grades, local school budgets and arts teachers? The year’s wonkiest story may have been its most important, and 2018 figures to offer more tumult when it comes to North Carolina’s class size crisis.

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Temporary or a new trend? Applications from struggling schools for charter flexibility status slow to a trickle

Since a North Carolina law cleared the option for charter-like flexibilities in some low-performing schools beginning last March, members of the state’s top school board have approved more than 100 applications. Applications have come in by the dozens for the so-called “Restart” program, with struggling schools seeking the same kinds of freedoms charters receive when it comes to their calendar, staffing, curriculum and hours.

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Special report: How poorly-crafted education policies are failing North Carolina’s children

Veteran North Carolina education policy expert Kris Nordstrom has authored a new and vitally important report about the path that state elected officials have taken during recent years in crafting state education policy.

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Delayed action by state Superintendent creates big hurdles for legislature’s mandated audit

When Joni Robbins, a section chief in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, closes bidding next week for an upcoming audit of the state’s top K-12 agency, state leaders will have a little more than four months to find a vendor and begin work on a weighty review of the department’s operations.

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Mark Johnson accused of misleading the public regarding literacy program spending

North Carolina’s former public school superintendent June Atkinson says the state’s new K-12 leader “misled” the public when he blasted the Department of Public Instruction last month over $15 million in unspent Read to Achieve dollars.

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Two decades later, Governor’s appointees look to breathe life into NC’s landmark school funding ruling

“By every objective measure, we are underfunded and we are failing.”

That’s how Larry Armstrong, longtime attorney for the Halifax County Board of Education, summed up the task before Gov. Roy Cooper’s Commission on Access to Sound, Basic Education Thursday—more than two decades after the pivotal Leandro Supreme Court decision rebuked the state for school funding inequalities in some of North Carolina’s poorest counties like Halifax.

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Robeson County officials vacillating on planned charter school takeover

Weeks after the top school board member in Robeson County predicted the southeastern North Carolina district would close the state’s only choice for a controversial charter takeover program, local leaders may be gearing up to accept the Innovative School District after all.

Multiple Robeson officials tell Policy Watch that state law...

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Legislators consider abolishing teacher salary schedule as they study NC school funding labyrinth

A pivotal legislative task force may be just beginning its dive into North Carolina’s school funding maze, but lawmakers’ hints that they may abolish the state’s teacher salary schedule or other state-set funding allocations is already spurring criticism from local district advocates.

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Here to stay? Despite poor scores, critics, for-profit virtual charter school seeks blessing from state officials

The head of a controversial virtual charter school wants North Carolina lawmakers to funnel more cash into the program and clear operations beyond the 2019 sunset of its four-year pilot program, despite lagging test scores and a host of concerns about similar programs nationwide. “There are hundreds and thousands of kids and teachers that will benefit from our model,” Nathan Currie, superintendent at N.C. Connections Academy, told a committee of influential state lawmakers Tuesday, one day after making a similar pitch to a state charter school oversight panel.

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Legislators begin “heavy lift” of examining funding structure of North Carolina schools

Craig Horn knows many education advocates want the school finance task force he co-chairs to weigh whether North Carolina spends enough on its public schools.

But the Union County Republican, an influential K-12 budget writer, wasted little time in reaffirming Wednesday that he considers the state’s spending levels to be...

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Missing elephant in the room? State lawmakers to examine education finance without considering overall funding sufficiency

When state lawmakers meet next week to begin the weighty task of reforming North Carolina’s knotty method of financing public schools, the sufficiency of the state’s K-12 funding will not be on the table. Rep. Craig Horn, an influential Union County Republican who co-chairs a pivotal joint legislative task force on education finance reform, told Policy Watch Tuesday that he considers adequacy to be an altogether “separate issue.”

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Facing charter takeover, Robeson County leaders tell state to stay out

Just days after a North Carolina official tapped a Robeson County elementary for a controversial charter takeover district, local leaders say the state isn’t welcome in Southside-Ashpole Elementary.

“The governor of North Carolina and the legislators cannot justify that, as far as I’m concerned,” Jerry Stephens, a Robeson County commissioner, told Policy Watch Tuesday. “It’ll be such a great fall-out.”

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Documents point to potential conflict of interest in state charter takeover plan

Two groups seeking state contracts to run struggling North Carolina schools have professional ties to the man who may ultimately steer the decision to hire them, N.C. Policy Watch has learned. According to documents obtained by Policy Watch, AMIKids Inc. and Communities in Schools (CIS) of Robeson County are two of...

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As decision day approaches, local pushback against state-mandated charter takeover heats up

Cornelius Redfearn, principal at Durham’s Glenn Elementary, said Tuesday night that the looming uncertainty over a possible charter takeover at his school is “weighing on” his teachers.

By week’s end, Redfearn and his staff should get an answer one way or the other. North Carolina officials say district leaders should know by the end of the day Friday whether a key state administrator will recommend their school for the controversial Innovative School District (ISD).

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Durham fires back at state over school takeover plan

Two weeks, says Bryan Proffitt. That’s about how long he says Durham parents, educators and community leaders have to convince the head of North Carolina’s contentious charter takeover district that a takeover in Durham isn’t worth the fight.

“Can we beat one guy?” says Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators, an advocacy group for local teachers. “Yes, we can beat one guy.”

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Faced with charter takeover, local district mulls closing school

Faced with accepting charter takeover or closing a struggling elementary, leaders in at least one eastern North Carolina town say they may pick closure over the state’s controversial Innovative School District.

“That’s not ideal,” says Sen. Angela Bryant, a three-term Democrat who represents Rocky Mount in the N.C. General Assembly. “But we are not interested in the innovation zone.”

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