Charters get more than they wanted from lawmakers

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 04:41 PM

A crop of new charter school legislation has been discussed in the North Carolina General Assembly. 

Senate Bill 337, titled “an act to create the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board and make other changes to charter school laws,” would create a separate state board for charter schools and changes some of the requirements for charter schools, including teacher certification requirements. 

Eddie Goodall, executive director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association, said his group did not request the separate board or teacher requirements in the legislation. 

“Our members did not ask for that legislation,” Goodall said. 

He said they have also not had any members ask that the teacher regulations be removed. 

“It’s kind of a situation where we ask for fewer regulations, but we’ve kind of entered a position saying they don’t want new regulations,” Goodall said. 

The legislation strikes the current requirement that at least 75 percent of teachers teaching grades Kindergarten through fifth grade must have teacher certificates. At least 50 percent of teachers in grades six through eight and at least 50 percent of teachers in grades 9 through 12 must have teacher certificates. 

It also strikes the requirement that teachers teaching core subjects–math, science, social studies and language arts–in grades six through 12 must be college graduates. 

“That was not something the existing schools asked for,” Goodall said. “I think they will end up having larger percentages anyway, so I’m not sure what the purpose (is).” 

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) have concerns about the legislation.

“Public money needs to have accountability and transparency and it seems that with public taxpayer dollars being spent, the taxpayers deserve to have educators that are certified,” Kim Hargett, president of the Union County Association of Educators and district director for the NCAE, said.

“I think the issue that really concerns us is also the lack of background checks and I imagine that would also be a real concern for parents,” Hargett said. “When it’s public dollars, there needs to be accountability. If it’s a private entity, certainly private entities have the right to do what they wish.” 

Hargett said they are also concerned about a separate school board.

“We’re setting ourselves up for a shadow school system,” Hargett said. “We are headed toward a path of a real socioeconomic divide in our publicly funded schools.” 

She added that because charter schools do not have to provide transportation or meals, there is a high likelihood that there will be a socioeconomic divide.

State Senator Tommy Tucker, R-35, introduced Senate Bill 575, which authorizes county commissioners to provide funding to public charter schools for capital projects. The bill authorizes up to $250,000 a year for each charter school in the county. 

“I was asked by the charter school community to (introduce the bill),” Tucker said. “That was a compelling factor...the charter schools are public schools and they have built their own buildings.”

He added that the schools have saved their counties “millions” by doing so. 

“Now some of them have capital projects,” Tucker said. He added that the schools cannot do much with $250,000. 

The bill does not compel county commissioners to fund capital projects, Tucker said, it simply gives them the option, which some commissioners in the state have asked for. 

A provision will most likely be added to ensure the secure return of the money should the school close, Tucker said. 

“(We are) taking public money and spending it on public schools,” Tucker said. “A minimal amount obviously...for capital improvements that they may need...so far they’ve 100 percent financed everything they’ve done.” 

Tucker was not asked by the Union County Commissioners to introduce this specifically, he said. It is a statewide bill. 

Goodall said they did ask for Tucker’s bill. 

“We need that,” Goodall said. “We’re only asking for the county commissioners to be able to, but they don’t have to.” 

It has come up in the past and the attorney general’s office said that since funding capital projects was not listed specifically as something that county commissioners could fund, there was a presumption they could not, Goodall said. They once ran into that problem with Union Academy, he added. 

“I’m ecstatic that we are in a position to kind of find out what parents want in the state without artificial barriers,” Goodall said. “We will see.” 

“We always thought that if charters were successful enough and there was enough pressure on district schools to do better then they would somehow figure out what they would have to do,” Goodall said. “We think there has been a lot of activity among the traditional public school systems already, especially this year...I think that’s a positive.”

Goodall added the improvement is not a threat for charter schools, but a positive for public education. 

Senate Bill 337 has passed its first reading and is currently in the finance committee. Senate Bill 575 also passed its first reading and has been referred to the education and higher education committee.