There is growing political debate regarding ‘fair funding’ of North Carolina charter schools revolving around how local funding is shared between school districts and charter schools. In particular, charter advocates vigorously pushed HB 539 during the 2016 Legislative Session, which would have required school districts to provide charter schools with a greater share of their local funds. The bill did not pass, but similar legislation is likely to be considered in the upcoming legislative session.
Current law requires school districts to share per pupil local funding with charter schools. However, the current law also allows districts to hold onto certain local funds for programs not offered by charter schools (e.g., prekindergarten programs) as well as local funds that have already been shared with charter schools (e.g., sales tax refunds, spending from the local fund balance). HB 539 would have expanded the types of local funds the school district would have been required to share with charter schools.
It is worth noting that under both current law and HB 539, the sharing of local funds only flows in one direction: from the school district, to the charter school. Under neither scenario is the charter school required to share local funding – which includes grant funding and private donations – with the traditional public school system.
“Fair funding” is certainly a worthy goal. Charter schools are public schools, and North Carolina’s students deserve equal funding whether they attend a public charter school or a “traditional” public school operated by a local school district. That is, a student should benefit from the same level of local spending whether he or she attends a charter school or a traditional school. Luckily, “fair funding” already exists.