NC State Board of Ed members criticize non-public school parents being on Supt. Parent Council
Board members seemed to snub alternative parent voices in favor of public school representation dominance while also pushing for more "equity," and "diversity."
At last week’s N.C. State Board of Education meeting, Democratic members of the board took turns attacking the Parent Advisory Council being set up by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.
The Parent Council is already proving to be a popular move, with Truitt citing over 500 applications having been received since the process opened up in late February.
Over the last few years, parents have been more active in the education of their children and in the debate on education issues than at any time in past memory. Since the pandemic, parent engagement has persisted and the school choice market share of student populations has exploded not just in North Carolina, but nationwide.
Truitt choosing to engage parents at this critical juncture not only makes sense, but it’s also imperative to understand what is driving family educational choices in the current climate.
Even prior to the pandemic, school choice was on the rise. As Bob Luebke of the John Locke Foundation noted in late January of this year, charter school enrollment skyrocketed by 213% over the last decade.
Similarly, homeschooling growth over the last decade shows a 115% increase. Homeschooling in NC rose in 2020-21 to 179,900 students and 112,614 homeschools. In 2019-20, those numbers were 94,863 and 149,173 respectively.
Returning to Truitt’s Mar. 3 presentation to the board, she said that “Many states have a parent advisory commission; this is not a new idea.”
“The purpose of this commission is to give parents a seat at the table; to elevate their voice in education,” said Truitt. She went on to say that “We know from lots of data and research that when parents are involved in their child’s education it cancels out other inequalities.”
The state superintendent also listed the other advisory councils already in place such as the Student Advisory, Principal Advisory, and Teacher Advisory groups.
The current makeup of the council is such that four out of the six parents will be public school parents in the regions.
2 traditional public school parents
1 public charter school parent
1 homeschool parent
1 private school parent
1 at large public school member from the largest county in each region
Apparently, this ratio was not acceptable to certain board members, namely Jill Camnitz, James Ford, Vice Chair Duncan, and Kisha Clemmons.
What ensued after Truitt finished her presentation with the board members’ questions was rather surreal. The public should see what they said. Therefore, for the sake of transparency, I am providing a full transcript of the relevant discussion portion of the meeting held on March 3.
My observations and/or commentary are included in the transcript where italics are present. The video will be embedded at the bottom of the transcript, which starts with Truitt’s superintendent’s report.
JILL CAMNITZ: I love the idea of the parents’ advisory group. I think that’s important.
I do have to express a little bit of concern about the makeup of the representation from each region.
I feel that it does not match up with our mission, which is to provide a family-based education to every student in North Carolina Public Schools.
And based on what we just heard from you about what you’re trying to accomplish it seemed to be more focused on voices in our public schools and yet two out of the six from every county will not be part of that population. It will be people who have chosen not to be part of the public schools.
It doesn’t feel to me that it reflects the population that we serve as students constructed yesterday and so I just want to tell you that I hope maybe you’ll rethink that.
I think those voices are important. I think that people who have made that choice we have something to learn from that perhaps about why, but again the proportionality of it makes me uncomfortable about your ability to accomplish what you want …(?).
SUPT. TRUITT: Thank you for that feedback. I think the proportionality is that 67% of the group will be made up of public school parents, so I think that is important to recognize.
I would also say that there is a question on the application asking what form of education are you currently using with your children and what methods have you used in the past.
And so, it’s very unusual that someone would be in a private or homeschool setting for their entire K-12 journey.
Many families in North Carolina might begin in homeschool but then family circumstances change, and so then that child attends a charter school and then that charter school goes only to eighth grade, and then that student attends a public high school.
And what many superintendents will tell you is that that’s a source of frustration for them because they haven’t had the ability to educate that child all the way through and so they have students coming to them with a very different education experience.
And so, for that reason, as you said, we do have something to learn from those parents.
What I would say is that we have districts and superintendents who view all children as being part of their community because they don’t know when that child will become part of their school and while this does not happen in all districts for many reasons, we do have districts where the local superintendents partner with homeschool families or they partner with charter leaders and I think that that is a model for how we should be invested in our children because it’s not the system of education we’re trying to protect.
We want for this council to be about students and as the chair just said, all students by law are in some form of education, whether it’s homeschool, private school, or public school.
