Charter Schools

Arapahoe Charter School
Dave DeWitt

Charter schools in North Carolina may soon be able to expand without getting approval from the State Board of Education. 

Arapahoe Charter School
Dave DeWitt

This is a story about choice. And it starts in the lunch line at Arapahoe Charter School in Pamlico County when students choose between pizza and french fries.

And while that choice may seem easy to make, the choice to offer it is a little more complicated.

Charter schools aren’t required to offer meals, even to kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. But Arapahoe does – and sixty percent of the students here qualify.

NC Legislative Building,
Dave DeWitt

Charter schools have been around in North Carolina for about a decade and a half, and for most of that time, the relationship between charters and traditional public schools has alternated between frosty and hostile.

“One of the fundamental reasons for introducing charter schools is to put an element of competition into the education arena and let parents make the choice,” says Baker Mitchell. Mitchell opened his first charter school in 2000 outside of Wilmington and a second six years later; he has a third opening this fall.

N.C. General Assembly, State Legislature
Dave DeWitt

The State Senate is scheduled to debate a bill tomorrow that creates a separate board to oversee the growing number of charter schools in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 337 has gone through several revisions since it was introduced by Republican lawmakers two months ago. One of the provisions in an earlier bill, for example, removed the requirement that charter school teachers be college graduates. That requirement has since been re-instated.

A controversial charter school that was approved to open its doors in Chapel Hill this fall has hit a road block. The managing company that was supposed to run the day-to-day operations of the Howard and Lillian Lee Charter School has pulled out.

National Heritage Academies, Inc. runs more than 70 charter schools across the country, including six in North Carolina. The Lee School would have been number seven, but NHA has backed out of the project.

School Bus in Durham, NC
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

The State Board of Education has given final approval to 23 charter schools to open this fall.

Last year, 63 applicants began the process of applying to start a charter school, with an eye toward opening this fall. Twenty-five made it to this final round.

Seventy new charter schools have applied to become part of North Carolina’s growing population of alternative public schools. For the longest time, the number of charter schools in the state was capped at 100, but lawmakers changed that back in 2011.

Nine new charter schools have been approved by the State Board of Education. They were fast-tracked after the legislature eliminated the cap on charter schools last summer.

Dave DeWitt: All nine schools were eventually approved by the State Board of Education, after some discussion. Many of the questions raised came from State Treasurer Janet Cowell, who wondered, among other things, about the future bond ratings for school districts that lose students to charters.

But in the end, the separate votes on each school were mostly unanimous.

 Lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a measure that would lift the cap on charter schools in the state. 

The legislation is the result of nearly two months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. Democrat Joe Hackney is the House Minority Leader. 

Joe Hackney: "Many of us rebelled at many of the provisions of what I'll call the long version bill of earlier in the session. So for many on our side this bill comes as a relief."

A bill that would lift the current limit of one hundred charter schools in North Carolina has tentatively passed the state House.

The bill would allow the addition of up to fifty charter schools every year. It has been the subject of hours of debate, discussion and even compromise in committees. But lawmakers were still wrangling over the bill on the House floor yesterday. House Majority Leader Paul Stam told the body he was growing impatient.

Pages