State program for improving access to charter schools reports progress
NC ACCESS director says efforts to include disadvantaged students are bearing fruit
The head of a state program designed to improve access to charter schools told the state Charter Schools Review Board this week that her program has met most of its annual goals. Photo: Getty Images
A federally funded program designed to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students attending North Carolina charter schools has met most of its goals, Barbara O’Neal, NC ACCESS program administrator, told the NC Charter Schools Review Board this week.
Program goals included training 160 school leaders to work with educationally disadvantaged students, as well as increasing the number of such students attending the state’s more than 200 charter schools, O’Neal said.
Educationally disadvantaged students include those who are economically disadvantaged, those with disabilities, English language learners, immigrants, migrants and homeless or unaccompanied youth.
The state received a $36.6 million federal Charter School Program Grant in 2018 to fund NC ACCESS. The program was supposed to end this year but received a 12-month extension in September.
“I think we’ve met our purpose, and I want to know, in the end, is it sustainable without funding?” O’Neal asked. “The one thing that I’ve learned about this grant is that everything that improves charter schools costs money.”
O’Neal said the program had more than $14 million left to spend at the end of fifth year. In its final year, NC ACCESS will focus on an Assistant Principal Academy to provide training for assistant principals, and an “executive leadership program” to train 40 or more school leaders.
“I get emails weekly [from schools asking] if I can add my team this group [Executive Leadership Program],” O’Neal said. “This too was open to all charter schools but we had a priority enrollment for low-performing schools.”
Most of NC ACCESS’s grant award — $33 million — has been handed over to charter schools in the form of subgrants. The program made 62 school level awards, just over its five-year goal of 60. Awards helped to assist 33 new schools, expand 26 existing schools and to replicate two others.
O’Neal said the average award was $530,000 but some schools received up to $1.2 million.
She said the program goal that 40% of subgrantees serving at least 51% of economically disadvantaged students has been met. Forty-eight percent of schools served more than 51% of economically disadvantaged students, she said, and 26% of them are within 10% of the goal.
Overall, subgrant schools served nearly 25,400 economically disadvantaged students, who made up 60% of their enrollments.
Schools receiving awards also met school lottery, transportation and school lunch goals, O’Neal said. Transportation and school lunch concerns are often identified as deterrents to low-income families sending their children to charter schools.
The schools fell short of the goal that 90% maintain high academic standards. Only 41% maintained school performance grades of A-C, while just 65% met or exceeded expected academic growth.
Several school leaders shared how NC ACCESS grants helped them to fulfill their missions and increase access to economically disadvantaged students.
“[The grant] really allowed us to do more of a good thing,” said Robin Hollis, principal of The Arts Based School in Winston-Salem. “We’ve been doing good stuff for many years and we had a long waiting list, then NC ACCESS grant came along and gave us a roadmap to how we could provide that for more students, to increase access for more educationally disadvantaged students.”
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