A new report indicates North Carolina’s school voucher program may be fraught with corruption. Photo: Getty Images
Students whose parents or guardian are on active military duty would also be eligible for enrollment preferences under the changes to the Charter School Omnibus bill.
Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) said allowing children from certain preschools to essentially skip the line to enroll in charters, some of which claim to have long waitlists, will anger some parents.
“Parents who have been waiting a long time to get in, they’re going to be mad to think that there’s some side door by which, if you pay enough preschool tuition to send your kid to that one preschool, that somehow gets them in early,” Marcus said during a meeting of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee.
Students from the preschool would be limited to 10% of the charter’s enrollment. The student must have attended a preschool program operated by an entity other than the charter school for at least 75 consecutive days in the prior semester and the charter school must have a written articulation agreement with the preschool operator.
Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) explained that traditional public schools sometimes have onsite preschools that allow students automatic enrollment after completion.
The amendment would provide some charter school parents with that option, said Torbett, a co-chair of the House Education-K-12 Committee.
“This whole deal is an effort to try to balance out traditional and charter,” Torbett said. “So, if the charter has an agreement with a preschool, this just allows those kids to continue to be educated at the charter school.”
Marcus said preschoolers in traditional public schools aren’t allowed to “jump ahead” of other students on a waitlist.
“I’m thinking about the parents who want their children to have the same chance to go to the charter as anyone else,” Marcus said. “It’s a public charter, it is supposed to be an equal lottery and what this is doing is creating a side door by which parents who can afford to send their kids to a certain preschool jump ahead in line and I think that’s not appropriate for a public charter school.”
Other proposed charter school changes raise concerns
In the wake of Republican-backed legislation to make families of all income levels eligible for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, Democrats have become hypersensitive to education proposals that appears to favor wealthy families.
The Opportunity Scholarship or school voucher program was created a decade ago with the stated intention of helping low-income families escape low-performing districts and schools. If, however, another measure making its way through the legislature this spring (House Bill 823) becomes law, all families — even those worth millions of dollars — would become eligible for school vouchers.
Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) had questions about another provision in the charter school bill that prohibits the State Board of Education from considering any “alleged impact” on local school districts when considering whether to grant, renew, amend or terminate a charter.
Leaders of traditional public schools are concerned about losing students to charters because state funding follows students to charter schools. They also worry about students leaving low-performing charters schools and returning to public schools after falling behind academically.
“Why are we removing that provision [from current state law]? Chaudhuri asked.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-New Hanover), a co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the thinking is that the state board can “independently review” a charter application without receiving impact statements from school districts concerned about losing state funding because some of their “students are going to be acquiring their education in another place.”
Yet another bill under consideration this session — House Bill 618 — would establish a new Charter School Review Board that would also be prohibited from considering impact statements from school districts before considering charter school applications.
HB 618 also strips the State Board of Education of most of its oversight of charter schools. It gives the new review board, for example, the authority to grant, renew, amend or terminate a charter. The state board would hear appeals stemming from decisions of the review board.
Chaudhuri also expressed concern on Tuesday about provisions that would allow low-performing charter schools to increase their enrollments by up to 20% and authorize willing counties to provide capital funds to charter schools. Both provisions remain in the bill.
Another amendment to allow the Central Park School for Children in Durham to conduct a weighted admissions lottery pilot program for up to four years was also added to the bill.
Under the pilot program, the popular and academically successful charter school in downtown Durham could consider additional weighting factors in admissions that “serve the goal of assisting educationally or economically disadvantaged students, including walk zones.”
A controversial provision that would have required school districts to share funding with charters from fund balances, reimbursements, sales tax refunds and other sources has been removed from the bill.
Yet another provision that would have require charters and nonpublic high schools to track the home addresses of students in relationship to the public schools to which they would have been assigned in order establish membership in athletic divisions was also dropped. That provision, which grew out of concerns about charters dominating 1A and 2A athletic classifications, would have assigned charters to the same athletic classification as the traditional public school or schools to which the largest percentage of their student body would have otherwise been assigned.
HB 219 was approved by the committee and referred to the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate.
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