Marcus Brandon—former Democratic representative in the N.C. General Assembly, Guilford County resident, and, through the group Carolina CAN, a staunch advocate for school choice in North Carolina—admits he only achieved two of his top three goals in this year’s legislative session.
The so-called “achievement school district” model, a controversial means for charter takeovers of a handful of low-performing schools, is now law. So is a mammoth expansion of the state’s publicly-funded voucher program, which pays to allow low-income children to attend private schools.
But when it comes to charter school funding, a frequent rallying cry for advocates who say charters are being short-changed, Brandon points out Republican-backed legislation opening up more coffers of public funds to charters stalled in a legislative committee in June.
Now, Brandon is promising to be “more forceful” on this issue in the coming months. He started Monday, during a presentation before the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, by suggesting charter-backers should file a class-action lawsuit against every county in North Carolina to collect more cash from public coffers.
“This is money that charters are owed,” said Brandon, who frequently breaks with the state’s Democratic party when it comes to education issues.
As Policy Watch reported this year, proponents such as Brandon say charters, which are publicly funded but are granted greater flexibility in curriculum than traditional public schools, are not being funded properly.
This year’s legislation sought to open up more funds for charters, including grants, gifts and sales tax revenues that charters are legally excluded from receiving in North Carolina.
The bill was met with skepticism from both Republican and Democratic leaders in the legislature, with some pointing out that the bill would have allowed charters to collect on school lunch funding grants despite the fact that charters are not required to provide lunches to their students.
Still, Brandon said Monday that he believes there’s a “good chance” charter supporters win out in their annual funding war with traditional public schools.
Monday’s presentation was made mostly to conservative advocates in the state and a handful of members of the media.
At one point Monday, Brandon blamed Democrats and public school supporters for failing to understand the root causes of poverty and the “cultural issues” in low-performing districts. For instance, he said black students “don’t want to come to school (as early as) 7:30 a.m.”
“Black people are different,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Brandon also touted public-private partnerships and greater school choice in the state, slamming public schools in continually low-performing districts and calling it a “fantasy from the other side” that greater school funding will improve performance in such schools.
“We no longer allow school districts to fail kids for 25 years,” he said.
Meanwhile, the former High Point-area lawmaker, who served from 2011 to 2014, described this year’s voucher expansion as a “big victory for me personally.”
Critics have been outspoken in their condemnation of the state’s voucher program, pointing out that most of the state’s scholarships are directed toward primarily religious schools, some of which maintain openly discriminatory policies toward LGBT students and families.
“We don’t have to come back to the General Assembly every year begging for money,” Brandon said.
Monday’s discussion, organized by the Locke Foundation, was intended to address equity issues in North Carolina’s schools, according to Donna Martinez, a spokeswoman for the group.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t want all children to succeed,” said Martinez.
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