SB 704, approved by the House on May 21, asks the General Assembly to convert as many as 135 low-performing schools to charter schools – as long as the charter schools are controlled by school boards. The bill is a last-ditch effort by state public school leaders to improve the state’s application for federal Race-to-the-Top (RttT) funds.
While it is true this bill significantly expands the number of charter schools across North Carolina, don’t be fooled. The bill does not help charter schools or work to improve public education.
- SB 704 puts school boards in charge of charter schools. Charter schools are designed to foster flexibility and innovation by allowing schools to operate outside the traditional administrative structures of public education. Charter schools are accountable not to school boards, but boards of directors. By giving school boards control over charter schools, such schools — by definition — would cease to be charter schools.
- Why should NC tie its fate to RttT funds? RttT ties North Carolina’s fate to the federal government’s education goals. RttT would also commit North Carolina to adopting unproven, costly national curriculum standards and tests. Worse yet, RttT would place our children’s future in the hands of education bureaucrats in Washington and lessen parental influence over the education of their children.
- North Carolina’s values about public education aren’t the same as those embodied in RttT. RttT centralizes control of public education within the federal government and works to eliminate local control and regional differences. Interestingly, the federal government believes competition will help to produce the best proposals among the states and spur reform efforts. Yet the federal government will oppose policies like school choice which works to instill among schools the benefits of competition.
- Does North Carolina need a turnaround plan for schools? A new plan for Failing Schools? The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction already has detailed plans designed to help turnaround low performing or failing schools. Unfortunately, those plans have not generated much success. Before adopting another plan however, shouldn’t public school leaders let us know why our current efforts to turnaround schools failed and why federal efforts are any more likely to succeed where North Carolina’s have failed?
- Is RttT really concerned about improving public education? If the federal government was really concerned about education, it would make assistance available to states with no strings attached and realize that states choose to address problems in different ways.
North Carolina could have raised its RttT score if the state would have merely lifted the charter school cap. That a majority of legislators will only sign on to legislation that raises the cap but also shifts control of charter schools, tells us that the issue is really about something else. Would any friend of charter schools put in charge of such schools individuals who have frequently expressed strong opposition to the very existence of charters?
Summary: SB 704 allows those legislators who opposed lifting the charter school cap to please charter school proponents by voting for this bill and also to please charter school opponents by strengthening public control over charter schools. In truth, SB 704 greases the skids for what most states desperately want: RttT monies. The funding is the means by which the federal government will gain greater government control over public education. Those who believe in the value of charter schools, strong local control and expanding student and parental choice in education have plenty of compelling reasons to oppose SB 704.