Pending bill would change charter school oversight
The charter school option in North Carolina has been a controversial issue and pending legislation has heated up the conversation.
Leanne Winner, director of government relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association, said the association has been following up to 300 education bills this session, several of which involve changes to the charter school system.
Republican sponsored Senate Bill 337 proposes creating the NC Public Charter Schools Board to govern charter schools in the state and takes away control from the State Board of Education. The board administration would be located within the Department of Public Instruction but will operate independently.
Winner said the association has not taken a firm position on this particular bill, but notes it has mixed reviews within the charter school community because of changes to teaching requirements.
SB337 would remove the requirement of charter schools to hire a certain percentage of teachers with teaching certificates. Under the current law, 75 percent of a charter's elementary teachers have to be credentialed, but all have to be "highly qualified." Fifty percent of a charter's high school teachers have to be credentialed, but all have to be highly qualified and pass certain tests.
“They still — under federal law — have to have highly qualified teachers, and we’ve done research on what that means,” Winner said, adding that definition hasn’t come easily.
The bill also adds language allowing the local charter boards to adopt individual policies pertaining to employment, meaning a local board could decide not to require a criminal background check on teachers.
Winner said the association strongly opposes House Bill 443, introduced by Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherfordton. Like the Senate bill, 443 would create a charter school board, but Winner said it also would also “significantly change how school systems do their accounting.”
She said the new language could have charters and traditional public schools sharing local funds for things like pre-K programing.
“Because those type of funds are restricted — in order for charter to get their fair share — they would have to dip into additional local funds and be provided more than per pupil funding,” Winner said. “And that’s just one example of the many funds that the language would upset.”
Winner said charter schools were first established in the 90s to be “incubators for new ideas to be shared with traditional pub schools.” But so far she said that hasn’t worked out and the state has not developed a mechanism for that to occur. Instead, all the litigation over charter legislation language has created a wedge between the different systems
“It’s been very difficult in a lot of communities for that dialogue to occur because of lawsuits,” Winner said.
While she has seen communication between the two groups on places like Durham, she said sometimes the relationship just depends on the community.
“It’s very site specific what happens when a charter enters a community,” she said.
A group of parents are trying to get a charter school open in Haywood County and they hope to work in harmony with the school system. The proposed school would be called Shining Rock Classical Academy and would potentially begin classes for kindergarten through fifth grade in the fall of 2015 if the applications are approved as scheduled.
Bill Nolte, Haywood County Schools association superintendent, said the school system has no position on the establishment of a charter school.
Supporters of charter schools see it as another option for families and a more efficient way to education children. Charters are allowed to choose their own curriculum and operating procedures. They usually require or encourage more parent participation, which can make for more successful students.
Those opposed to charter schools argue they take money away from the traditional public schools and further segregate the affluent students from the lower-income students for several reasons. Charter schools are not required to provide busing for students.
Also, charter schools provide lunch but do not have to provide free and reduced lunches. Winner said the association does have concerns over charter schools that don’t offer those programs because it automatically limits the eligibility of a portion of the community.
Many low-income families may not be able to send their children to a charter school for those reasons and may not feel like they can be more involved with the school because of working full-time jobs.
Joan Lange, national schools director for CFA/Challenge Foundation, is helping the Haywood group establish a charter school. She said technically, charter schools do take away money from traditional public schools, but only on a per-pupil basis. The per- pupil funding provided by the state will follow the student where ever he or she chooses to go, but the other categorical funding, including money for capital expenses, does not go to charter schools.
Charter schools do receive state funding for students who have a disability or for students with limited English proficiency.
Lange said some charter schools do not provide busing for students, but others choose to do so.
“It’s based on what the parent demand is,” she said.
Committee members said they don’t think a charter school was discriminatory because it is open to any parent wanting to enroll their child. Since the school would be open to any N.C. resident, Lange said charter schools could assist with overcrowding from other counties and pick up new funding from home-school students wanting to come to a charter school.
When asked how other programs, including busing, would be funded, Lange said, “We can make it work because we’re not top heavy.” The charter school wouldn’t have to pay for all the top-level administrators because it would only have one school director and some office staff.
“When you have to balance budget, you pay attention to it,” she said. “It is doable, we’ve run the numbers.”
For prospective parents who want to learn more information and keep up with the committee’s process, visit http://www.shiningrockclassicalacademy.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/ShiningRockClassicalAcademy