Charter schools will not get a separate panel

Jun. 25, 2013 @ 08:46 PM

RALEIGH — An effort to create a state panel separate from North Carolina's State Board of Education to oversee charter schools appeared over Tuesday when a House panel recommended retaining an advisory commission on charter matters as currently exists.

A divided Senate last month voted for creating an independent board whose decisions on approving or closing charter schools and other policies for these alternative public schools could only be blocked with a 75 percent majority of the State Board of Education.

But opposition to the idea continued to build, particularly on the concept in the North Carolina constitution that gives the state board the job to "supervise and administer the free public school system."

State board Chairman Bill Cobey, a Republican appointed to the board by Gov. Pat McCrory, and elected state schools Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat, also spoke out against creating a powerful charter school board.

"The State Board of Education and the governor were all in accord on that one," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, a primary sponsor of the original charter school bill creating the separate board. "They thought we needed a constitutional divide there (and) I agreed that was something we could do."

The updated bill, which received strong bipartisan support in the House committee, would replace the current 15-member state "Charter School Advisory Council" now in place with an 11-member "Charter Schools Advisory Board."

The board — most of which would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders — would perform many duties of the current council. It would recommend to the State Board of Education rules about charter schools, including which applications should be approved and which charters should be renewed or revoked. The State Board of Education would still make the final decisions.

Eddie Goodall, executive director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association, said his group's members wanted to keep any panel advisory in nature. "We didn't want to be siloed. We wanted to be a part of the bigger public education pie, if you will," he said.

Charters are public schools allowed to operate with fewer of the regulations facing traditional schools. The number of charters had been limited to 100 since they were first created in North Carolina in the mid-1990s. The Republican-led General Assembly removed the cap in 2011 but didn't lay out many details about how to handle the expected increase.

"We need a comprehensive charter school bill," Tillman said while presenting the updated bill to the committee. The measure also lays out more financial and admissions standards for charter schools and encourages the board to give preference to charter applications that show promise to help children at-risk of academic failure.

The bill keeps current language saying that within a year that a charter school opens its doors the population should "reasonably reflect" the racial and ethnic composition of the population in the school district where it resides or the special population it seeks to serve.

The North Carolina Justice Center opposed the updated bill, which now is slated for another House committee, in part because it reduced the required percentage of licensed teachers in charter schools for K-5 from 75 percent to 50 percent. Studies show "teacher certification is highly associated with better outcomes for student," center policy analyst Matt Ellinwood said.

While Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, told colleagues he was against the bill because it strengthened "the division between the traditional public schools and the charter schools," other Democrats publicly backed it.

"It strikes me as the right balance," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.

Tillman said he expects fellow Senate Republicans will support the new version of the bill, although there may be concerned that the governor would get to choose the advisory board's chairman and vice chairman.