Editorials

Big money equals big influence in schools

From left, N.C. Secretary of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and Republican state Rep. Jason Saine are among North Carolina politicians who have received campaign contributions from charter school supporters.
From left, N.C. Secretary of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and Republican state Rep. Jason Saine are among North Carolina politicians who have received campaign contributions from charter school supporters. News & Observer file photos

John Bryan, 84, of Oregon, is a libertarian-leaning retired business executive who knows how the political game is played. Namely, unlike Monopoly, with real money. And from 2011-16, Bryan gave $600,000 to legislative candidates and political committees in North Carolina.

What’s his interest in North Carolina, besides good government, of course?

It seems Bryan is connected to Achievement for All Children, one of the groups that’s applied to the state to run struggling schools that will be put into the Innovative School District, something created by Republicans lawmakers last year wherein low-performing schools can be placed in the “district” and taken over by charter school companies or education management companies. They’re to run the schools for five to eight years.

But in a letter Bryan makes no secret of his attempts to use his money and influence to push the idea of such districts and a takeover of the schools by charter companies. He even expressed a wish that if charter groups were successful in raising a school’s “grade,” they could take over the schools and “this approach could expand to other states, hopefully across the country!”

Some school districts in North Carolina, including Durham and Johnston counties, have resisted the idea of a takeover of one or more of their schools by a charter management company. Their reasoning is sound: Local schools should remain under local control, with those leaders given a chance to improve so-called “low-performing” schools. The idea that the state could surrender to outside companies individual schools from a local district is just wrong, taking oversight of the schools away from the people closest to them and best able to address problems.

This seems to represent yet another attempt by Republican legislators to undermine conventional public education, along with their lifting the cap on charter schools – which are funded by the state but operate free of many of the rules governing conventional schools – and their establishment of a preposterous “voucher” program wherein public money goes to parents to help them send their children to private schools. Republicans apparently have decided that the state’s public school system, which has served North Carolina well for over 100 years and transformed the state by offering opportunity to all children, is some kind of liberal Democratic program for the disadvantaged.

That’s ridiculous, and the “takeover” notions of people such as Bryan and others who would like to offer special resources to “help” school systems with troubled schools clearly are intended to make conservative or libertarian political philosophy part of the curricula.

But if results matter, then consider that Tennessee installed an Achievement School District using the same model as North Carolina, and students have not performed better academically than those in low-performing schools not surrendered to the special “district.”

There is no track record of success. North Carolina doesn’t need to be part of an experiment to try to create one.

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