This installment of NCED Updates looks at the continued school choice boom in North Carolina, the resignation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) superintendent, and the lawsuit filed against New Hanover County Public Schools.
School Choice still booming
Around 20 percent of the roughly 1.8 million K-12 school students are choosing to attend public charter schools, private schools, or homeschools. During the 2018-2019 school year, over 100,000 kids were utilizing each of those three school choice options.
2018-19 student enrollment:
- 109,492 public charter schools
- 102,400 private schools
- 142,037 homeschools
But school choice doesn’t end with just those three. Another 9,651 students took advantage of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and another 1,754 are received a Children with Disabilities Grant.
The newest choice option in North Carolina is the Education Savings Account (ESA), which saw 277 students enroll and 256 students renewed their enrollment.
ESA’s were created by the General Assembly in 2017 for eligible K-12 students with disabilities to help parents pay tuition and required fees at an eligible nonpublic school and/or qualified expenses for their children with disabilities who attend school in an eligible nonpublic setting, including a home school.
Eligible full-time private school students may receive up to $9,000 for the fiscal year and those who attend public school part-time and attend a private school, which exclusively serves students with disabilities part-time, can get up to $4,500 for the fiscal year.
The News and Observer recently lamented how parents are increasingly choosing options other than traditional public schools. Dr. Terry Stoops at John Locke has an article about this worth your time. It’s titled School Choice Thrives Because of Parents, Not the General Assembly.
Stoops’ article’s first sentence says “I’m not surprised that the editors of the News & Observer blame the N.C. General Assembly for the migration of students from districts to charter, home, and private schools.”
Well, of course the N&O is blaming the legislature, that’s their default setting. But the reality of their article is that the N&O is really blaming parents. The legislature gave parents choices and parents have overwhelmingly taken them up on it.
Stoops’ article closes with “The editors of the News & Observer conclude, “If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice.” But with a few exceptions, traditional public schools are the antithesis of choice, mandating that students attend an assigned school based on where they live rather than what they need.”
Yes, and it is worth noting that for decades parents had little to no other choices and now that they do, they’re not wasting it. There are some great public schools out there, but on the whole, the public school model is designed for mass consumption and a bare minimum of content or value. Parents want more and school boards are not listening.
Over 60 years of dumping more and more money into education has failed to move the needle yet the chorus is always ‘we need to spend more’. No, we really don’t. School choice options set up by the legislature and in other states is a testimony that spending more isn’t the answer — spending (and choosing) smarter is.
Related Read: Rowan County Homeschooling is booming
CMS Superintendent Resigns
The Charlotte Observer reported that Wilcox will receive no compensation in exchange for his resignation and his last day is August 2. CMS refused to publicly release information in his personnel file, which is in line with state law.
CMS has repeatedly rejected questions about why Wilcox was suspended and has said that “this is a personnel matter, we cannot provide further details at this time.”
According to media reports, the CMS school board has hired a ‘global public relations firm’ that specializes in “crisis communications,” called Ketchum PR. The price tag is $30,000.
Sources inside CMS tell me that the Butler incident, combined with a violation related to background checks were part of why Wilson was first suspended. CMS has not responded to my questions.
Wilcox has barely been on the job for two years and was making $280,000. His contract allowed for a 10% raise this past January. Wilcox is the sixth superintendent in 10 years.
Wilcox apparently took a lot of heat after the shooting at Butler High School last November which left one student dead. Last week the shooter, Jatwan Cuffie, 17, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for killing Bobby McKeithen.
In response to the shooting, Wilcox added security measures like security cameras, metal-detecting wands, bag searches at random schools, keyless entry systems, and had panic buttons given to the CMS’ 9,000 teachers.
According to the district, Earnest Winston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Chief of Staff, will serve as Acting Superintendent. Winston was hired in 2004 as an English teacher at Vance High School. He taught only two years before moving into an administration role.
New Hanover County Schools is being sued
New Hanover County Public Schools is being sued by the families of the victims of former teacher Michael Kelly. The suit comes within a week of the New Hanover school board hiring the Brooks Pierce Law Firm to conduct an “independent investigation” into the Kelly case.
In June, Kelly pleaded guilty to the bulk of the 61 charges that were pending against him. The full set of charges, the history of this case and information involving other allegations against the New Hanover School Board can be found in my June 25 article.
Kelly may be in jail, but his NC teaching license is still valid and active.
The NC teacher licensing revocation and the disciplinary action page has not been updated since March. The Dept. of Public Instruction has not responded to multiple attempts to confirm or deny that Supt. Johnson has dozens of unexecuted license revocations and disciplinary actions sitting on his desk.
The 44-page Class-action complaint is filed by the Rhine and the Lea/Shultz law firms on behalf of 3 John Does and all others “similarly situated.” The complaint alleges the school district is “vicariously liable” for the actions of Michael Kelly and demands $25,000 in damages for each plaintiff as well as punitive damages and legal and court fees.
The plaintiffs are also asking for a”trial by jury on all issues so triable.” This seems to indicate the plaintiffs may be looking for school officials to stand trial.
Named as defendants are the New Hanover County School Board, Michael Kelly, James Rick “Rickie” Holliday and Holliday’s direct supervisor, New Hanover Superintendent Timothy Markley. In addition, at least ten unnamed other New Hanover Public School employees or contractors, designated as “Roes 1-10,” are also defendants.
At the time Kelly was abusing students at Laney High School in the late 1980s, Rick Holliday was the Assistant Principal. Holliday rose through the administrative ranks through the years to Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services, which was the role he held when he resigned on July 1, 2019.
Shortly after Holliday resigned, the State Bureau of Investigation was called in by the New Hanover Sheriff Department to help investigate.
The filing alleges that the school district was warned by multiple parents and had “ample notice” of Michael Kelly’s behavior but let him remain in the classroom anyway, violating their legal obligations to report Kelly to law enforcement.
The complaint says that the district made it worse by reassigning Kelly to another school where he had “more private access to a more vulnerable student body.” The school referred to by this claim is Kelly’s move to Isaac Bear Early College High School (IBECHS).
“NHCBOE actively concealed from students and parents the information it had regarding Kelly and calculated and intended that its concealment would deceive minor students and their parents, including plaintiffs and the putative Class, about the safety of IBECHS,” the complaint states.
Read the full complaint.