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Movement Schools moves closer to expanding its charter school chain beyond Charlotte

Movement School SW.png
Movement Schools
Movement School Southwest, between I-77 and Nations Ford Road, opened this school year.

A Charlotte-based charter school chain with national aspirations is seeking state approval to open three more North Carolina locations in 2024, including its first outside Charlotte. The state Board of Education got an update on Movement Schools’ expansion plans Wednesday.

Movement Schools opened its first charter school in 2017, on Freedom Drive. It has since added two more, with a total enrollment of almost 1,100 students. A fourth has been approved for an August opening. All are in low-income Charlotte neighborhoods and aspire to reach students who aren’t doing well in traditional public schools.

Bruce Friend, vice chair of North Carolina’s Charter School Advisory Board, told the board of education his panel has unanimously approved opening three new Movement Schools in 2024: two more in Charlotte and one in Raleigh.

The Board of Education will decide next month whether to authorize those new schools. Some members had questions about a rapidly expanding franchise and its impact on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.


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Unusual expansion

North Carolina has 206 charter schools, which report to independent nonprofit boards rather than elected school boards. Most charter boards oversee only one school, though a handful encompass as many as four. Some of those boards then contract with for-profit or nonprofit management companies that run numerous schools in multiple states.

The proposed expansion would bring seven schools under the Movement board’s oversight. Friend, who runs a charter school in suburban Raleigh, said the advisory board took that into account before giving approval.

“We ask questions about do they have the capacity, do they have the bandwidth, do they have the personnel in place within North Carolina to really provide proper oversight of the schools?” he said. “And in this case with Movement we felt that they’ve demonstrated the ability to do that with the three schools they already have.”

Friend says the Movement board plans to add representation from Raleigh when the school there joins the network.

The Movement charter schools were created by Movement Mortgage, which is headquartered in Indian Land, South Carolina, and its nonprofit foundation. They are patterned on Sugar Creek Charter School in northeast Charlotte, one of the state’s original charter schools, but are not formally affiliated with that school.

Little data on results

Board of Education member Jill Camnitz noted that there’s little data on Movement Schools’ academic performance. The original Freedom Drive campus, which now has elementary and middle school grades, is the only one that reported test scores for the past school year.

That school earned a D from the state, with proficiency rates on reading and math below 50%. But the school met the state’s growth target, and the Black and economically disadvantaged students who make up the majority at the school significantly outperformed their counterparts in CMS. For instance, 41.5% of Black Movement School students and 38% of economically disadvantaged ones passed reading exams in grades 3-8, compared with 34% of Black CMS students and 29% of low-income CMS students.

Movement Eastland didn’t have students old enough to take exams in 2022, and Movement Southwest only opened this school year. A Movement elementary school in northwest Charlotte is set to open in August 2023.

The two new Movement Schools planned for Charlotte will be at unspecified locations in west and northeast Charlotte.

Concerns from CMS

CMS filed a statement with the state saying that both areas already have plenty of district and charter schools available. The district also raised concerns that the additional schools would compete for students and public money at a time when overall enrollment is declining in the areas where the new schools would open.

The CMS statement acknowledged that the original Movement School has improved academic results for its students and partnered with CMS “to create a strong relationship between traditional public schools and the public charter, which could result in positive outcomes for all students.”

State Charter School Director Ashley Baquero said the number of students served by the new schools would be small enough that it would not have a major impact on the district.

The Charlotte expansion is part of a bigger vision for Movement Schools. Just over a year ago, the company announced plans to open 100 more charter schools in multiple states over the coming decade. The website currently lists a future campus in south Atlanta. It includes an interest form and support survey for families but doesn’t specify an opening date.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.