Making Democracy Work

Frequently Asked Questions and Reports of Previous LWVODC Forums and Events

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015. A bipartisan measure, ESSA reauthorizes the 50-year- old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the country's national education law intended to enact the US commitment to equal opportunity for all students.

The previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, was enacted in 2002. The law was scheduled for revision in 2007, and became the focus of extended struggles since, over time, NCLB's prescriptive requirements became increasingly unworkable for schools and educators.

Read More.

What is "school choice?"

There are three basic types of school choice available in school districts in the United States. They all give parents some range of choice in the school their children will attend in contrast to being assigned to a specific school. These choices are arranged in order of the degree to which they are administered by a school district board of education: 

1. Magnet Schools are public schools created under the authority of a local board of education to attract students. They have specialized programs to achieve diversity voluntarily. 

2. Charter Schools are public schools under the authority of a board of citizens who come together to create a school with a special focus. Innovation was an impetus for the creation of charter schools. They are funded by local, state and federal monies that come with their students. Rules for charter schools vary from state to state. In North Carolina they have a "charter" with the State Board of Education and are provided both financial and educational flexibility. 

For a clear and concise summary of controversies over charter schools see the summer 2017 Harvard Graduate School of Education article.

3. Vouchers are monies from school districts that can be applied to tuition for public or private schools outside those districts. Voucher programs vary significantly from state to state.

In North Carolina school vouchers, also known as opportunity scholarships, have been available since the school year 2014-2015. The voucher program was enacted by the legislature in 2013.

From the July 24, 2015 News and Observer:

"The program, approved in 2013, provides low-income families who want to send their children to private schools with as much as $4,200 annually in taxpayer dollars. Eligibility is based on income guidelines for the school lunch program. For instance, a family of four was eligible this past school year if their income was no more than $43,568.

"To be eligible, private schools had to meet conditions such as offering at least one nationally standardized test a year to voucher students and submitting the results to the state.

"For the 2015-16 school year, income eligibility has been raised to 33 percent above the limit for receiving a reduced-price school lunch. For a family of five, that works out to an income of up to $69,903."

Read More
NC school voucher program expanding following court ruling

Why do parents want "school choice?" 

School districts focus on what is best for the whole community while parents focus on the needs of individual children. School districts assign students to specific schools to achieve diversity, racial integration, avoid concentrated poverty and address other educational goals.

Parents may want additional options such as specialized programs for specific populations. 

How many magnet schools are there in these three counties?

  • The Durham Public School District is home to 23 magnet schools including both program and calendar options for students.

  • The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have a dual language magnet school for k-8 grades and a magnet school for high school juniors and seniors.

  • In Orange County, Magnet Programs have been established at elementary, middle and high schools to provide an opportunity for students to engage in intensive study in specific areas. Magnets offer the opportunity for students to discover their talents and explore their interests while focusing on academic rigor.

  • Chatham County Public School District has no magnet schools.

How many charter schools are there in these three counties?

List of charter schools in North Carolina


Report on April 27, 2016 Forum: The View from the Classroom

"The View from the Classroom: How policies and budgets impact opportunities, services and learning in our public schools."

The Education Action Team sponsored a forum in Chapel Hill on April 27, 2016 for parents, educators and the interested public. The panel of seven local educators discussed problems related to funding and policy changes at the state and national levels and described approaches and innovations adopted to alleviate them.

The attached article highlights the key messages coming out of the forum and urges the North Carolina General Assembly to take specific corrective measures.

Following are pictures taken by Aleta Donald, who is the granddaughter of Ruth Ann Groh. Aleta wrote an article on the April 27th forum for her school paper, the ECHO. Click here to read Aleta's article.

League members and guests arriving at the meeting.

Pam Oxendine, LWVODC Vice President, opened the meeting.

Mary Kolek, LWVODC member, moderated the meeting.

Our distinguished 7 panelists

Panelists Listed from left to right:

Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools

  • Dr. Ridell Harrison, Executive Director of Professional Learning- is leading an exciting district initiative focused on teacher professional learning and advancement- Project Advance.
  • Dr. Todd LoFrese joined ​the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in 2008 ​and serves as the Assistant Superintendent ​for Support Services.  He is responsible for human resources,facilities; budget and finance, student enrollment, child nutrition, transportation , and safety. 

