Those who attended this morning’s Senate Education/Higher Education committee hearing weren’t disappointed. Charter school advocates and opponents expected to hear the pros and cons of SB-8 sponsored by Sen. Richard Stevens R-Wake, which eliminated the state’s cap on charter schools. Instead, they found themselves pouring over a Proposed Committee Substitute Amendment (PCS-1) completed late last night which addresses most all the other major concerns left not addressed by SB 8. As of this writing, PCS-1 has not been posted to the web site, so it’s not possible to link to the legislation.
Among other things PCS-1 to SB-8 includes provisions to: establish an independent commission to oversee and authorize charter schools, encourage replication of successful schools, clarify funding for charter schools, allow cities and counties – if they so choose to — to designate a portion of lottery funds for charter school construction, or to levy property taxes to help meet the capital needs of local charter schools.
The conventional wisdom on how major charter school legislation would proceed this session was to have one bill (SB8) lift the cap and have another bill address the other more complicated issues. The PCS signifies either a change in strategy or the emergence of consensus by charter school advocates around some of the more ticklish issues.
Undoubtedly the PCS-1 provision likely to receive the most attention concerns the creation of a North Carolina Public Schools Charter Commission. The commission will operate independent of the State Board of Education and will oversee charter schools and have the power to authorize new charters.
The commission will consist of 11 members and be appointed by the General Assembly and the Governor. Anyone who has watched how charters have operated over the past 15 years knows a new arrangement was necessary. Under the current arrangement the state Board of Education authorizes and provides oversight of charter schools in North Carolina. Having an entitity oversee the authorization of schools it believes to be a threat to public schools created numerous problems for charter schools. Regrettably the current arrangement only institutionalized the acrimony. For the benefit of both, it was not hard to see a change was needed.
The idea of an independent commission certainly has pluses. However there will also likely be constitutional questions. I’m told the legislation is crafted to withstand and challenge. Let’s hope. Others wonder if the idea of an independent commission is yet just another layer of bureaucracy? I wonder: Have conservatives changed their focus from eliminating bureaucracy to merely seeking to influence it?
PCS-1 also hopes to ensure what the courts promised charter schools: equal financial footing with the public schools. Among other things PCS-1 provides localities the option to 1) allocate a portion of lottery funds for charter school construction and 2) allow cities or towns – if they so choose – the option to levy taxes and appropriate funds for charter school capital needs.
There is a lot to do here, but it’s not insurmountable. Most likely additional amendments will be offered. If all the major issues are cleared up, a committee vote could be scheduled for next week.
To check for text of proposed committee substitute amendment to SB-8 check here.