North Carolina School Board Set to Increase Charter Numbers

The North Carolina School Board has received a recommendation to increase the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state by a third on the condition that it accepts the recommendations of a screening committee. This means that the board members could make the decision on whether to issue approvals to another 25 charter schools as early as next month.

So far this year, the state approved 8 charters to either begin enrolling or to expand their enrollment starting this school year. But the number of groups submitting applications to be allowed to open charters is growing. Last year, a record 63 new applications were received by the board, with 25, located all over the state, getting permission to begin operating.

Five of the new schools are set to operate in Mecklenburg County, which will now be a home to a total of 12 charter schools. Such a high number has led district officials to complain that charters are beginning to have a negative impact on the district’s traditional public schools.

Mecklenburg isn’t the only county lodging complaints. Durham Public Schools has gone on the record in opposition to the ninth charter set to open in one of its lowest-income neighborhoods. District officials claim that opening the charter would be overkill, since it would be drawing students away from operating charters that are themselves having trouble attracting enough students to fill the seats.

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.

Charters aren’t required to coordinate with local school districts, which means new charters aren’t necessarily being opened in neighborhoods where the population is growing. There’s also a possibility that charters in the same neighborhood could be replicating each others’ programs, according Durham School Board member Nancy Cox.

“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.”