Today's N&O frontpage features an issue that I've been meaning to write about for a while... The wacky way North Carolina manages our public education system.
In our strange system, responsibility for education is distributed across at least seven levels. The titular head of our education system, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, has the least power of anyone.
The North Carolina Public School Forum lists this as one of the top 10 education issues of 2009. It's one of those complex issues that has never really been addressed because none of the power brokers have a vested interest in making it better. You can guess at who might suffer from their inaction.
Here's my take on how it works, and what we can change.
The legislature paid a consultant $169,900 to write a report that can be summed up in a one page handout. In fact, someone gave me just that handout a few years ago. I've reproduced it here and updated it a bit. (I'd credit the original author, but I don't know who it is.)
NC PUBLIC SCHOOL GOVERNANCE, MANAGEMENT & FUNDING MODEL
WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?
115 Local School Boards
Authorized by statute (not the Constitution).
Members elected by the people.
Manage local school systems.
Select and employ system superintendent
Dependent on county government for school funding beyond state minimum per pupil expenditures.
No authority to levy taxes.
Independent of State Board of Education.
Local District Superintendents
Professional school managers employed by elected boards with varying levels of education expertise and no capacity to fund schools.
100 County Governments
Fund capital needs in their local discretion, as local resources permit.
Pay for about one-fourth of program operations.
No authority to manage schools they pay for.
No control over unfunded state requirements the county must pay for.
Limited mainly to property taxes for school funding.
State Board of Public Education
Sets some statewide policies.
Attempts to administer policies developed by the legislature.
Attempts to support agenda of the Governor (who appoints most members).
Has little direct authority over local systems.
Has little direct authority over the State Superintendent.
Does not have anything like the management authority of the UNC Board of Governors.
Has a tiny staff; depends on DPI for most staff support.
Department of Public Instruction
State funded agency to support K-12 education.
Managed by Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Deputy Superintendent is appointed by the Governor; not accountable to Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Staff of about 600 to provide assistance to local schools.
Provides guidance on some educational policies and practices, but has little direct control over local schools.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Constitutional officer; elected by the people.
Has no direct control over Department of Public Instruction.
Not subject to direct management control of State Board, Governor or General Assembly.
A working politician with all the usual constraints on independence, not necessarily a professional educational manager, not hired by and reporting to a board like the UNC System President.
Funds about 70% of local school operations.
Provides intermittent capital support to supplement local funds (but has no statewide plan or funding public school facilities).
Approves statutes governing NC Education Lottery and distribution of lottery funds to schools for capital improvements.
Adopts public school legislation.
Appoints most members of State Board of Education.
No control over:
-Local school boards
-County government funding decisions
-Legislative funding or micro managing of schools
-Superintendent of Public Instruction
Despite this lack of management & funding authority, all NC Governors promise to improve schools.
Obviously this is an issue where change needs more discussion than a blog post allows. But here are three simple things that I recommend to align our management:
-Make the Superintendent of Public Instruction a position appointed by the Governor.
-Give the Superintendent the power to run DPI.
-Make the Superintendent chair of the State Board of Education.
The funding issues are way more complex. We'll have to deal with them later!