A state senate committee has approved a bill giving four North Carolina communities the power to create their own charter schools. Critics say the legislation would re-segregate public schools in those areas.
“You are creating inequities that perpetuate,” said State Sen. Erica Smith, a democrat from northeastern North Carolina said before the vote Wednesday. “And it's going to be separate...and it's going to be very much unequal.”
Another provision expected to pass as part of the state budget would allow town governments to fund these schools with property tax revenue. The four towns seeking permission to create their own charter schools – Cornelius, Huntersville, Mint Hill, and Matthews – are mostly white and part of the largely-black Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. It’s the second-largest district in the state.
The bill's supporters have complained that traditional public schools in the area are overcrowded. They want town governments to be able to create charter schools and set aside classroom seats for town residents.
“We are not talking about taking every child in Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius out of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools,” said State Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican from Mecklenburg County who is sponsoring the bill. “Most of them will still be here. We are talking about the towns having the option to add one additional option for the children that live in their towns, regardless of any other factor other than their residence.”
The bill passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday afternoon amid concerns about its vetting, and the precedent it sets for towns across the state. The 170 charter schools already operating across North Carolina are run by independent boards, none by municipalities, and are open to all students.
“These cities...don’t know a damn thing about running charter schools,” State Sen. Jerry Tillman, Republican from Randolph County, said Wednesday. “However, if these four cities want to screw themselves, I’m going to vote for them to do that.”
A previous version of the bill that only applied to Matthews and Mint Hill passed the House last year. The revised legislation must next pass two more Senate committees before a floor vote.