Charter schools snatch another exception

Jul 31, 2014

A bill is currently sitting on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk that would exempt some North Carolina charter schools from disclosing the salaries of employees.

Under the Open Meetings and Public Records Acts, the salaries of public school teachers are open to the public because they are funded with taxpayer money. Legislators who have supported charter schools have been fighting for years to make people understand that a charter school is a public school, but then here they are making charters less accountable for the public funds they are receiving.

Senate Bill 793 states that charter schools being managed by for-profit companies are not required to make public the salaries of employees even though those salaries are state funded. Charter schools that operate as nonprofits would still have to release their employees’ salaries. But it shouldn’t matter whether the school is managed as a nonprofit or for-profit because the fact remains that those salaries are publicly funded and the public deserves to know how its money is being spent.

The entire purpose of the Open Records Act is to provide safeguards against government abuse and corruption. Any entity or program receiving tax money should be accountable for that money by allowing the public to inspect the records and see how that money is being spent.

This law also creates a sizeable loophole for organizations starting a charter school. It seems like more charter schools would move toward being managed by a for-profit business if it would allow them more secrecy. Placing restrictions on public information is a slippery slope, especially when it involves a new public education venture like charter schools.

Ben Butler, the school director for the charter school forming in Haywood County, said this legislation would not affect Shining Rock Classical Academy. Shining Rock will be operated by a local board and will not have a management company, meaning its teachers’ salaries are public record.

A recent study done by the University of Arkansas found that North Carolina gives about 17 percent less funding to charters than traditional schools yet the achievement scores measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at charters are much higher in math and reading.

If in fact charters are outperforming traditional schools with less money, administrators should be more than happy to share their financial information with the public. If charter schools want to be considered public schools and take public money, they need to operate under the same rules as everyone else.

Gov. McCrory has a clear choice in this matter. He needs to do the right thing and veto this bill.