State board reasserts funding control over charter schools after losing other powers

Published 2:47 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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The State Board of Education approved on Thursday a policy that seeks to reassert control over North Carolina charter schools weeks after the General Assembly shifted decision-making for approving these nontraditional public schools to a panel filled with mostly legislative appointees.

The board voted 8-3 to direct the Charter School Review Board to submit to the education board all initial and renewal charter applications that the new panel approves and related financial documents. The State Board of Education will then decide whether to disburse state and federal funds to the charter school after determining if it complies with government funding regulations.

The policy doesn’t include a list of reasons why funding would be withheld, WRAL-TV reported. State Board of Education members supporting the policy say they’re exercising their authority from the North Carolina Constitution to allocate funds to and ensure financial accountability for charter schools, of which there are over 200 statewide.

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Education board Chair Eric Davis said seven charter schools have closed over the last few years, and “at least five of them with questionable financial situations,” The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

“What judgment will we use in determining funding?” Davis said. “We’ll use the same judgment that we use in determining funding for any school.”

Appointees of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to the board voted for the policy, while “no” votes came in part from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who are both Republicans.

Under previous law, a state Charter Schools Advisory Board made recommendations on charters to the State Board of Education, which had the final say.

But last month the GOP-dominated legislature overrode Cooper’s veto of the bill that renamed the advisory board the Charter School Review Board. Its charter decisions are now final, with the State Board of Education hearing appeals. Eight of the 11 members of the review board are picked by the House speaker and Senate leader.

Republican board members complained the policy was unveiled on short notice, with the board not following its usual practice of waiting a month to adopt a policy.

“To do this in one day is unfair,” Robinson said. “It’s unprofessional, and it smacks of political pandering and should not be tolerated on an issue this important.”

Davis said the State Board of Education needed to act now because the review board will meet next week to reconsider charter applications for two schools that were rejected by the State Board of Education.

Republican state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, the nonvoting board secretary, said the policy is vague, and charter schools don’t get funding until they’re very close to opening.

“I don’t see what a couple of bad actors have done should be a policy that jeopardizes essentially the ability of a charter school to open its doors to the families who’ve chosen to go there,” Truitt said.

The North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools, a trade association for charters, said the separation of funding and charter application approvals violates state law and threatens the ability of some new schools to open in a state with long waiting lists of students.