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Rejection of Charters Reveals Rift Between State BOE, Advisory Panel

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The North Carolina Board of Education did something unusual this month. It turned down five charter school applicants that had been recommended for approval. 

The state-appointed advisory group had endorsed those five schools, but the votes were split. Some members had concerns about things like finances, curriculum, and how well school leaders could articulate their plans. The NC Board of Education was confused.

When Bonnie Cone Classical Academy planned for Charlotte came up at this month's board meeting, state school board member Eric Davis of Charlotte looked at the advisory group's comments on the school's application.

"Given the comments why was it approved?" asked Davis.

The advisory group's chairman Alex Quigley tried to explain.

"I think there's a feeling on the board that area the school is going to be in would be able to attract the enrollment desired. There's a need for more classical programs. I know a lot of our board members saw success with the classical model of education," said Quigley. 

That response wasn't good enough. The state school board ended up rejecting that school, Ridgeview planned for Gaston County, and three others that received split votes. NC Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey says he's comfortable with that outcome. 

"I don't want to sign off on any charter applicant that I believe is likely to fail. You'd say, 'Well, that's being risk averse.' I say, 'No, that's just being prudent,'" says Cobey.    

That decision did not go over well with some on the advisory group. At its meeting last week, Alan Hawkes said the state school board shouldn't have second-guessed the group. 

"If they have not gone over the application if they do not have the experience with success and failures that we've seen, where do they have the temerity to turn down our recommendations?" said Hawkes.

The NC Board of Education did end up approving two charter schools that received split votes from the advisory group, plus six other schools.  Two of them are planned to open in Charlotte in the fall of 2017. That's Movement School, an off-shoot of Sugar Creek Charter School, and a military-themed charter called Uproar Leadership Academy.