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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: voucher lawsuit, charters, and schools of terror!

MrGibbonsReportCardNorth Carolina Justice Center

The North Carolina Justice Center, which bills itself as a civil rights advocacy organization for low-income families, has joined the North Carolina Association of Educators (a NEA affiliate) in a lawsuit to stop the state’s new voucher program, which ironically is for low-income students.

The lawsuit attempts to make a constitutional argument over the funding mechanism (which wouldn’t stop a tax-credit scholarship system like here in Florida) but the Institute for Justice, a civil rights and pro-school choice law firm, believes the voucher program will be ruled constitutional.

The Justice Center is supposed to fight for low-income families, not for a particular mode of educating them. According to plaintiff Mike Ward, a former state superintendent of public instruction in N.C., vouchers “tear away millions of dollars that are badly needed by the public schools” (emphasis added).

Worrying about students who remain in public schools is a valid concern. The good news is, there is no evidence that suggests those students are hurt by school choice. Heck, the public schools’ per-pupil funding doesn’t even go down because of vouchers.

The Justice Center, like the News & Observer editorial board, has its heart in the right place. But its focus should be on who is being educated, not how or where.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Charter schools

Charter school growth continues on a rapid pace across the nation, suggesting parents and students alike want something different. There is nothing stopping district schools from converting to independently operated franchises of the district where they operate, freeing teachers and principals to use their resources in more innovative way. (Well, nothing but the bureaucracy and other well-funded and entrenched special interests of education. But that’s another story.)

According to the latest market share report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, New Orleans charter schools have the highest market share in the country – at 79 percent – for the 8th year in a row. Detroit became the second city in the U.S. to have more charter school students than traditional public school students. The largest population of charter school students is in Los Angeles, with nearly 121,000, followed by New York City and Philadelphia.

Growth is going gangbusters in Florida, with Duval and Hillsborough counties exceeding 25 percent growth on the year. But the top two spots in growth rates go to Hall County, Ga., and San Diego.

Check out the full report.

Grade: Satisfactory

June Atkinson – North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction

School choice critics tend to get defensive when school choice passes into law, and it’s not rare to hear over-the-top rhetoric intended to shock and scare. So it wasn’t really a surprise when North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson offered this response when asked about the state’s new voucher program: “There is nothing in the legislation that would prevent someone from establishing a school of terror.”

Atkinson seemed to be suggesting the possibility that someone could create a radical Islamic private school. Maybe she was hoping to broaden anti-voucher opposition by playing to anti-Muslim fears among conservatives. Indeed, such bigotry has surfaced in anti-school choice arguments elsewhere.

The latest remarks are unfortunate and misleading, but they’re also just part of a process of coming to terms with new realities. As parents continue to demand more options, it’s just a matter of time before June Atkinson, or her successors, view private schools for what they are: partners in the endeavor of educating children.

Grade: Needs Improvement

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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.