School officials no fans of lifting charter school cap

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 5, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
Local school officials say if a bill to raise the cap on the number of charter schools across the state becomes law it would not only hurt their pocketbook, but also limit the resources available.
ěIt definitely would be detrimental for public schools,î said Dr. Judy Grissom, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Senate Bill 8, which has passed the Senate and is now in the House, would remove the 100-school cap and eliminate a 10 percent annual limit on a charter schoolís population growth.
But school officials say the financial aspects are the most troubling.
The bill includes a provision that would require all money provided to local school districts be shared with charter schools except federal grants with use restrictions and funds donated for specific purposes.
Tara Trexler, the districtís chief financial officer, said that would include siphoning school lunch money, including the portion the district receives from the federal government for free and reduced lunch programs, transportation funds and funds raised by athletic and band booster clubs.
ěIt would financially deplete the public education system,î she said.
But, N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Rowan/Davie, a co-sponsor of the bill, says charter schools are a good way to address the educational needs of students.
ěIf you look to the right and the left and the moderates in the middle, they all support the idea of charter schools because they are using some different teaching methods, but they donít have a stable source of funding,î he said.
Brock said the billís provision to allow the supplemental tax to follow the child wherever the student is located is a fair way to ensure all students benefit.
ěEverybody pays tax dollars, even people who send their children to charter schools,î he said. ěTheir tax dollars are still going to public schools.î
Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education member Richard Miller said the bill could be a hindrance as the state looks to close a $2.4 billion budget gap.
ěItís not the time to be siphoning money away from state government or any state entity,î he said.
Limiting access?
Although charter schools would receive food service and transportation funds, they would not be obligated to provide either one.
Miller said that could create a division between the ěhavesî and ěhave nots,î causing economically disadvantaged students to suffer.
ěPart of the benefit of public education is that it blends us all together,î he said. ěThe strength of this nation is built on the fact that public schools provide equity and opportunity and whenever you take money away from them to provide for schools that donít require the same standards you are creating a separate and unequal system.î
Brock said officials with most of the charter schools heís talked to do provide food service and some type of transportation.
ěThey will find ways to get students to the school,î he said.
Brock also pointed out that public schools are not equally populated with students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
ěEven in the Rowan-Salisbury School System if you compare South Rowan, West, Carson, North, East and Salisbury they all have different makeups,î he said.
Brock said heís also heard talk of opening charter schools to target at-risk students, providing unique opportunities to prevent those students from dropping out.
ěWeíve got to make some changes and figure out how we are going to get kids to like learning,î he said.
Other shared funds
The bill would also require the district to share grants received through organizations such as the Robertson Family Foundation, which provided Rowan-Salisbury schools with more than $685,000 this school year.
Monies from early childhood education programs such as Head Start, Smart Start and More at Four would also be divided up among charter schools, which Grissom said could be the demise of such programs.
Trexler said the district provided charter schools with about $125,000 this year and, based on rough estimates, that figure could grow by $112,000.
And, she notes, those numbers are based on the countyís current charter school enrollment of about 80 students.
ěIf a lift on the cap results in additional students in the existing charter schools as well as the opening of charter schools here within Rowan County, the dollar figures would escalate accordingly,î Trexler said in an e-mail to the Post.
The bill would establish an 11-member N.C. Charter School Commission to authorize and administer charter schools.
The commission would be under the State Board of Education, but it would operate independently.
It would have the authority to adopt policies regarding all aspects of charter school operations, make final approval of application, and take renewal, nonrenewal and revocation action.
State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison and State Superintendent June Atkinson said Friday the state board and the N.C Department of Public Instruction support expanding the number of charter schools in North Carolina, but want to ensure accountability.
ěWe believe that charter schools offer an important option for some students and families and that they do provide an important incubator for educational innovation,î they said in a prepared joint statement Friday. “We caution, however, against expansions that are not managed in an orderly manner, and we believe it is important to maintain accountability for charter school performance and business practices.
ěCreation of a separate government entity to oversee charter deployment would create a redundant bureaucracy in state government.î
Brock said the State Board of Education will still have to power to revoke school charters.
ěWeíve got traditional schools that are failing, failing students and failing the public, thatís the reason why there is such an outcry for charter schools,î he said. ěThatís a failure of the system.î
Brock said adding more charter schools could also spark healthy competition.
Opponents of the bill take issue with its lack of language addressing sending students back to public schools to take End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests that affect that districtís test data or require all teachers to be licensed.
Gov. Bev Perdue said sheíd like to see some changes made before the bill make it to her desk.
ěI support the growth of charter schools and lifting the cap on the number of charters, and if that was all this bill did, I would support it,î she said in a statement released last week. ěInstead, this legislation would drain vital funding from our public schools, the launch pads for our childrenís future, and lets charter schools operate without the same accountability that public schools must provideî
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.