October 5, 2012
By Matt Ellinwood
In the September 23, 2012 edition of At the School House Door, we wrote about the State Board of Education grant of preliminary approval to 25 charter schools hoping to open in the fall of 2013. Prior to this vote, the Justice Center sent a letter to the State Board urging them to carefully consider each application individually and outlined a number of concerns related to the quality of the charter school applicants in terms of the availability of transportation, access for students with disabilities, the procurement of facilities, financial management, and the impact that opening so many new schools will have on local school districts as well as the difficult task for the Office of Charter Schools to provide oversight for the existing charters while assisting with the planning period of the approved applicants.
Although the State Board did not heed these concerns before approving the new charter schools, they began considering changes to the charter school approval process at this month’s meeting. The new application will add to the required information in the application sections dealing with education plans, operations and capacity plans, governance, and financial plans. The submission timeline would include a newly required letter of intent including the proposed location for the school. Finally, the section of the application dealing with the proposed charter school’s impact on local education agencies would be enhanced dramatically by requiring more information on the impact a newly opened school will have on existing traditional public schools, long-term enrollment trends and financial plans, and whether the charter school’s education plan provides new educational options or duplicates existing services.
The State Board’s proposed changes to the charter application process are a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to ensure that every charter school that opens in North Carolina has a chance to provide a high quality education to its students. The Office of Charter Schools has requested more staff to oversee the rapid expansion in charter schools, but the extremely tight budget for public schools casts substantial doubt on whether this request will be granted. The majority of newly approved charter schools fail to provide transportation to students beyond parents driving their children or finding carpools. This leaves these schools inaccessible to many students, particularly students with disabilities who are already far less likely to be enrolled in charter schools. The proposed changes also still fail to define the minimum requirements for a charter school to open in the state. Without clearer standards, the charter school applicants approved by the State Board will continue to include a mixed bag of strong and weak candidates.
Watch Matt Ellinwood, Education and Law Project Policy Analyst, discuss the charter school approval process.