Opponents of bill (SB-8 ) to expand the number of charter schools in North Carolina are in high gear. In an effort to sway lawmakers and public sentiment, critics of the legislation are circulating several claims which stretch or distort the truth.
This article examines a few of the most common claims against the bill.
Claim: SB -8 will allow charter schools to operate largely outside the purview of the State Board of Education and any accountability mechanisms, by establishing an independent charter school commission effectively controlled by charter school advocates.
Facts: This claim falsely assumes that limiting State Board of Education oversight eliminates all accountability mechanisms. This is not true. SB-8 would create and charge The Public Charter School Commission (PCSC) with authorizing charters and adopting policies regarding all aspects of charter school operation. As such, PCSC has a strong incentive to ensure the success of all charters. Like public schools, charter schools must also administer the state testing program. Unlike their public school counterparts, charter schools can be closed if they fail to meet specific requirements. In addition, charter school advocates believe parents are the ultimate accountability mechanism. If a school is not doing its job, parents will remove children from the school and take them elsewhere.
Claim: SB 8 allows privately operated charter schools the right to use taxpayer money to pay for capital expenses.
Facts. Let’s remember charter schools are not private schools. Charters are public schools. They were created to allow schools to experiment with a variety of instructional methodologies, free schools from the burden of administrative regulation and offer expanded educational opportunities for students and parents. They receive public dollars because they ARE public schools. SB 8 allows counties – if they so choose – to direct public taxpayer funds for capital expenses to public charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools bear nearly all the cost of capital expenses.
Claim: SB 8 will force public schools to share with charter schools monies received from local fundraisers or designated grants.
Facts: This is not true. SB 8 requires all locally-derived funds to remain with the local public schools. That means any funds derived from school bake sale athletic events or other fundraisers will remain with the local school.
Claim: Because SB 8 does not require charter schools to provide transportation or food services, it will limit diversity and minority student access.
Facts: According to the latest available data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (2007-08), about 40 percent of charter schools already provide some form of transportation services. Such services often include parent and volunteer-based car pools. Current law requires charter schools to develop a plan that addresses student transportation issues. Regarding school lunches, the costs associated with providing the service often leads schools to explore a variety of food service options. Charter schools should not be discriminated against simply because they offer a food service other than the USDA free-or-reduced lunch program. Has the lack of transportation and food service requirements led to decreased minority enrollments? DPI data from the 2008-09 school year show charter school minority enrollments for all groups (Indian, Asian, Hispanic and African-American) are within one percentage point – plus or minus – of minority enrollment levels in traditional public schools for all groups except Hispanics.
Claim: SB 8 allows charter schools to turn away high needs students, students with disabilities are effectively shut out of charter schools.
Facts: North Carolina law states “A charter school shall not discriminate against any student based on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, gender or disability”(G.S.115C-238.29F(g)(5)). According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in 2008-09, 10.6 percent of charter school students were enrolled in anyone of 16 “exceptional children” programs. Traditional public schools enroll approximately 12.5 percent of students in similar programs.