When the General Assembly convenes next month to address the state’s $3.5 billion budget deficit it will face many thorny problems. Passing legislation that removes the cap on the amount of charter schools in North Carolina (under the current law, there can be no more than 100 charter schools in the state) will not be one of those difficult problems.
Lawmakers are expected to act quickly to remove the cap. They are doing so because North Carolinians want the cap eliminated charter schools expand educational opportunities for parents and students, and charter schools improve student learning.
Does the public want more charter schools? There are currently 10,000 students on charter school waiting lists. A December 2010 Civitas Poll of 600 likely voters found 73 percent favored changing state law to allow more charter schools to open, 22 percent of respondents opposed the idea and 4 percent had no opinon. Support for removing the cap comes from crosses political lines, with 77 percent of Republicans favoring removal and 71 percent of Democrats.
Charter schools are specifically designed to offer institutional autonomy and administrative flexibility. Studies show that parents and students like the differing curricula, the smaller classes and the innovative teaching methods found in many charter schools. However, not everyone is happy.
A high percentage of teachers, administrators and members of the state’s education establishment have fought hard to limit the number of charters, believing that such schools take money from traditional public schools and lack accountability.
This is nonsense. The truth is charter schools are public schools. When a student leaves, the public school’s funding follows that child. Hence, dollars are not lost but merely transferred to a different type of school.
Charter schools are frequently located in low income areas. The families of these children are often trapped in poor neighborhoods and their children are tied to an educational system that doesn’t work for them.
It costs less to educate a child in a charter school than a traditional public school. In addition, charter schools can help to alleviate overcrowding and its associated costs.
Charter schools infuse a much needed element of competition into the education market.
Recently, researchers from Northwestern University found that student test scores actually improved in areas where student had more private school options than those areas where students had fewer options. Competition is good.
While charter schools are free to follow their own curriculum, schools are still required to take the same tests as public school students.
If the schools don’t perform, they are closed – don’t you wish that was the case with all schools? However, and most importantly, charter schools also have to be accountable to parents and markets. If they are not, they don’t survive.
Some of the best schools in North Carolina are charter schools. U.S. News & World Report even named Raleigh Charter School one of the 50 best High Schools in the United States. Are charter schools perfect? Of course not. But the emphasis on accountability, administrative flexibility and innovative teaching strategies represent a giant step forward in education reform.
All reasons why it’s a no brainer lawmakers should – and will – remove the cap on charter schools.