Politics & Government

NC lawmakers won’t force state to take over low-performing school

State lawmakers will allow Wayne County Public Schools to keep a low-performing elementary school in Goldsboro instead of having to turn it over to the state and potentially to a for-profit company to run.

A bill approved Thursday by both the House and Senate would keep Carver Heights Elementary School from being taken over by the Innovative School District for the 2019-20 school year. The bill says that the State Board of Education can allow Wayne County Public Schools to operate Carver Heights under the “restart model,” a program that gives low-performing schools some of the same flexibility that’s given to charter schools to try to improve performance.

Senate Bill 469, which makes technical corrections to several state laws, goes to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system is asking Cooper to veto the bill because it would allow teachers in any municipal charter schools opened by four Mecklenburg towns to join the state retirement and health systems. Former Rep. Charles Jeter, who’s now government relations coordinator for CMS, said the district is against the bill because it will make it much more likely for those municipal charter schools to open.

But Wayne County school leaders say they hope Cooper will sign the bill since it will give them the opportunity to keep control of Carver Heights and implement changes they’ve put forward.

“We are extremely pleased with this legislation that is now on its way to the Governor’s Office,” Wayne County Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said in a press release on Friday. “Our school district is highly appreciative of our local legislative delegation and the bi-partisan support that led to the passing of this legislation in both the House and Senate.

“Their actions speak volumes, and further affirm our district’s ability to change the academic trajectory of this school.”

The Innovative School District was created by Republican state lawmakers in 2016 to take up to five low-performing elementary schools away from local school district control and turn them over to an outside group to run. Supporters say it’s a way to help raise student achievement. But critics say the model, which has been used in other states, is a way to privatize education that hasn’t worked well.

Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County became the first school in the district this year.

Carver Heights was the only school recommended to be added to the program for next year. Wayne County school leaders objected and warned they might close the school rather than give it up.

Wayne County Public Schools recently put in place a new plan for turning Carver Heights around. Changes include extending the school day and hiring a former North Carolina principal of the year to lead Carver Heights.

Wayne County had already requested state permission to use the restart model when the state board voted last week to take over Carver Heights, with board members saying they had no choice due to state law requiring them to add a school. The newly adopted legislation drops the requirement that any schools be added to the district for the 2019-20 school year.

The legislation gives Wayne County two years to improve Carver Heights’ performance under the restart model. But if the school is still among the lowest 10 percent in the state academically after the 2020-21 school year, the legislation says the school would be transferred to the Innovative School District.

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