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2013 Legislative Roundup on EdReform

Private School Choice

North Carolina took a ”Great Leap Forward” this year with this bill that creates a voucher program for low-income students with $50 million appropriated for the 2015- 2016 fiscal year. Ends teacher tenure and replaces it with four-year contracts for high-performing teachers and one-year contracts for new and non-high-performing teachers.

A scholarship grant program for disabled students with a scholarship value of up to $3,000 per semester also became law in 2013.

Charter Schools

Contrary to North Carolina’s support for charter schools and multiple authorizers, the state signed a bill into law in 2013 that was a clear step backward. The bill removes charter authorizer status from the UNC system and creates  the North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory board, a quasi-independent charter school board, to serve as main authorizer in the state with the state board still having final veto power on approval decisions.

Teacher Quality

The budget bill also addressed teacher tenure by eliminating tenure for new teachers and set up a modest performance pay bonus system.

Analysis of Changes to Charter School Law (SB 337)

CER Position on NC Charter Law Amendment (SB 337): Don’t Weaken the Bill – Preserve What is Good and Build On It

In addition to the Policy Position above, CER has broken down and analyzed language in SB 337 in this chart.

Bill to Change State Charter School Law a ”Step Backward”

“NC SB 337 is at risk of becoming a step backward for the national charter school movement, which prides itself on creating more choices for students and parents. While the bill contains many positive provisions, it also contains unfortunate language forbidding the University of North Carolina (UNC) System from being a charter school ‘authorizer,’ says CER President Jeanne Allen. Read the full statement here.

CER Concerns with SB 337

• Codifying the Charter School Advisory Board in law puts everything in hands of state via this advisory board. Making this a legal fixture by law is going to result in complete control by the Department of Education of all chartering, worse than it is now. Even though this bill gives the State Board ultimate authorizing power, the Board will not review the charters, do the staff work or make the final determination. They will do what every state board does — listen to the advisory board it created, which will now be entirely focused on the same kind of regulatory structures and rules that are part of its DNA, no matter who is in charge.

• Eliminates all other potential “preliminary” charter authorizers in state, including local board, and the University of NC, putting chartering solely in hands of the Charter School Advisory Board, i.e. the state bureaucracy.

• Language added that says one of the requirements a charter applicant must meet to be approved – “that the applicant has the ability to operate the school and would be likely to operate the school in an educationally and economically sound manner”. Statement requires charters to prove their worth, which isn’t something that the state board is capable of doing.

• State board encouraged to give preference to at-risk programs, which is common.

• If a charter requests to lease available buildings/ land and can’t reach agreement with local board, then charter can appeal to board of county commissioners, who have final decision making authority. This gives full power to local interests, who have adversarial relationship with charters and will not help with their facilities needs.

• Adds “due process” when discussing when a charter can “exclude a student” from their school, adding another unnecessary rule regarding who charters can enroll.

• Decreased percentage of teachers that need to hold teaching certificates from 75% to 50% in grades K-5.

• Additional bureaucracy codified in law requiring charter boards to adopt a policy regarding criminal history checks for teachers and personnel, instead of affording charters the freedom to decide their own board policies. The fact is, these ethics issues fall under current state education code.

• Very specific (and unnecessary) priorities and definitions spelled out for siblings, and specific regulations on how to handle twins in lotteries.

• Funding language looks to clarify a portion of local funding for charter schools, as far as a share of the current expense fund (and how its calculated) and charters can hold districts accountable if they don’t receive payment. Trying to fix charter funding is irrelevant if you’re creating a hostile charter school environment and putting full control into the state’s hands.

• Removes original language to create charter school advisory board, including their ability to provide technical assistance.

• “Special funds” which include student organization’s dues, and some athletic funding shall not be included in the local school share that transfers to charters, so continuing to fund charter schools at a lower level than traditional schools.

• The legislation also adds charter school property into a special class that is excluded from taxes.

We encourage lawmakers and advocates to read the fine print and actively work to table this discussion and return next year ready to propose solutions grounded in experience and practice that will benefit NC’s children.

Moving Charter Authorizer Practices Forward in North Carolina

Charter School legislation that would create the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board has been causing some controversy from the hills of Asheville to the shores of Wilmington. However, arguments about this commission creating a dual system of education are merely a distraction from the real conversations and debate that should be taking place — what does North Carolina need to do to ensure its charter school law is one that allows quality options for students to flourish.

The debate should be about creating strong laws that result in strong schools, and state charter school commissions are not part of the recipe for an ideal charter school law. “The evidence is clear that quality charter schools are directly correlated to quality authorizers,” a conclusion CER has come to based on 14 years of charter school law analysis and evaluation. Quality authorizers means authorizers that are truly independent legally and managerially from existing local and state education agencies. The North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board is not an independent commission because it is housed within the NC Department of Public Instruction.

While some groups contend state authorizers are the way to go, CER has repeatedly seen the inability of state commissions to approve the same amount of quality charter schools than independent authorizers who are free from excessive oversight. Failing to include independent, multiple authorizers means lawmakers will be creating the new education establishment of tomorrow, with one set of people in power, the interest of parents and educators secondary, and the future of education behind.

Resources:
Charter Authorizing: The Truth About State Commissions
Model Charter School Legislation

North Carolina Voters Want More School Options, Strong & Equitable Charter School Law

”North Carolinians support charter school laws that allow multiple authorizers” is just one of many key findings from a poll CER conducted to gauge knowledge and perceptions of charter schools in the Tarheel State.

See more of the findings here.