Chatham Public Schools

  • Dr. Justin Bartholomew is the principal of Northwood High School in Chatham County where he is also the 2015-2016 Principal of the Year.
  • Dr. Keith Medlin, currently Executive Director for Technology & Media Education, began his career 15 years ago helping to launch the Michigan Virtual High School and to roll out the Michigan LearnPort statewide Teacher Professional Development system.

Durham Public Schools

  • Dr. Deborah Pitman serves as Assistant Superintendent for Student, Family, and Community Services in Durham Public Schools.
  • Elizabeth Shearer, Executive Director of Student Support Services has worked for over twenty years in the Durham Public Schools as an Exceptional Children's teacher, Principal and Central Services Student Support Services leader. 

Orange Public Schools

  • Dr. Todd Wirt is the Superintendent of Orange County Schools located in Hillsborough, North Carolina where he leads 7,500 students in 13 schools.

  • Report of Feb. 3, 2015 Forum: The Economics of Education: What We Owe Our Children and Our Nation


The Economics of Education: What We Owe Our Children and Our Nation

On February 3, 2015, The League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties and the North Carolina Central University's School of Education, co-sponsored a forum on The Economics of Education: What We Owe Our Children and Our Nation, featuring a panel of local superintendents discussing the impact of the NC budget on local schools. Dr. Wynetta Lee, Dean of the School of Education at NCCU, moderated the discussion. Below is a report of that meeting.

Report of Four Superintendents Panel Discussion Feb 3, 2015
Prepared by Ruth Ann Groh, March 3, 2015

An audience of close to a hundred attended our forum at which the superintendents of four local school districts discussed the impact of changes in state funding on their districts. Held on February 3, 2015 at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and moderated by Dr. Wynetta Lee Dean of the School of Education at NCCU, it was covered by reporters from The Herald Sun, Education NC, and

All four superintendents from school districts in Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties participated. They are:

  • Dr. Del Burns, Orange County Interim Superintendent;
  • Dr. Tom Forcella, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent;
  • Dr. Derrick Jordan, Chatham Superintendent and
  • Dr. Bert L'Homme, Durham Superintendent.

The four school districts in our three counties vary significantly in the number of students they serve. The Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers for these districts in FY 2013-14 were:

  • Durham 33,100
  • Chapel Hill-Carrboro 12,300
  • Chatham 8,300
  • Orange 7,500

The sources of school funding, statewide in North Carolina, for FY 2012-2013 were:
  • State 62.2%
  • Local 25.8%
  • Federal 12.0%

According to the NEA, NC's ranking for the highest percentage of state funding has declined from 5th (in 2007) to 13th in the nation (in 2013) and from first to third in the southeast (from "Highlights of the NC Public School Budget February 2014" by the NC Department of Public Instruction.)

North Carolina has 115 school districts in its 100 counties. Most districts are county districts.

At the state level there is a Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that oversees the districts, which are also known as Local Education Agencies (LEAs). Additionally, as of March 2015, there are 149 charter schools.

Media coverage of the forum

Click here, for questions asked but not answered at the forum.

* Report of Feb. 25, 2014 Helen Ladd Talk

Public Education in North Carolina: A discussion of current issues, including charter schools, took place at Extraordinary Ventures, February 25, 2014. An estimated 50 persons listened to Dr. Ladd, Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy as she analyzed the relationship between charter schools and traditional public schools.

Under the present system of state approval, charter schools are separate from local school districts setting up competition for funding and making it difficult for school districts to project enrollment. Dr. Ladd believes there is need for all public schools, charter and traditional, to be part of coherent systems working toward common goals. Charter schools as laboratories of innovation, could then share their findings with all public schools within a particular school system.

Durham is a good case study of the problems occurring in North Carolina's present uncoordinated process of charter school approval. At present there are eleven charter schools in Durham and they serve over 12% of Durham students. Six additional charter schools have been approved to open this year. Opening new schools outside the Durham school system will result in competition, inefficiency and overlapping services.

Both state and local funding follow a child into a charter school, thus reducing funding for traditional public schools. Fixed costs, however, are not reduced. School districts need to plan facilities and programs and be able to predict enrollment.

Charter schools vary from state to state in their relationship to traditional public schools. Charter schools make sense if they are part of a larger public school system and are authorized by the local school district. As innovative laboratories they can adapt to varied learning styles and give disadvantaged students more options.

