North Carolina Sees 40 Applications for New Charter Schools in 2016

Charlotte, North Carolina is becoming the epicenter of the state’s increasing charter school presence after 18 new charter schools applied to open for the fall of the 2016-2017 school year — almost half of the 40 charter schools which have applied statewide.

At this time, the state has 148 charter schools, and the number has been growing since the General Assembly lifted the longtime cap on the number of charter schools that are allowed to operate in NC in 2011, according to Andrew Dunn of the Charlotte Observer.

However, the 40 applications are a smaller number than have been presented in recent years. The number of applications for the 2014-2015 school year was 70, with 29 in the Charlotte area. The state board of education approved 11 applications in the Charlotte community. Two asked to delay their opening and one closed abruptly earlier in September.

Charter schools are public schools funded primarily by tax dollars. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has estimated that about 13,500 students would be enrolled in charters for this school year.

Charters have expanded so rapidly that many have wondered whether the state is overseeing the new applicants diligently. Two charters closed this year due to accusations of financial and academic mismanagement.

Charlotte’s NPR station WFAE, in a broadcast by Lisa Worf, spoke with Joel Medley who oversees the Office of Charter Schools.  He says the drop in applications from charter schools this year could be explained in several ways. The deadline was moved up a couple of months; the price to apply went from $500 to $1000; applicants are asked more financial questions and are required to submit to criminal background checks for those who will sit on the charter’s board.

Eddie Goodall, director of the NC Public Charter Schools Association, says there may be another reason.

“Generally, smart people, business people use their time wisely.  When there’s a 15 percent probability of you being successful, people would look at that and say, ‘Is this the best use of my time?’” says Goodall.

The Charlotte Observer reported that Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes of Greensboro emailed his colleagues to chasten them for their “judgmental and punitive” behavior in rejecting plans that would have expanded charter school enrollment, writes Lindsay Wagner in a blog from NC Policy Watch.

“The plan was to have operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity,” said Hawkes, a founding board member of two Guilford County charter schools run by the for-profit National Heritage Academies. Hawkes also indicated that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Charter schools are supported by “school choice” advocates and Republican lawmakers, writes Jane Porter reporting for Indy Week.   However, critics say they don’t provide students with a better education than traditional schools. Democrats are concerned that charter schools heighten racial and economic segregation.  Also, critics say charter schools, particular religiously-based schools, could possibly discriminate against gay and transgender children.

For-profit education management organizations (EMO) were catapulted into the spotlight during last summer’s session when the General Assembly approved legislation that would allow private, for-profit charter EMOs to keep employees’ salaries private even though the employees are paid with public funds.

There will be a separate “fast track” for applicants who have operated successful schools and want to duplicate them elsewhere. The process was created by legislators who were frustrated by not having more charter schools approved, says the News and Observer.

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