School board weighs adding 25 charter schools

Published 10:01 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Associated Press
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s school board could increase the number of charter schools in the state by a third within the next year if it accepts a screening committee’s recommendations.
The State Board of Education is considering whether to allow the opening of another 25 charter schools in August 2013 in addition to the eight new ones cleared earlier this year to accept new students beginning next month. The school board discusses the rapid expansion of charter schools on Thursday and could make a decision next month.
Charters are public schools allowed to operate with fewer of the regulations facing traditional schools. Until state law was changed last year, they were limited to 100 statewide since the first was established in the mid-1990s.
Sixty-three groups applied in the latest round to open and operate charter schools starting next year. The state’s education department and outside advisors reviewed which groups were financially and organizationally prepared to operate with taxpayer money.
The 25 proposals that made the cut are spread across 17 counties. Five of the new schools will be in Mecklenburg County, which, starting this fall, will already have 12 charter schools.
The clustering of charter schools led administrators in Mecklenburg, Durham and Guilford counties to lodge complaints that they are draining away funding from urban school districts.
Guilford County Schools officials objected that adding a seventh charter school would duplicate programs, curriculum, and services already available in six others. Because the charter schools lack plans for providing transportation and child nutrition, they would be less likely to attract minority and low-income students, upsetting racial diversity goals, school officials said.
Durham Public Schools opposed allowing a new charter school which wants to open next year in the high-poverty eastern neighborhoods of the city of Durham. As of next month, the school district will have nine charters, drawing away students from schools that are already operating with empty seats, the district said.
Eight Durham County charter schools already serve 9 percent of the county’s students, the highest percentage in the state, officials said. About $13 million in local funding that would go to the public school district goes instead to the charter schools, the district said.
Though charter schools receive funding based on the number of students they attract, groups behind creating them have to find and pay for their own buildings.
Groups aiming to start a new school have no requirement to coordinate with public school administrators by locating in neighborhoods where populations are growing or offering new programs, Durham School Board member Nancy Cox said.
“How is it OK for the charter school to open in East Durham when the need is not there?” she asked. “Even though the taxpayer isn’t going to be footing the bill necessarily for the building, the taxpayer is footing the bill, locally and at the state level, to provide an education for those students who are already being served in buildings right there in the community.”
Challenging public schools with unfamiliar competition is very much the point of charter schools, the head of one advocacy group said.
“The hope here is that those schools run by the local board of education will improve and get to the point where we have positive and constructive competition across the state,” said Eddie Goodall, executive director of the NC Public Charter Schools Association. “The taxpayer doesn’t have to worry because if no one wants to go to the charter there won’t be any money spent or wasted.”