Areas of Policy Focus

Every day, we strive to ensure that the work we do reflects the mission of Council for Children’s RightsTo lead the community to stand up for every child’s right to be safe, healthy, and well-educated

In support of that mission, we focus our priorities in four areas. These are:

  • Adequately Funding our Public Schools
  • Raise the Age Implementation/Juvenile Justice Reform
  • Reducing Concentrations of Poverty and Racial Isolation in Schools
  • School Environment
  • Mental Health

Umbrella issue:

Adequately funding our public schools

With our public schools funded at pre-recession levels, they lack the appropriate support staff needed to meet the increasingly complex needs children bring with them each day.  Consequently, our teachers are asked to perform the roles of missing social workers, nurses, counselors, and psychologists.  Beginning in December 2019, local education agencies (LEAs) will be required to make school-level budgets and staffing information publically available. [i]

While not every policy endeavor will relate directly to public school funding, aspects of each priority are symptomatic of inadequate funding and staffing.  Further, appropriately funding and staffing our schools is both a state and local policy issue considering 30% of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (CMS) operating budget is allocated by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

[i] A provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (federal legislation).

State:

Raise the Age Implementation and Juvenile Justice Reform

During the 2017 long session, the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) passed Raise the Age legislation via Senate Bill 257: Appropriations Act of 2017 (i.e. North Carolina Budget process). The bill accomplished several things, detailed here, including raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 for all crimes with a special transfer process for A-G felonies effective December 2019.  We applaud the inclusion of 16- and 17-year-olds in a system designed to serve youth; however, multiple procedural, staffing, and programmatic questions remain. These unanswered questions threaten to undermine the good for children and squander potential cost savings.

The bill included $13.2 million for RTA implementation—all for a Youth Development Center (youth prison)—and $200,000 for a fence at the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center. In a March 2018 report, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC) recommended the NCGA appropriate an additional $31 million to implement legislation over the next two years.[i] Through the 2018-19 NCGA budget process, the NCGA allocated funding for 65 additional court counselors; however, the budget did not include the recommended $31 million.  CFCR is actively engaged in implementation planning with a local group of juvenile justice stakeholders (including Criminal Justice Services, Court Counselors, Law Enforcement, District Court Judges, etc.). This planning group is working to address procedural inaccuracies, estimate the cost of implementation at each decision point (arrest, intake, access to counsel, etc.), and identify additional service providers that may be impacted (e.g. placements, mental health services, YFS).  We will continue dedicating resources to RTA implementation as well as exploring other opportunities for juvenile justice reform.

Connection to Umbrella Issue:

The bill formalizes a school-justice partnership between school systems and law enforcement to reduce in-school arrests, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions. Adequate school funding could create opportunities to use restorative justice models that may reduce referral to law enforcement.

Keywords: school safety, school-based offenses, referrals to law enforcement, school-to-prison pipeline, restorative justice

[i] Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee. (2018). Juvenile age interim report. Retrieved from this source.

County and Local Community:

Reducing concentrations of poverty and racial isolation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

In the ten years following the 2001-2002 academic year, when CMS adopted a choice-based student assignment policy, the number of high poverty[i], highly segregated[ii] schools grew from 12 to 53-the number rose in 2016-17 to 74. This rapid growth prompted the Board of Education (BOE) to review the district’s student assignment policies. CFCR supports CMS’ efforts to reduce concentrations of poverty and racial isolation across the district. Further, we support identifying additional strategies to increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in all schools. In fall 2016, the BOE agreed to move forward with a two-phase student assignment plan intended to address several issues facing the school system guided by five core principles. Phase I, approved in February 2016, focused on the use of magnets and Phase II, approved in May 2017, focused on altering school boundaries and feeder patterns. Details on each phase may be found here.

CMS estimates the plan will result in 74 schools with increased socioeconomic diversity (e.g., Bruns Academy, Billingsville Elementary, Sedgefield Elementary and Middle); however, CFCR believes these goals are overstated. In fact, projections show only 12 schools will significantly change (measure as ≥10%) in terms of socioeconomic diversity and three of these shifts will result from an additional partial magnet.

