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Provision In Proposed State Budget Gives Charter Schools Bill A Boost

Gwendolyn Glenn/ WFAE

A controversial bill that would allow Mecklenburg County towns to create their own charter schools is likely to pass thanks to a new provision in the proposed state budget that will alleviate one of the bill's main concerns. 

According to lawmakers, the provision would address one of the key problems of House Bill 514, which would allow the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to create charter schools: How the new school is funded.  CMS, which opposes the bill, brought up the funding problem in a report that the system presented to lawmakers May 21.

The Cohen Report, named for its author and paid for by CMS, found that North Carolina municipalities would illegally go into debt if HB 514 were to pass and opened their own charter schools. In North Carolina, it is against the law for towns to go into debt to pay for schools, so if a town wants to purchase land for a charter school, the town would have to pay in full up front. The report also found that the towns could not use any state funds to build a charter school and can’t raise property taxes for a school without a public referendum.

The provision within the proposed budget would allow cities to use property taxes for public education — a decision that Republican Rep. Bill Brawley, of Matthews, said will have a statewide positive impact.

“It addresses the questions on funding but more than that it opens up the possibility of every city in the state to fund public education if they need to,” Brawley told the Charlotte Observer. “We’ve got a lot of cities that talk about it. A lot of mayors that talk about it. Now they can do something about it.”

Credit Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Chair Mary McCray

But CMS Board of Education Chair Mary McCray called the budget proposal a “quick fix” and said that the funding issue is “far from taken care of.”

McCray said that towns would fund the schools through increased taxes if HB 514 passes, a fix that she doesn’t think many citizens want.

“Instead of a referendum, [legislators] are leaving it up to cities to fund it,” McCray said. “That will automatically increase taxes for many citizens who cannot afford it.”

McCray also said that cities funding education would create a “dual system” within school systems – similar to public education before the state and counties took over funding responsibilities in 1931. According to McCray, this would further widen economic disparities that already exist in CMS.

“This budget and this bill is basically taking us back to the dual system of having cities that are prosperous and counties that are not,” McCray said.

McCray said she understands the “need for choice” in public education, but urges people to “think about what they’re pushing for – the full impact of it.”

McCray also said the board will continue to fight against HB 514 and stand by the findings of the Cohen Report.

Brawley told the Observerthat HB 514 will likely pass during this year’s session. The budget is also likely to pass in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Both chambers are expected to vote on the budget this week.

Jessa O’Connor was an assistant digital news editor and Sunday reporter for WFAE.