170 New Charters Could Open Doors in North Carolina by 2015

Up to 170 new charter schools could open their doors in North Carolina by 2015, suggests an estimate provided by the state education officials based on the number of applications submitted to the authorizers prior to the deadline last Friday – and additional applications may also push that number higher by the December 6th deadline.

North Carolina is now home to over 120 charters, but that number could more than double. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson thinks this is a very good thing. In a statement earlier this week, she credited public charter schools with improving academic outcomes for North Carolina students including raising high school graduation rates which are now highest they’ve been in the state’s history.

The number of charter schools has expanded sharply since legislators eliminated a 100-school cap in 2011. The 127 that are now open could serve as many as 65,000 students this year. The number of schools could grow to 153 next year; the State Board of Education gave preliminary approval last week for 26 charters to open in 2014.

The way the state reviews new applications has been under revision during the past year.

After receiving 156 letters of intent and ultimately 70 applications last year, officials from the now-disbanded Public Charter School Advisory Council told the State Office of Charter Schools to use a rigorous review standard. This resulted in rejection of a number of applications for what charter-school supporters said were minor reasons.

T. Keung Hui of the News Observer reports that the great North Carolina charter expansion was kicked off thanks to the elimination of the 100 school cap by the legislature in 2011. Now charters operating around the state serve 65,000 students a year with 26 more scheduled to open next fall.

After officials of the State Office of Charter Schools used the recommended rigorous review standards to reject a number of charter applications for what some claimed were minor reasons, the office was disbanded. Now, thanks to the legislature, a new advisory board will be created to advise the State Board of Education on future charter apps.

This year’s intent letters include 20 new charter schools proposed for Wake County, offering programs such as services for at-risk students, services for developmentally disabled students, college prep, performing arts and a virtual school.

The news comes as opponents of an $810 million Wake school-construction bond issue argue that the growth in charter schools, private schools and home schools reduces the need for the new seats. But supporters of the bond issue on the Oct. 8 ballot contend that those school alternatives won’t make a major dent in the 20,000 new students expected by 2018.