The Pulse

Open letter from teacher takes Dan Forest to task on charter schools

By: - January 12, 2016 11:06 am

West Forsyth High School teacher Stuart Egan has penned another open letter to a prominent state official on the subject of public education in North Carolina. This time, the letter is directed to Lt. Governor (and State Board of Education member) Dan Forest and relates to Forest’s recent comments regarding the North Carolina Charter School Report released by the Department of Public Instruction. Click here to access some of Egan’s previous on-the-money efforts.

“Lt. Gov. Forest,

I read with great interest two news articles just published concerning the recent NC Charter School report prepared by the Department of Public Instruction. Both Ann Doss Helms’s article in the Charlotte Observer (“The sausage factory…”) and Lynn Bonner’s piece in Raleigh’s News and Observer (“Charter schools in NC less diverse…”) state that you requested the report be revised because it did not have, as you say, “a lot of positive things to say.”

You claim in Helms’s article that the report could be “the fuel that the media uses for the next year to criticize whatever we’re doing.” However, what really seems to be the issue is that you simply did not like that report shows what is already known (and even verified by an April 2015 study by Helen Ladd, Charles Clodfelter, and John Holbein of Duke University). That fact is that many of the charter schools you have enabled are perpetuating segregation and are not accomplishing what you advertised they would do.

Yet, instead of accepting the report for its contents and moving to remedy what it reveals, you requested that it be edited and amended because you did not like what it said. You demanded that the SBOE not honor these findings of academic research based on hard data and the logical conclusions that come from them.

That’s not the leadership we North Carolinians need from our Lt. Governor and a ranking member of the State Board of Education; it’s simply placing personalities before principles.

If I used your illogical reasoning, I should also be able to “revise” a lot of issues that I deem are “too negative.” I could even extend that line of thought to my personal life. I could demand my doctor to revise my health screenings to show that I have the body of a triathlete. I could have my transcripts be rewritten to show that I am a summa cum laude graduate of a top tier school. I could even send back those Powerball tickets I bought this past weekend to reflect the winning numbers. But, alas, I cannot change the truth.

The “Education Policy” page on your official website specifically states that you promote charter schools, virtual schools, private schools, and home schools as well as the Opportunity Grants that you say help low-income families. Ironically, many of those have been supported at the expense of public school funding.

Overall, charter schools seem to lack diversity and operate under a different set of rules according to the report you are trying to squelch. Virtual schools are seeing high withdrawal rates. Private schools are accepting monies that were supposed to go to public schools because of a voucher program. That voucher program (“Opportunity Scholarship” grants) actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools with good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Scholarships who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 75 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority.

But the cruelest irony is that you sit on the State Board of Education, whose purpose is to defend the right for North Carolinian students to have access to a quality public education as dictated by our state constitution. That means making sure that our public schools are as strong as possible. That means that profit-minded virtual schools and charter schools should not be funded with monies that were designated for public schools. That means that we should not provide public monies to offset costs at private schools.

Maybe the desire to have the NC Charter School Report amended stems from its timing. It is an election year, and public education is sure to be debated heatedly. Having something appear to shine a negative light on your political platform during your campaign may not serve so well.

Last August, you released a video entitled “Education Fast Facts in NC” in which you defended the current GOP-led General Assembly and the McCrory administration’s actions concerning the health of public education in North Carolina. In less than two minutes, you hastily glossed over facts, presented slanted views, and spouted numbers in a cursory manner to present what amounted to nothing more than political propaganda . I remember thinking that video should be revised because it was too positive and did not reflect the entire truth.

However, while there may not be a way to rewrite the events of the last four years and the effects on public education, there is a way to revise what has been done. That opportunity comes in November when North Carolinians go to the polls. Amidst the massive amount of political commercials and advertisements (surely revised) that will be presented in the next ten months, we can ascertain what the truth really is. And in the case of public education, the truth is that what the GOP-led General Assembly and administration have done with public education should be amended and corrected.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School
Clemmons, NC


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.