Your Schools

ONE plus One equals need for a cheat sheet on education causes

What are OneMECK and ONE Charlotte? Who’s LEE, and what’s the Fair Funding Campaign all about?

The education advocacy scene changes fast. I missed a few beats while covering health care for a year, but I think most of us need a cheat sheet to keep up. So here’s a quick roundup of new groups and causes I’ve come across. Who and what do I need to add?

OneMECK: Promoting diverse schools

OneMECK is brand-new. It went public this week, launched by school social worker Barry Sherman, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parent Carol Sawyer and others hoping to see CMS focus on diversity in student assignment. Members plan to make their first public appearance speaking at next week’s school board meeting.

“OneMECK Coalition is an alliance of Mecklenburg County organizations and individuals that says: YES to fair, equal and excellent educational opportunity for all CMS students and NO to policies and practices that maintain high-poverty schools and neighborhoods,” the website says.

CMS is in the early stages of a student assignment review that’s expected to explore fundamental priorities. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more coalitions and advocacy groups emerge in the coming months.

ONE Charlotte: Race and suspensions

ONE Charlotte (for One Network for Education) debuted in May, but I haven’t yet met the key players.

According to the website, a major focus is restorative justice, an approach to school discipline that’s designed to reduce out-of-school suspensions, which land disproportionately on African-American students. Instead of kicking offenders out of school, which can put them on the path for failure, schools are encouraged to use mentoring, community service, peer resolution and similar tactics.

“We treat them with respect while reintegrating them into the community,” member Jarrod Jones told WBTV in May, before members made their case to the school board.

Fair funding: More for charter schools

I was talking to Eddie Goodall of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association when he mentioned the Fair Funding Campaign.

Sponsored by various groups that support charters and other forms of school choice, the campaign emphasizes the gap between public funding for charters, which are run by nonprofit boards, and schools run by elected school boards. The website cites “less than 75 cents for every dollar given to traditional public schools.”

Speakers in their video, including former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, emphasize that this campaign is about money from local school districts, not state money. I watched the video and couldn’t figure out what they’re seeking.

Several years ago, Vinroot, a lawyer and charter school board member, sued CMS, saying the district was improperly withholding operating money from local charter schools. The charter schools won and CMS paid a settlement.

Now the big gap comes from the fact that county governments provide money to build and renovate district schools, which are public property, but not charter schools, which are privately owned. Are these groups lobbying to require counties to pay for charter facilities as well? That would raise a raft of follow-up questions.

No, Goodall says. However, he said, charter advocates do support a bill that would allow counties to allot money for charter facilities, with that property reverting to the county if and when the school dissolves.

LEE: Bigger role for TFA alums

Leadership for Educational Equity has been around for years, but it hadn’t been on my radar until last month, when a LEE staffer filed to run for the CMS board. Just a couple of weeks later, Gov. Pat McCrory’s senior education adviser, Eric Guckian, resigned to work for LEE.

LEE is a spinoff of Teach For America, which recruits college grads who didn’t major in education, gives them a crash course in urban education and sends them into struggling high-poverty schools for three-year stints. CMS is among the districts hosting those cadets.

LEE describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to get TFA alums into elected office, policy posts and other leadership roles that advance public education. It’s a 501(c)(4) group, IRS-speak for a type of nonprofit that can get involved in some political activity as long as its sole mission is to “promote social welfare.”

Whether you consider it a force for good or a nefarious effort to take over the education system probably depends on your view of TFA. Here’s a 2012 article from American Prospect magazine looking at LEE.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms