Superintendents speak out on privatization, grading schools

lbonner@newsobserver.comFebruary 26, 2013 

School superintendents oppose any plan that would use public money to support private K-12 education, and warned legislators Tuesday that privatization would set up a two-tiered education system based on class, both funded with taxpayer money.

Superintendents are united against a voucher or private school tax-credit plan, and see them as “the single greatest threat to public schools,” said Edward Pruden, Brunswick County superintendent.

“Whereas the old segregation was by race, the new segregation would be by socio-economic class,” Pruden said. “For those who desire the return of the segregation days of old, one is about as good as the other.”

Legislators are working on proposals to use public money to pay tuition for students who leave public schools, a fundamental change in the state that has so far stayed away from broad voucher programs. Legislators, public policy and advocacy groups have been laying the groundwork for such a move for a few years, and the idea is gaining traction.

About 65 superintendents attended a meeting called by House Republicans to give their opinions on proposed education policies and current laws, including a law requiring schools receive A-F letter grades as an indication of quality, based on their students’ test scores.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, who presided over the meeting in the House chamber, said legislators want to use educators’ expertise to make better laws. Principals are coming to Raleigh on Wednesday for the same type of opinion session, and teachers were invited to come Thursday.

Tillis countered the idea that a tax credit or voucher plan would leave public schools with the hardest-to-teach students.

Tillis said he wants a plan targeted to low-income families for children who need an option other than public schools.

“This is not a broad-based plan,” Tillis said. He appointed Pruden to lead a group that will work with legislators on the proposal.

“If we get you to be not vehemently opposed to it, or silent on it, that’s progress,” Tillis said.

Pruden said later he would approach the task with an open mind but he would work to show legislators “the cumulative effect of all legislation that pulls students and money from public schools.” The state recently removed the 100-school limit on charter schools, and offers a tax credit to parents of disabled students who remove their children from public schools to enroll them in private schools.

Superintendents want to hit pause on the new law that requires schools, beginning this year, to receive letter grades based on students’ performance on standardized tests. High schools will receive points for students who graduate in four years. The aim is to let parents easily identify good and bad schools.

Superintendents want to put off the grading until next year because the schools have just introduced new national education standards, called the common core, and new tests.

Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said the districts were not going to get a year’s stay, but legislators will consider students’ year-over-year growth as a factor in the grades.

“We’re not afraid of accountability,” said Rodney Shotwell, Rockingham County superintendent. “We’re looking for fair measures to evaluate schools.”

Once a school is known as a failing school, he said, that reputation can be hard to shake.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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