In 2011, the General Assembly removed the cap on the number of Charter Schools in North Carolina and allowed the State Board of Education to establish a public charter school advisory committee. Senate Bill 337 abolishes that advisory committee and puts a Charter School Advisory Board in its place.
Eleven voting members will serve four-year terms on the Board, with three members appointed by the Governor, three by the Senate President Pro-tem, three by the Speaker of the House, and one by the State Board of Education, along with the Lieutenant Governor (or his designee) serving as a member. The Board will be housed within the State Department of Public Instruction. The law also makes some changes to the state’s charter school laws and creates a property tax exemption for school facilities.
SB337 enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both houses and was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on July 25, 2013. The Advisory Board’s first meeting was on October 15, 2013.
A charter school is a publicly-funded school that is operated by a private nonprofit board. Charter schools are independent, non-religious, tuition-free public schools with operational and educational autonomy in exchange for increased financial and academic accountability.1 “Charter schools are public schools, serving public students with public dollars for the public’s benefit,” said Joel Medley, director of DPI’s Office of Charter Schools.
The state currently has 129 charter schools that serve over 48,000 students…with nearly 30,000 more on waiting lists.
Although charter schools cannot charge a tuition like private schools, they do receive a per-pupil share of those state and county tax dollars that would go to educate the child in a public school. On average, charters receive approximately 78% of the level of per-pupil dollars which are allocated to traditional public schools.
The school choice advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina tells us that “public charter schools are finding innovative ways to teach students, including unique curriculums, extended school days, school cultures with high expectations for all students and adults, more structured and disciplined learning environments, rewarding high-quality teachers with higher pay, parent contracts, and multi-age programs.”
Charter schools are a valuable part of the overall education mix, ensuring that every child in North Carolina has an opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.
In 1996, legislators passed a law that allowed public charter schools to operate for the first time in North Carolina but placed a limit on public charter school growth, setting it at no more than 100. In June 2011, with 97 percent support in the legislature, the cap on charter schools was removed and enrollment caps were increased from 10 percent to 20 percent.
The state currently has 129 charter schools serving over 48,000 students, with tens of thousands on waiting lists. That number of approved schools will increase by 26 come the start of the 2014-15 school year in August; the new charter schools were selected from a group of 150 applications submitted a year ago. In the fall of this year, an additional 176 Letters of Intent to operate a charter school in the state were submitted for consideration.
According to the Department of Public Instruction, there were nearly 30,000 students on public charter school waiting lists throughout the state when the public charter school cap was eliminated.2 Whenever there are more applications than available seats in a requested grade, an open lottery must be held.3 The number of students waiting to get into Charter Schools (by region) according to DPI:
- Eastern North Carolina: 1,449 (23 schools)
- Central North Carolina: 11,713 (40 schools)
- Western North Carolina: 14,924 (37 schools)
Up until this year, the State Board of Education has been relying on their own advisory committee to facilitate the review and approval of charter school applications. However, in anticipation of the rapid expansion of charter school operations, the 2013 General Assembly has taken the proactive step of transferring administrative and advisory functions from the Board of Education committee to a formal Advisory Board delegated directly by the legislature with provisions for oversight and accountability.
The North Carolina Public Charter School Advisory Board recommends policies for adoption by the State Board of Education regarding all aspects of charter school operation, including timelines, standards, criteria for acceptance and approval of applications. The final authority for the approval or denial of any application will remain in the hands of the state Board of Education. The Advisory Board also monitors charter schools and grounds for revocation of charters. The Advisory Board will undertake any of the duties and responsibilities directed by the State Board of Education.4 The Advisory Board is also covered by the State Ethics Act, which requires full financial disclosure by its members.
Charter Schools: Frequently Asked Questions
What are Public Charter Schools?
Charter schools, created more than 20 years ago to improve our nation’s public school system and close the achievement gap, are unique public schools that have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement. As a result, they raise the bar for what is possible in public education.
Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to be innovative in their classrooms to help improve learning, and students are provided the structure they need to learn. This holds all groups accountable for the most important goal: improving student achievement.
