We have long supported charter schools in North Carolina. We favored lifting the state’s 100-school cap in 2011 because we think charter schools encourage innovation, give parents a choice, and put needed competitive pressure on the public schools to do a better job.
But now the schools are rapidly growing, raising big questions that North Carolinians must carefully consider. A proposal to give local school boards the authority to approve charter school applications and to convert existing public schools to charter schools, while intriguing, needs considerable study, perhaps through a state commission or task force.
State Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, plans to co-sponsor a bill in the N.C. House when the General Assembly convenes that would convert Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools to the state’s first charter-school district…
But Don Martin, superintendent of Forsyth County schools, unlike Lambeth, is not ready to see the idea come to fruition anytime soon. Recently, he sent an email to principals, urging them to reassure confused teachers that the district wouldn’t convert to a charter-school one unless each school agreed to it and completed a lengthy process of transitioning to a charter individually.
His caution is valid.
But in a compelling 8-page white paper written for the N.C. School Superintendents Association, Martin, the group’s president, argues that charter schools and public schools — both of which receive state funding — are unequal because charter schools do not provide transportation, do not participate in the national school lunch program for disadvantaged students, and do not serve disabled students or students who do not speak English.
“Put simply, we cannot have two unequal systems of public education where one state regulated system serves all students regardless of need and the other system is not accessible to all students and operates with little regulation,” Martin wrote. …
Critics of the proposal are likely to descend on the Legislature when the bill is introduced. Public school teachers may be among them. They could stand to lose job security and, potentially, income. Charter school teachers are paid less than public school teachers on average and lack tenure. Some may see the proposal as diluting the charter school concept. Some may see it as threatening traditional public schools.
We have always supported initiatives to improve the quality of education. While local control of charter schools is intriguing, we think an in-depth study is an essential first-step before we go down this road.