North Carolina charter schools are authorized by the State Board of Education and have fewer regulations than traditional public schools. Charter school students have to take the state tests required in traditional public schools.

Four issues arise in research on charter schools.
1. Achievement-- do students achieve more in charter schools. It's hard to do the research on this, but there is no evidence that on average charter schools are better. There is a range of quality of charter schools. (How do you measure quality?)

2. Racial segregation-- this is a hard problem to solve. The racial mix in charter schools does not match that of nearby schools.

3. Financing issues-- Money follows the student to a charter school and away from the local school district. The school district's fixed costs are not reduced. Public schools have to provide for students to return from charter schools. Charter schools are not doing their share of educating the most costly students.

4. Expansion of the number of charters in NC is leading to inefficiency and overlapping services. Shouldn't we have a coherent system?

Other issues and comments:

  • Charter schools may be hijacked by management companies. Management companies get political power and want fewer regulations. Who are the persons on the boards of charter schools? Are there educators on the boards? Are there developers on the boards?

  • What are measures of the quality of schools? We spend too much time focusing on academic achievement. Measures of emotional health may be more important. Graduation rates may be another good measure. KIPP schools have used other measures.

  • Ladd is not a fan of test-based accountability. Some countries have inspector-based accountability. Inspectors look at whether students are engaged.

  • How valuable is the concept of charters as laboratories of innovation? There hasn't been much transfer.

  • Flexibility and parental choice have been increasing in school systems. Charter schools are schools of choice.

  • Competition does not work well in schooling.

* Report from Charter Schools: Nov 2012

Posted February 4, 2013

Christopher A. Cody, Director of Public Policy Research at the Public School Forum of NC, spoke on charter schools at a LWVODC meeting in November 2012. He said that although charter schools are public non-profit institutions they may contract with for-profit management companies. North Carolina has about 108 charter schools (in 2012) and an estimated 15% of these have contracted with for-profit management.

Mr.Cody explained that he works with a non-profit think tank on an ongoing study of extended learning. As part of that study he is involved with after school programs as well as charter schools. He is interested in both the positive and the negative effects of charter schools.

Following Mr. Cody's talk on charter schools and a subsequent meeting of League members interested in learning more about charters, several questions arose, including:

  • How will charter schools impact funding for public schools?

  • To what degree are charter schools promoting innovation in education?

  • How is their non-profit status affected by sub-contracting with for-profit entities?

Reported by Niki Jordan and Ruth Ann GrohPosted February 4, 2013

Public schools in the US: A timeline of turning points

1954US Supreme CourtRacial segregation of children in public schools is unconstitutional.
1965US CongressThe Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA,) part of the "War on Poverty" allocated large resources to meet the needs of educationally deprived children, especially through compensatory programs for the poor.
1971US Supreme CourtThe Court upheld busing of public school students as a "remedial technique" for achieving racial desegregation. (Charlotte/Mecklenburg, NC)
1974Judge Garrity, US District Court for MAJudge Garrity ruled that the Boston School Committee had maintained racial segregation and must create racial balance by busing students to various city schools.
1975US CongressThe Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation.
1983A commission appointed by the US Sec. of Education"A Nation at Risk" This report called for more rigorous high school graduation requirements and general strengthening of the curriculum. It was a blunt critique with recommendations.
1994Lynne V. Cheney, Chair of Nat'l Endowment for the HumanitiesProposed new voluntary national history standards aroused the opposition of Lynne V. Cheney who called them "the epitome of left-wing political correctness."
1996NC General AssemblyThe Charter Schools Act (CSA) allowed persons or groups to propose charter schools. The State Board of Education was given the power to accept or reject proposed schools. The number of charter schools was capped at 100.
2002US CongressThe No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandated testing of students in math and reading as a way of evaluating the effectiveness of their teachers and their schools.
2009Obama Administration & US Congress"Race to the Top" (RTT), a contest to spur innovation and reforms, is created and funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
2010NC State Board of EducationCommon Core State Standards, a curriculum developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are adopted.
2011NC General AssemblyThe cap limiting charter schools to 100 is lifted. (SB 8). This bill was a response to "Race to the Top," a federal fund that excluded states that limited the number of charter schools.

Compiled by the LWVODC Charter School Study Committee, March 2013