It is critical to recognize that the student assignment plan is simply a first step toward addressing overcrowding, inequitable distribution of resources,[iii] and segregation in CMS.  Its success relies on effective implementation, continued evaluation of impact, and exploration of additional strategies. A key element of CFCR’s Mission is to ensure that the educational needs of children in our community are met, particularly the vulnerable children we serve. CFCR will work with CMS and other community partners to help make the plan a success, monitor utilization of bonds, and to advocate for educational equity in our community.

Connection to Umbrella Issue:

Resource allocation goes beyond financial investment from state and local municipalities to include high-quality and experienced teachers, support staff, technology in the classroom, books, facilities, course offerings, etc.  Adequate funding must go beyond per-pupil budgeting to include distribution of these resources and funds from parent-teacher organizations.

Keywords: equitable distribution of resources, facility improvements, adequate support staff, per pupil spending, PTAs, PTOs

[i] More than 80% of students

[ii] 80% or more students of all one race

[iii] Examples: high-quality and experienced teachers, support staff, books, technology, course offerings, innovative programs

School Environment 

The recent wave of tragic school violence renewed public debate about school safety reform. CFCR supports a public health approach that goes beyond increased security to focus on school environment and reducing risk. Key to this approach is creating a supportive school climate that protects students, faculty, and staff from bullying, discrimination, and assault.[i]

The balance between supportive environments and disciplinary practices relies on establishing clear boundaries and high standards coupled with proactive and consistent consequences. When students feel supported and view discipline as fairly enforced, schools report less bullying and victimization.  Schools that use proactive approaches to discipline (e.g., modeling appropriate behavior, peer education) instead of punitive measures (e.g., suspension) report lower rates of disciplinary infractions.

Research on the harms of exclusionary discipline include overwhelming evidence that suspensions negatively impact academic achievement, student behavior, and classroom climate. They increase the likelihood that students will drop out, experience additional suspensions, and enter the juvenile justice system. The use of exclusionary discipline may also contribute to racial gaps in academic achievement as disparities exist in the ways students of color and their White peers are disciplined for the same or similar offenses. Between the 2013-14 and 2016-17 academic years, short-term suspensions decreased 11.6%. While long-term suspension and expulsion rates remained low, they have risen in recent years. Further, despite declines in short-term suspension rates, disproportionality remains along racial lines. Of the 21,342 out-of-school suspensions issued by CMS in 2016-17, Black students accounted for 76 % of them, despite the fact that only 39% of the CMS population was Black.  In addition, Black boys accounted for 100% of the expulsions in 2016-17. Further troubling is the increased utilization of disciplinary reassignment to an alternative education setting which is not considered an exclusionary measure despite removing children from their school of origin without due process. Data about students sent to our alternative schools are limited and difficult to obtain.

CFCR will continue to work locally to help educate and implement more effective strategies that reduce the number of unnecessary exclusions from school, reduce the number of children reassigned to alternative schools, and reduce the number of school-based incidents that are referred to law enforcement.

Connection to Umbrella Issue:

Adequate staffing and a coordinated response system positions schools to identify risk factors for violence and to intervene in an appropriate and timely manner.[ii]

Keywords: Public health approaches to school safety, adequate support staff, restorative justice models

[i] Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence (2018). Call for action to prevent gun violence in the United States of America. Retrieved from https://curry.virginia.edu/prevent-gun-violence; Townsend, L., Musci, R., Stuart, E., Ruble, A., Beaudry, M.B., et al. (2017). The association of school climate, depression literacy, and mental health stigma among high school students. Journal of School Health, 87, 567-574.

[ii]Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence (2018). Call for action to prevent gun violence in the United States of America. Retrieved from https://curry.virginia.edu/prevent-gun-violence

Mental Health

The Children’s Mental Health Assessment, released in November 2017, revealed that our mental system cannot currently meet the needs of children and families in Mecklenburg County. It identified gaps in the system, highlighted barriers to accessing services, and provided strategies improving prevention, access, and quality. While three strategies with 16 tactics were recommended, CFCR will focus mental health efforts on expanding school-based mental health services, increasing utilization of trauma-informed practices, and reducing the inappropriate use of involuntary commitments.

