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26 New Charter Schools Will Be Biggest Expansion In NC Program’s History

Thomas Favre-Bulle

The State Board of Education on Thursday gave a swift, final approval for 26 charter schools to open this fall. It’ll be the largest single-year expansion of charter schools since they first popped up in the late 1990’s.

The schools include four in Wake County, one in Durham and 11 in Charlotte. Other schools approved will open in Harnett, Bertie, Buncombe, Halifax, Rockingham, Brunswick, Cumberland, Wayne and Wilson counties. 

Funded by taxpayer money, charter schools operate independently and are exempt from some of the regulations followed by traditional public schools.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell urged state Board of Education members on Thursday to stay mindful about the effects charter schools could have on traditional public schools. Among other financial concerns, she noted the potential for charter schools to take funding away from public schools:

And I just want to be aware of that and work with districts so that in no way are children's educations interrupted or disrupted because of some of the changing finances.

In the past, school districts could submit impact statements objecting the approval of new charter schools. That provision in the charter school law, however, was removed last year by lawmakers. 

In a state board of education meeting earlier this week,  Joel Medley, director of the state's Office of Charter Schools, suggested his office would still accept impact statements during review processes.

He also said that with more charter schools, his staff will need to support them in different ways. For example, instead of providing face-to-face training for school boards, his office will transition into making a webinar series:  

We’ve had to restructure the things that we are doing, but at the same time we’ve had to look at some of the things we’ve done in the past and question if it's critical to the mission that we have.

The charter school movement has been growing quickly since the Republican-led General Assembly removed the 100-school cap in 2011. The state currently has 127 charter schools serving an estimated 65,000 students, compared to the roughly 1.5 million children who attend North Carolina’s public schools. 

Seventy-one charter schools have already applied to open in 2015. The Office of Charter Schools will make recommendations next week as to which ones should go forward for further review.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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