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Bill Would Change Oversight And Application Process Of Charter Schools

North Carolina has 107 charter schools and dozens more are looking to open in the next couple of years.  State lawmakers today are considering a bill that would change the application process and oversight of these schools.     

Right now, the North Carolina Board of Education is over all public schools serving kindergarten-12th graders.  That includes charter schools, which receive public money, but operate independently from school districts. 

They also have an advisory council composed primarily of charter school principals and board members who monitor charters, vet new applications, and pass their recommendations to the state board.  So far the state board has approved every charter the council recommended. 

But Senator Jerry Tillman isn’t happy with the relationship. 

“We’ve not had a good sharing of ideas of what’s working in charter schools and public schools.  It’s not worked how I would want it to work,” said Tillman in a legislative committee meeting last week. 

“We need a new cast of players and we’re doing that with many boards and commissions and this happens to be one of them and there are good reasons for doing what we did,” continued Tillman.  

He’s sponsoring a bill to make a new board specifically for overseeing charter schools and approving new ones.  The state board of education could veto its decisions, but only by a three-fourths vote. 

In that meeting last week, Carl Forsyth, the director of Voyager Academy Charter in Durham, worried the bill would set up an adversarial relationship between charters and traditional public schools. 

“Our schools will not improve if we pit public school educators against each other in a battle for students and scarce resources.  Public schools operate best when districts and charters work together and learn from one another,” said Forsyth. 

Local school districts are now given the chance to weigh in on how a new charter school would affect their enrollment and budgets.  Tillman’s bill eliminates that feedback and, in some cases, would even force school districts to lease unused buildings to charter schools for one dollar a year. 

The bill would also make a college degree optional for many charter school teachers and no longer require charters to do criminal background checks on employees. 

A senate committee is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday morning.