Last week the State Board of Education gave final approval to 26 new charter schools in North Carolina. The new schools are scheduled to open this fall. The addition of more than two dozen new charter schools is the largest increase in the number of new charter schools since the late 1990s.
Over half of the new charter schools will be located in or around two of North Carolina’s largest metropolitan areas. Six of the new schools will be located in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle area. Eleven new schools will be in the Charlotte area.
What are charter schools? Charter schools are public schools whose operational funding is provided by the state but no money is provided for capital costs. North Carolina passed charter school legislation in 1995. Charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools and are also intended to serve as labs for educational innovation. Unlike public schools, charter schools are administered by an independent board of directors.
The number of charter schools has increased significantly since the legislature lifted the state-imposed limit of 100 in 2011. There are currently 127 charter schools in North Carolina. In 2012-13, charter schools educated approximately 48,800 students (out of approximately 1.5 million K-12 public school students) at a cost of about $255 million. The latest vote by the State Board of Education will increase the total number of charter schools in North Carolina to 153.
A good thing? Are more charter schools a good thing? I’d respond with an enthusiastic “yes.” The steady growth in the number of charter schools reflects two simple facts: 1) There is dissatisfaction with traditional public schools and 2) charter schools are working.
How are charter schools performing? A 2013 study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) study shows that North Carolina charter schools performed better in reading and less so in math than their counterparts in traditional public schools. Math students in traditional North Carolina public schools have fared better than the national average. While charter school students still lag, they have narrowed that gap in recent years. In reading it’s a different story. Charter school students test better than their traditional public school counterparts.
Equally important, as a group North Carolina’s charter school students’ performance surpasses the statewide average academic performance of all tested students. It should also be noted that when compared to other states, North Carolina charter schools have the highest mean in both reading and math of any state in the CREDO study. 
Moreover, charter school benefits aren’t limited to academics. Research has shown that parents of students in charter schools as well as the students are frequently more satisfied with their education experience than those in traditional public schools. 
Charter schools provide enriching educational opportunities for students who might not fare as well in a traditional public school. They furnish unique opportunities to develop learning communities around certain values or philosophies. The highly successful K.I.P.P. academies and Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy in Mooresboro are excellent examples of how charter schools meet the diverse educational needs of our North Carolina students.
Accountability. Because charter schools are financed with public funds, mechanisms are in place to ensure that funds are spent wisely. The fact is, charter schools have stronger accountability mechanisms than their traditional public school counterparts. Yes, charter schools must administer the same annual tests that traditional public schools use. If public schools fail to meet performance goals, the school stays open. It frequently receives additional resources and a team of personnel designed to hopefully turn the school around. If they fail, the school stays open and they keep trying. If a charter school fails to meet performance goals, it will be closed. For those reasons, many believe charter schools are more responsive to parental and student concerns in ways that many public schools are not.
The future. Charter schools are not intended to replace traditional public schools. There are many fine public schools that do a good job of educating students. However, we know many public schools are struggling in North Carolina. We also know that students are as diverse as the schools they attend. Charter schools expand educational opportunities to students in ways that aren’t available in traditional public schools.
No, charter schools aren’t perfect. They face many of the same challenges traditional public schools encounter. However, charter schools enjoy advantages. They are premised upon many of the best qualities of American education: individual responsibility and high standards and expectations. Most importantly, charter schools are usually formed by a community of individuals committed to a set of ideals or values. As such, students are readily welcomed into defined communities where they can learn, grow and contribute.
Should we be alarmed North Carolina is adding 26 new charter schools? No, it’s a wise use of resources and is good for our schools. Charter schools expand educational opportunities for children, teachers and parents. And because the cost of educating a student in a charter school is generally less than that of a traditional public school, charter schools will save taxpayers money and infuse competition into a monopolistic educational system badly in need of reform.
Still don’t think more charter schools are a good thing? Observe the length of the charter school wait lists and the low number of students transferring out of charter schools. Those numbers tell us charter schools are working. All in all, we should be glad 26 more charter schools will be opening their doors in North Carolina.
 For additional information on CREDO study see CREDO National Charter School Study, 2013 available at: credo.stanford.edu
 U.S. Department of Education, June 2010 , ” The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts”. See analysis by Jason Richwine in Heritage Foundation: Charter Schools: A Welcome Choice for Parents. Available at: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/08/charter-schools-a-welcome-choice-for-parents See: Transformation of a School System: Principal Teacher and Parent Perceptions of Charter and Traditional Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans, Rand Corporation. Available at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR1145.html