And we’re all here because we want out public schools to be the school of choice, but that’s not always the case… which is why parent choice has taken such a prominent role I would saw even before the pandemic.
So, I so appreciate your candid feedback, but I feel very strongly that we do have something to learn from all parents. And I think it will be interesting to see on the applications we’ve already seen – received over 500 applications by the way – which parents have at one point in time utilized a public school but are no longer utilizing a public school.
We also have families where a sibling attends a private school but another sibling in the same family goes to public school.
So, I just think they’re all our kids, they’re all our future and I look forward to engaging with all parents.
CAMNITZ: And again, I agree that… [interrupted] should have a place at the table and I…
DAVIS: Just a minute, Ms. Camnitz has the floor.
CAMNITZ: …still two out of six seems high to me and I will share with you that I am hearing from parents in Pitt County who are very excited about this prospect but also disturbed about what I just expressed to you. Thank you.
DEMOCRAT MEMBER JAMES FORD: Madam Superintendent, I have a couple of questions as well.
Much like Ms. Camnitz, I’ve expressed publicly that I support the notion of the idea of engaged parents and parent voices, etc.
My question always remains: which parents? And that’s going to be guiding some of the questions I have.
When we went through our planning and work session, we had some key questions that, you know, we encouraged us to look through as we make decisions as a board, right? Equity-based questions.
So, who is, uh, most well served by this policy, who is least well served, why, etc. What voices might be missing from the room?
And so, my concern is about the inclusion of, uh, all parents… particularly those who are least likely to have a voice in the system. And so, um, my first question – and there’s two – is I notice on the application there is a requirement for parents to have a letter of recommendation from either an elected official of school board member and an educator.
Um, my first questions deal with what is the virtue of that, right? When we’re talking about selecting parents and the voices we want at the table? What, uh, purpose, does that serve in the selection process and the second one is a procedural question.
Um, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information on who will be making the selections and based upon what. Who are the folks within DPI who will be selecting these parents, what is the criteria, is there a rubric of any sort of, uh, you know, requirement or consideration of inclusion or diversity as a part of that process? So those are the two questions that I have.
TRUITT: So, thank you for your questions.
So, your second question, the application asks some very specific questions about how parents view the role of public education specifically. And so, that will ensure diverse viewpoints can be a part of this group.
There is an internal committee at DPI which I will be a part of. Those folks have been asked to serve on the selection committee and when they have been confirmed it’s because … it’s quite frankly up to them if they want to serve on the committee or not… but once that group – I believe there are ten people on the group – once they’ve been confirmed we’ll be happy to share those name.
There will absolutely be geographic diversity on the group. In the group, we’ve not asked for race or ethnicity but to your other question about the virtue of asking for some kind of recommendation, we want to ensure that we have, first of all, that the person applying is actually a parent and, second of all, that they are wanting to be a part of this council for the right reasons.
So, if there are issues with the council, once those names have been chosen, I’m happy to answer questions at that time, but it’s premature to have concerns about who is on the committee when the application process hasn’t even closed.
DAVIS: Vice Chair Duncan?
DUNCAN: Thank you, Chair Davis. I agree with what’s already been said to recognize the voice of parents is very important. My concerns are had we had a chance to talk about this beforehand, perhaps we might have had a different composition or approach for setting up the composition of the commission.
I’m sometimes held captive by my early math classes and 78 percent of our kids are in traditional public schools and the proportion of our traditional public schools children who are guaranteed to be on the commission is only 33 percent because the largest county designation is from a public school, so that designation could come from either a charter school or a traditional public school. So, it could be as low as 33 percent representation for 78 percent of students in the state.
Somewhere around eight percent of our kids… eight or nine percent... come from charter schools, which again, are public schools and should be represented in, I think, everyone’s view on a parent’s commission dealing with the oversight of public schools. But, no more than one would be close to proportion – we can’t make it proportional without having even more members, and, so, but more than one would be close to proportional. But we could have two the way it’s currently set up.
And then, finally, we don’t have jurisdiction over – in any meaningful way – over either private schools or homeschools. And I think there are vehicles to get input as to why people left the public schools if that, in fact, was their choice or, in some cases, never left but have been in either private schools or homeschools the entirety of the educational career of their children.
