NC School Board Voting On 25 More Charter Schools
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's school board on Thursday is expected to approve a measure to authorize the opening of 25 new charter schools next year, a sharp increase after years under a state cap.
The State Board of Education was scheduled to vote on whether to accept a screening committee's recommendations and authorize the charter schools to open in August 2013. Seven new ones were cleared earlier this year and opened for the just-started academic year, bringing the statewide total to 107.
Charters are public schools run by nonprofits and 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.
Schools that gain approval will start planning and training for opening day, and the state school board has to certify by March that they are ready. In the coming months, key members of the non-profit groups behind each school and their key employees will be trained on cash management, their legal duties, and the nuts and bolts of managing an operation in a way that protects taxpayer money.
"There are a lot of issues around governance, finance, even contracts with other groups, getting faculty in place, getting student population in place, getting a building and curriculum. All of those things (need to be done) in a fairly short period of time," said school board member Wayne McDevitt of Asheville.
Schools in the new cluster passed the Public Charter School Advisory Council's screening of 63 groups that applied 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.
Just one of the 25 under consideration Thursday was controversial. A Raleigh high school focusing on fine arts changed its plans between the time it submitted its application in April and when organizers were interviewed in June. The Longleaf School of the Arts voted 7-6 to recommend the school, with the panel's chairman breaking a tie.
The liberal North Carolina Justice Center wants the state school board to scrutinize Longleaf and most of the rest of the candidates because it says they have shortcomings that threaten to bar some students from the option of attending the charter school.
"Many of the pending applications fail to provide strong plans for high quality schools," Matthew Ellinwood, a policy analyst with the center's Education and Law Project, wrote the state school board. "This should not be an invitation to open the door for weak charter school applicants that are unlikely to meet students' educational needs."
The group complains that 16 of the 25 applicants rely on carpools or parent drivers to transport students, with the lack of buses potentially ruling out poor or disabled children.
Seventeen of the schools haven't clearly identified locations, making it difficult to anticipate the effect a new charter school would have on existing schools, Ellinwood 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.
The 25 proposals that made the cut are spread across 17 counties. Five of the new charter schools will be in Mecklenburg County, adding to the 12 schools already operating. That clustering of charter schools in urban school districts led administrators in Mecklenburg, Durham and Guilford counties to lodge complaints that they are siphoning away funds from traditional public schools.