Locally, 31% of our high school students report feeling sad or hopeless every day and 17% report seriously considering suicide.[i] Currently, CMS does not meet recommended national standards for school counselors, social workers, and psychologists (i.e., student services) and requested additional funds for the 2018-19 school year to improve these ratios[ii]:

Job TitleCurrent # Positions[iii]National Recommended Ratios[iv]2014-2015 National Average Ratios[v]2017-2018 Ratios2018-2019 Ratios with requested 60 positions
Elementary Counselor1621:2501:4821:4331:359

(+ 33 positions)

Middle School Counselor861:2501:4821:3781:378
High School Counselor1271:2501:4821:3521:352
School Social Worker501:250not reported1: 2,9571:2,119

(+17 positions)

School Psychologist701:500-7001:1,381[vi]1:2,1051:1,842

(+10 positions)

 

If CMS’ budget request is fully funded, the additional school counselors, social workers, and psychologists will still be unable to meet school-level mental health needs. Moreover, even with improved ratios, staff will continue to perform tasks such as assessments rather than providing therapeutic services.

In additions to student services (e.g., counseling, crisis intervention), CMS’ school-based mental health program is in its third year of implementation. The program pairs schools with mental health service providers to serve students with significant need and is currently in 59% of schools. CFCR will focus on expanding this program and ensuring that CMS students have access to appropriate mental health supports and professionals.

The Children’s Mental Health Assessment highlighted the insufficient number of Trauma-Certified Clinicians as well as the lack of clinically-appropriate placements, particularly for children with a history of trauma.

Finally, while not a component of the mental health assessment, our advocates express increasing concern about the improper use of involuntary commitments in our local facilities. An involuntary-commitment is the legal process through which an individual who meets criteria (i.e., danger to self or others) is court ordered to receive treatment at a psychiatric facility. Since children have no legal authority to voluntarily commit themselves involuntary-commitments are often used to transport a child to a locked facility when a parent cannot or will not authorize transfer. In Mecklenburg County, hundreds of children face involuntary commitment annually and face life-long collateral consequences that could inhibit their abilities to join a branch of the military, obtain professional licensures, and will exclude them from other types of privileges that require extensive background checks. As such, CFCR will devote staff capacity to reducing harmful practices that directly impact the children we serve.

CFCR plays an active role on several mental health coalitions, including the group charged with prioritizing strategies identified in the mental health assessment. We will continue to lead coalitions, challenge institutions to keep children the priority, support CMS’ efforts to expand mental health services, and ensure that children are not being unconstitutionally committed.

Connection to Umbrella Issue:

Adequate funding for schools ensures that mental health professionals are present and able to create rapport with students. It can also alleviate some of the burden placed on teacher to manage behavioral issues during instructional time.

Keywords: school-based mental health services, full-time counselors & psychologists

[i] 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

[ii] Personal Communication

[iii] Does not include Title I funded positions, which are determined annually and vary year to year (2017-2018: 2 Elementary counselors, 2, middle school counselors, 1 high school counselor, 10 social workers)

[iv]NCGA House Select Committee on School Safety. (2018). Interim report to the 2018 sessions of the 2017 NCGA. Retrieved from: https://www.ncleg.net/documentsites/committees/House2017-190/Interim%20Report%20Adopted%205-10-18.pdf

[v] Counselor ratios are not calculated by school type (i.e., elementary, middle, high). American School Counselor Association. (2017). ASCA releases updated student-to-school-counselor ratio data. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Press%20releases/ASCA-Student-to-SC-Ratios-Press-Release-10_2017-Final.pdf

[vi] National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). Shortages in school psychology: Challenges to meeting the growing needs of U.S. students and schools. Retrieved from www.nasponline.org/Documents/…/School_Psychology_Shortage_2017.pdf

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