Charter schools are also held accountable to state and federal academic standards, ensuring a high-quality education for their students. There are more than 6,000 charter schools across 42 states and the District of Columbia educating more than 2 million children.
What Makes Charter Schools Public Schools?
Charter schools, while operating independent of a school district, are public schools. Just like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on student enrollment. They are free, do not have special entrance requirements and do not charge tuition. Charter schools are not religious and cannot discriminate against students on any basis.
Are Charter Schools For-Profit?
Charter schools choose their own management structure: 67 percent of all charter schools are independently run non-profit, single site schools; 20 percent are run by non-profit organizations that run more than one charter school; and just under 13 percent are run by for-profit companies. For-profit charter schools have to meet financial oversight regulations, just like any company the government contracts with to provide a service.
How are Public Charter Schools Held Accountable to State Educational Standards?
Public charter schools are required to meet all state and federal education standards, just like traditional public schools. In addition, they are judged on how well they meet student achievement goals established by their charter contracts. A quality public charter school must meet rigorous academic, financial and managerial standards.
What Makes Charter Schools Successful?
- Fostering Innovation: Charter schools allow teachers the freedom to be more innovative while focusing on improving student achievement. By giving teachers the ability to try new methods to help students learn, charter schools are developing effective new teaching models that can be replicated in traditional public schools. With the flexibility to modernize and develop successful new education practices, teachers improve learning and share results with the wider public school system for broader benefits.
- Increasing Achievement in Underserved Communities: Charter schools believe all students are capable of learning and succeeding, and provide an important public school option to students from underserved communities and low income areas. By creating an environment tailored to these students’ needs, charter schools have successfully demonstrated that underserved children can thrive at a high level. Additionally, charter schools bring programs to disadvantaged neighborhoods that not only serve children, but the whole community, providing parents with education on parenting, nutrition and more.
How Are Charter Schools Making a Difference?
- Sixteen academic studies have been published on charter school performance since 2010, four national studies and 12 regional studies from throughout the country. Fifteen of the 16 found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. One study found mixed results. The most recent of those studies, by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter schools do a better job teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools.
- In 25 schools districts around the country, more than 20 percent of all schoolchildren attend a public charter school. New Orleans has a higher percentage of children in charter schools than anywhere else in the country. Students attending public charter schools in New Orleans learn an additional four months in reading and five months in math more than their peers attending traditional public schools. Statewide, students attending public charter schools in Louisiana gained an additional 50 days of learning in reading and 65 days in math compared to their peers attending traditional public schools.
- Children who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school than their traditional school peers. And dozens of charter schools across the country have 100 percent college acceptance rates for their graduating seniors.
- At one charter school in Arizona, BASIS, students scored higher on an international test called the PISA than students from anywhere in the world. At the Success Academy charter school in Harlem, every fourth grader passed the state’s science exam. In 2012, every high school senior at an Uncommon charter school took the SAT exam, achieving an average score that was 20 points above the College Board’s benchmark for college readiness.
- And charter schools continue to disproportionately top the lists of America’s best high schools in Newsweek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. In fact, on these lists more than a quarter of the best high schools are charter schools.
How are Public Charter Schools Held Financially Accountable?
Since public charter schools are funded with public dollars, they are required by law to be held accountable for how taxpayer dollars are spent with regular audits and ongoing reviews from their authorizing entities.
What are Some Successful Innovations within Public Charter Schools?
Across the country, public charter schools are creating a wide variety of innovations, including:
- Curriculum design (e.g., Montessori, Core Knowledge, Advanced Placement Courses, Foreign Language Immersion Programs, Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics)
- Extended learning time
- School cultures with high expectations for all students and adults
- More structured and disciplined learning environments
- Rewarding high-quality teachers with higher pay
- Parent contracts
- Multi-age programs
How Are Public Charter Schools Funded?
When a student transfers from a traditional public school to a public charter school, the funding associated with that student will follow him or her to the public charter school. Public charter schools do not add any new costs to the state’s public education system. They simply move funding associated with a student from one public school to another based upon the decisions of families.
1. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina: “Public Charter Schools”
4. North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association: “Advisory Board CSAB“