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The sausage factory: Watch ‘negative’ N.C. charter report get revised

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who serves on the N.C. Board of Education, said the state’s 2015 charter school report was too negative.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who serves on the N.C. Board of Education, said the state’s 2015 charter school report was too negative.

People who care about the politics of public education in North Carolina will get a rare glimpse of the inner workings as state officials revise a charter school report that was characterized Wednesday as too negative.

As Lynn Bonner of the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who serves on the state Board of Education, asked the board to delay voting on a 30-page staff report because that report “did not have a lot of positive things to say” about charter schools and would likely turn into “the fuel the media uses for the next year to criticize whatever we’re doing.”

The board agreed, even though the report was done at the demand of state lawmakers, who set a Jan. 15 deadline.

But if the goal was to remove the draft report from public scrutiny and media commentary ... well, there’s the fact that it was a public document presented at an open meeting in Raleigh. Bonner used it as the basis for reporting that charter schools have more white students, few Hispanics and fewer low-income students than district schools.

I was among the reporters present. The brief discussion struck me as an unusually blunt demand to make data more politically palatable. And because the draft remains online, we’ll all get to see how it changes.

The report deals with demographics, students with disabilities, test scores, academic growth, charter school openings and closings, and the financial impact on school districts. It cites nine charter schools out of 146 open last year that met “high quality” standards for academics, finances and operations, including Mecklenburg’s Socrates Academy and Community School of Davidson.

And the report highlights why all of this matters: Statewide enrollment in charter schools has grown from 41,200 in 2011, before the state lifted a 100-school cap, to 81,951 in 158 schools this year.

State funding has grown from $200 million in 2010-11 to $366 million in 2014-15, according to the report. The Department of Public Instruction tells me the current budget is for $394 million.

Forest didn’t cite any specific problems. He simply offered to “run cover” if legislators question the blown deadline. Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey agreed to the delay.

The Charter School Advisory Board is scheduled to discuss the report at 8:35 a.m. Jan. 12 (go to the state board Web page to listen in on live audio). And the revised report will be posted with the Board of Education’s February agenda.

The making of public policy has been compared to the making of sausage – something you’d rather not see. But for those of us who can’t resist, it’s going to be fascinating to see what gets removed, what gets added and what gets recast to give state lawmakers a report that satisfies Forest and the board.

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

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