State Board of Education wants to use purse strings to regulate charters
The North Carolina Education Building in Raleigh. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)
The State Board of Education could use its financial power to control charter school approvals, according to a new policy the board is considering.
The proposed policy is a response to the Republican-led General Assembly’s recently approval of House Bill 618. The legislation, now law, established a Charter School Review Board and handed it most of the state board’s charter oversight responsibilities. The Review Board has the power to approve, renew, amend and terminate charters.
But the proposed policy would require the Charter School Review Board to submit all approved charter applications to the state board for funding consideration. In effect, the state board would reclaim charter approval power if it approves the new policy on Thursday.
“The reason why I firmly believe that the board should continue to focus on our financial accountability stems from the truth that over the last few years seven charter schools have closed, five of them with questionable financial situations, which are currently being reviewed by federal officials,” State Board Chairman Eric Davis said on Wednesday.
Davis shared that one of the schools to which he referred is Bridges Academy in Surry County. State investigators found that the school requested funding for 40% more students than it actually enrolled.
State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and other Republicans on the state board opposed the new policy. They complained that the board hasn’t had enough time to review the document, and that they’ve yet been provided a list of reasons charter applicants can be denied funding under the policy.
“This board doesn’t hear about when LEAs [traditional public schools] mismanage funds. You hear about it when charter schools mismanage funds. It happens all of the time whether it’s deliberate or not,” Truitt said.
Well-run charter schools should not be penalized because of the financial misdeeds of a couple of “bad actors,” Truitt said. The policy will take away the “ability of a charter school to open its doors to families who have chosen to go there.”
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Guilford County Republican, criticized supporters for not sharing the new policy with Department of Public Instruction staffers until late last week.
“This is a serious policy change,” Robinson said. “If you wanted to do it, it should have started the moment the bill was passed.”
Robinson said policy supporters were “not professional” and that their actions almost “smacks of dishonesty.”
“I can assure you this will not go unnoticed,” Robinson said.
State board Member Olivia Oxendine, a Republican, asked bill supporters to withdraw the policy from Wednesday’s board agenda to give the board more time to review it before voting.
“This law is huge,” Oxendine said. “This one really deserves a discussion.”
Earlier, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican, made a motion to remove the policy from the board’s agenda. Folwell’s motion failed and the agenda was approved as presented.
The new policy also requires the review board to submit approved charter renewals and “all material changes” to the state board for funding consideration.
The Review Board replaces the Charter School Advisory Board, which had limited powers. It only made recommendations to the state board, and didn’t have the authority to approve, terminate, amend or renew charters.
The new policy will be voted on just a week before the Review Board considers at least two charter applications that received unfavorable state board rulings.
Now that HB 618 is law, charter applicants can request that the Review Board reconsider state board decisions made after July 1, 2022, in cases where they contradicted the advisory panel’s recommendations.
Davis said the new policy needs to be in place before the Review Board begins its work.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed HB 618, contending the state Constitution gives the state board oversight authority for public schools, including charter schools. The governor’s veto was overridden on Aug. 16.
Davis also opposed the legislation. In a letter to lawmakers, Davis said the current process “clearly shows that quality charter school proposals with the recommendation of CSAB and the background provided by the [NC Department of Public Instruction] DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, are receiving a fair review.”
Of the 149 charter applications CSAB recommended for approval since 2013, Davis noted in the letter, the state board has approved more than 90%.
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