New Bern, NC – Medley-benefit "Charter schools are public schools, funded by public dollars, serving public students for the public benefit."
While not everyone agrees that charter schools benefit the community, the fact is nine new charter schools will open in North Carolina this August. Since charter schools began in North Carolina in the mid-1990's, regulatory standards have limited their number to 100. But last summer, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 8, which removed the cap because the 100 school limit had been met. In order to get new charter schools up and running by August, the State Director of the Office of Charter Schools Joel Medley says the State Board of Education approved a "fast track" system that gives schools four months of planning time, instead of the mandatory 12 months that schools in the regular application process must take.
" with the bill being passed so late in the summer knowing the General Assembly wanted some charter schools to be open in August 2012 decided to create a process, literally fast track meaning their applications were due in November, the council wrestled with them in December and January, made recommendations to the State Board in February, and they voted in March giving them four months to be able to get everything ready to go for them to be able to open."
Charter schools are becoming a popular method of educating children. Today, there are 100 charter schools in 47 North Carolina counties. They're in such high demand that 30-thousand families are on waiting lists to get in.
"if a family is choosing a public charter school and that works for that child, that's great. However, if a family is choosing a quality traditional public school, for us, that is great."
Darrell Allison is the President of Parents for Educational Freedom in NC, a statewide organization that promotes the idea of quality options for education.
"the more quality options for our families better our chances of our children obtaining and receiving an education that is going to help them for the future. That's critically important for us."
Charter schools are controversial because they are funded with public money but are not subject to all the state requirements in place for traditional public schools. With the approval of "fast track" charter schools, online petitions from critics argue that North Carolina's highest performing charter schools are filled with predominantly white and middle class children. When asked about racial diversity in North Carolina charter schools, Director of the Office of Charter Schools Joel Medley says:
"charter schools have to have marketing plans where they allow and go out into every single factor of every group across the state where they get into these communities. But what they have to do is if they have more demand than the number of seats that are available, it's a blind lottery. So the names go in the hat and they draw them out and whoever is drawn out to get a seat they go in. So by doing that on a lottery, it's a blind lottery. So you can't forecast what you're going to have demographically that comes out of that lottery."
And that's not the only criticism North Carolina charter schools are not required to provide transportation or breakfast or lunch for students. Some say this limits under-privileged students from attending. And charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, are allowed to employ non-certified teachers.
"75% of charter elementary schools must have certified teachers but that percentage decreases in the middle and high school to 50%. And the rationale behind that is pretty simple you may have a retired college professor that taught physics at a higher ed institution that does not have the educational credentials to teach in high school but they are qualified to teach that."
Charter schools are also allowed to serve students from neighboring counties, a scenario that will play out in Currituck County at the new Water's Edge Village School. The school was granted a charter at the beginning of the month. Medley says that school will serve students from three nearby counties.
"Water's Edge they have a very compelling case with what some of the kids in that area have to spend an hour and a half one way on the bus and that one specifically in Currituck had a letter of support from the district itself saying yeah, we really think this school would be a benefit."
Overall, 27 charter schools were given fast track screening but only nine were approved. Three of them will be open this August in eastern North Carolina. They include Water's Edge Village School in Currituck County, Bear Grass Charter School in Martin County, and North East Carolina Preparatory in Edgecombe County. Executive director at North East Prep School John Westburn is spending the next four months working on enrollment, curriculum and facilities.
"we took a look at the demographics and some of the surveys that we did and for the first year, we projected 380 students. And you have to project by grade. So we're going to start as a k-8 school and then every year we'll add a grade. "
So far, about 260 students have applied for enrollment at North East Preparatory School in Edgecombe County. We asked Westburn about the current racial makeup of the school. He said they are not allowed to ask questions regarding race during the application process. While the school has yet to determine a location to meet, educators have been chosen and curriculum has been laid out.
"we're just a basic college prep we're going to stress reading, writing, basic mathematics, and higher level thinking skills through critical thinking."
Bear Grass in Martin County is slated to open in August as a charter school. Multiple phone calls to Chairman of Bear Grass Charter School Delmass Cumbee Jr. were not immediately returned. WITN reports citizens of the Martin County town have been trying to get a charter school ever since the county school system closed Bear Grass School in 2008. While the contention between charter schools and traditional public schools will likely continue, North Carolinians will have more options on how to educate their children, come August. But if past performance is any indication, research done at Stanford University reveals that students' state based reading and math test scores may prove that public schools are now outperforming charter schools. Jared Brumbaugh, Public Radio East.