Charter Legislative Goal: “Level the Playing Field,” say Advocates

Raleigh – Charter school advocates met with Senators Jerry Tillman and Dan Soucek,  Co-Chairs of the Senate Committee on Education, to urge fairness in updating the charter school statute.

“Our goal is make sure that children attending charter schools are not treated as second-class students,” said Paul Norcross, a Founding Trustee of Phoenix Academy Charter School in High Point.

Norcross stressed that charters are not seeking any funding not already being allocated to K-12 schools across the state. Nor do they seek any lower threshold for financial or academic accountability.

Meeting with Senators Soucek and Tillman

“Some county districts have withheld funding that is due to the charter students,” Norcross said. The current legislation intends that all children are to be treated equally, but some charters have had to take their counties to court at great expense in order to be properly reimbursed in compliance with the statute, Norcross said.“All we want is a mechanism in the statute to ensure that we are treated fairly and equally by the counties,” Norcross added.Regarding accountability, Baker Mitchell, a Trustee for Charter Day School in Leland and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville, said that the current legislation places far stricter academic criteria on charter schools than are on traditional schools.

“Charter schools are subject to closure and revocation for a number of criteria from which traditional schools are exempt,” Mitchell said. “Many of these criteria are good and should apply across the board to all schools, but some of the criteria imposed through policies are very subjective and judgmental in nature and should not apply to any school – charter or traditional,” he continued.

Charter schools are schools of choice and every child is eligible to enroll. Charter schools may not use admissions tests or impose any other conditions on admission. In like manner, no parent is required to keep their child in a charter school; and when a child is withdrawn, the school ceases to receive funding.

“If a charter school is not performing to the parents’ satisfaction, they may withdraw their children; and the school will be forced to close for lack of funding,” explained Debbie Clary, Chair of the board of Pinnacle Classical Academy in Cleveland County. “Parents should be the ultimate authority for closing any school; and in the case of charters, they have that authority,” Clary said. But closure should be at the hands of the parents, not at the subjective discretion of a state administrator’s judgment.

Both Senator Tillman and House Speaker Pro Tempore Skip Stam have said that more education reform is on the agenda for 2013.

Senators Clary and Tillman

“We made a beginning in 2012 with new accountability features and an emphasis on reading prior to promotion from third grade. There is more to do,” said Rep. Stam in a recent statement. Performance pay for good teachers is also on the agenda for 2013, said Stam.

“We appreciate Senator Tillman, Senator Soucek and his staff hearing our concerns, and we look forward to a continuing dialogue with both Representative Stam and him in the months ahead,” said Clary.Clary and Mitchell are also on the Board of Directors of the NC Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The Alliance is a 501C(3) nonprofit, non-partisan organization with a mission of advancing quality educational opportunities for all North Carolina children by supporting and expanding successful public charter schools.

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