As you said, there are well-organized groups for both of those and there’s sources where we could certainly partner or liaison and get a better idea from those groups. But 33 percent representation in the commission is out of… over a group that we have no ultimate meaningful jurisdiction in this state does not strike me as hitting the right court.
So, I want to circle back, because I believe stating the positive is always important. Parents’ voices are important and I’m glad we’re looking at doing that.
I wish we’d had a chance to talk about the composition a little more deeply before it’s announced because I know there are a lot of questions and the members have reflected.
Here, Duncan criticizes Truitt for sending a campaign email mentioning the parent council. These kinds of emails that mention accomplishments or activity undertaken while in office are something every elected official does:
And I certainly got a very large number as well received from various sources. And so, one other set of questions that came up - those were really comments – but one question that I’ll leave you with, there’s also been an email that sent out, that a number of people brought to my attention pretty quickly.
And there was some concern expressed about that as in, would that help or be beneficial to have been a recipient of the email in some way to perhaps get named on the council. So, I think it’s important to give you a chance to respond to that, because there has been some… uh, a lot… I know there’s been public criticism about it in some quarters.
By “some quarters,” Duncan is probably referring to complaints about the parent council and her campaign’s email from Truitt’s former 2020 Democratic opponent, the NC Association of Educators backed Jennifer Mangrum. There was also a single article written for the express purpose of amplifying Mangrum’s complaint. That lone article was written by Greg Childress at the left-leaning Policy Watch’s “Pulse” blog. Childress has written that parent outrage over Critical Race Theory is manufactured.
I think it’s important for you to have an opportunity to respond to that. So, I wanted to give you that chance.
TRUITT: So, first of all, this board does many things over which it has no jurisdiction. So, I don’t agree with that argument.
Also, I’m bringing this to the board as a courtesy and in no way [am I] required to include the board in this work.
With regard to the email to which you are referring, I think it’s important to be clear that what we’re talking about is an email that was sent out – as I said, the application was sent out on mass through principals – and the email that I believe you are referring to is an email that my campaign sent out, which is something that is completely a matter of course for all elected officials. There are absolutely no laws or any ethics standards that have been violated in sending out that email.
In fact, I have an email in front of me right now from a fellow Council of State Member and Democrat saying that, “Chip in now to support my work to protect consumers across North Carolina. I will file lawsuits on your behalf against North Carolina’s price gouging statute.”
So, it is commonplace for elected officials to send out emails through their campaign that automatically have a donate button at the bottom of the page. So, again, if there… people can insinuate whatever they want about whether or not this is a pay-to-play opportunity. Until there is proof of that, I would say not to make such insinuations and I would also say that if any superintendent has received that email, it is because they’re on my campaign emailing list.
DAVIS: Any other questions?
KISHA CLEMMONS (2020 Wells Fargo NC Principal of the Year): I have a few comments and before I kind of ask the question or the main comment, I just want to echo all of the things that from… that was said from what Ms. Camnitz shared about having some major concerns that, um, as a public school entity and as we look … as I look at your presentation, it talks about sharing the aspirations for public education and discussing those challenges and yet disproportionately our traditional public schools… our public schools… are not represented.
And I also want to point out that, you know, we around this table talk a lot about equity and our commitment to that. Our commitment to diverse voices. However, that’s not something… if we’re committed to that, that’s not something that can do passively.
We have to think ahead and be proactive in thinking about… but what are the voices that marginalized, we have to think about who those people are and we have to make sure to create something and design something that’s going to, um, get those voices at the table and so, the lack of thinking about race, ethnicity and other dimensions of diversity is problematic.
And so, I just encourage uh… Superintendent Truitt… You said that it was a courtesy to bring this to the board, however, you know I think one of the things that we stand on is that, you know, we use our feedback to create something better.
And so, I’ve heard a lot of pushback in this room as well as in the public about the composition of this parent advisory commission and then I just challenge and urge you to really think about other dimensions of diversity when composing this group so that when we all come together, we can come up with the best way to go about this. Thank you.
TRUITT: Thank you for the feedback. And I would add that the application was also sent to our migrant population liaisons, our homeless population liaisons, our EC audiences… there’s all kinds of diversity. And, again, happy to discuss concerns from the board if the board takes an issue with the lack of diversity once the council has been established.