Bill would raise cap on charter schools in state

First Posted: 2/24/2009

A bill in the committee on education with the General Assembly, if passed, would raise the cap on charter schools within the state.
Under the policy in place, the state board can approve no more than 100 charter schools in the state each year. The new policy would raise that to approve no more than ten percent of the previous years number of operating charter schools for new schools.
The proposal also sets a limit of up to five charter schools per year in a single school district, or administrative unit.
A local school administrative unit refers to each school system which has its own superintendent and board of education. In Surry County, there are three administrative units: the Surry County school system, the Mount Airy city school system and the Elkin city school system, which means there could conceivable be as many as 15 charter schools within the countys borders.
The bill was initiated in the House on Feb. 11 by representatives from Mecklenburg and Wake counties. Rep. Sarah Stevens, of Surry County, and Rep. Darrell McCormick, who represents parts of Surry County, are co-sponsors of the bill. It passed its first reading and was referred to the committee on education. If it is favorable to that committee, it will be referred to appropriations.
Theres a lot of discussion and things right now that the education system as a whole needs some serious revamping. The charter schools typically have more freedom and offer more creativity, Stevens said of her reason for supporting the bill. It is nothing against the public schools. This is not geared so much to our area. We have a great school system and have high graduation rates. Many areas are not as fortunate.
An effort by some to completely remove the cap on charter schools was stalled and the proposed changes will serve as a compromise. The hope, according to some supporters, is that the compromise will allow public schools time to assimilate the changes before an all out lift on the cap.
While the bill is not directly meant to affect Surry County, its implications could be felt if more charter schools decide to open.
I respect parents right to choose to send their child to a charter school, but from a financial perspective, charter schools have a negative financial effect on public schools, said Dr. Darrin Hartness, superintendent of Mount Airy City Schools.
I think we do an exceptional job in Surry County. Weve got almost 9,000 students, said Dr. Ashley Hinson, superintendent of Surry County Schools.
Charter schools were initiated because they are thought to provide a different educational experience than the one offered at public schools. According to Stevens, they allow students to be more creative and do not have the pressures of having to strictly teach to the test that public school teachers face.
The theory behind having charter schools is theres something they offer that public schools dont. I dont know, in most cases, what that is, said Hinson. Its about getting that flexibility. There are a lot of places that want more and cant start them.
I would be in favor of raising the cap on charter (schools, if), charter schools in North Carolina were indeed serving a student population as diverse as the traditional public schools and getting better academic results with that diverse population. The original intent of charter schools was to have schools that would be incubators of innovation, and I have not seen that happen in North Carolina, said Hartness.
One of the concerns that accompanies an increase in charter schools is the effect that increase will have on funding for public schools, particularly those in smaller school systems. Because charter schools serve as an alternate to public schools, they receive state funding on a per student basis. That funding is diverted from the childs home school district.
Over $1.3 million is diverted from the city school district each school year for a separate charter school in our community. It must be difficult for a small charter school to offer the variety of academic and athletic programs our public school students have free access to every day. If our public schools were failing, I may have a different view, but we are fortunate to have three successful K-12 public school districts in Surry County, said Hartness.
Stevens believes that opening more charter schools will help the state with funding when it comes to education and the public school system. Each year, 53-60 percent of the state budget goes to education and with a $3 billion deficit, that amounts to a great deal of money.
My understanding is that we dont have enough room in the public schools. They need more buildings and more rooms. We are having to come up with construction money, she said. I believe charter schools are built for half or less of the public school cost. They can be built more effectively through private means.
Rep. McCormick was not available.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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