New charter schools could open as soon as Aug. 2012

by Sarah Gilbert

New charter schools could open across the state as soon as fall of 2012, thanks to a legislative change approved by the North Carolina Board of Education Thursday, Sept. 1.
Under the standard schedule, prospective operators of new charter schools would begin applying in early 2012. The approved groups would have a mandatory planning year to develop their educational and financial plans before opening in fall of 2013.
“We missed the normal application period this spring as the cap had been reached and the legislature was debating the comprehensive bill,” Eddie Goodall, president of the N.C. Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said. “It threatened to cause us to miss an entire year of opening new charters.”
Instead, the state board approved a “fast-track” option that would allow previous applicants and operators who already run successful schools to skip the waiting period altogether. The move would allow schools to begin operations a full year before expected.
According to the application, “fast-track” applicants will include traditional schools hoping to convert to charter schools and “charter applicants that were interviewed by the State Board of Education last year but, due to the existence of the legislated cap, were not granted a charter.”
Applicants seeking to skip the planning year must submit their applications to the Office of Charter Schools by Nov. 11, and the members of the N.C. Public Charter School Advisory Council will make their recommendations to the state board in December. Applications could be approved as early as Feb. 2012 and schools could begin operations for the 2012-2013 school year.
The Office of Charter Schools approved a revised charter application and created a scoring rubric that the advisory council will use to evaluate “fast-track” candidates.
“The state board and Chairman (Bill) Harrison are due credit for moving quickly to create the council and giving it the latitude to make charter school decisions as we move to a new, no-cap era of charter education in our state,” Goodall said.
The end of the cap limiting the number of N.C. charters to 100 could bring more charter schools to Union County, where one, Union Academy, is already in operation.
Also at the Sept. 1 meeting, the State Board of Education approved 11 of 15 appointments made to the new Public Charter School Advisory Council, formed to oversee the operation of charters and the approval of new schools.
The appointments included three from the Union County area, including Kwan Graham, the parent liaison coordinator for advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina; Aaron Means, former board chairman of charter school KIPP Charlotte; and Rebecca Shore, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Gov. Bev Perdue nominated all three.
Nominations also came from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and State Superintendent June Atkinson. The four remaining seats will be filled when the other Republican leaders in the state legislature make their nominations.
Charter schools are considered public schools and receive state and local funding to cover operating costs such as salaries and materials. They do not receive funding for capital costs such as construction of new facilities.
Charter schools have more freedom and flexibility in instruction, and are able to experiment with new teaching and learning methods not available in traditional public schools, although students must take state end of test and end of course examinations. Students choose to attend charter schools and do not pay tuition.
Charter schools have operated in N.C. since 1996, when legislators passed a law allowing 100 charter schools with a maximum of five in each school district. Today, there are approximately 40,000 students enrolled in charter schools and another 15,000 students on waiting lists, according to the N.C. Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The cap on the number of charter schools in operation ended with the passage of Senate Bill 8 in June.
For more information, visit the N.C. Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ website, www.nccharters.org.

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