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Twelve NC charter schools were approved to open in 2024. Only three are ready

Image from the website of GO BIG, an all-girls charter school originally approved to open in Charlotte in 2023. The school now says it needs another year to get ready.
Image from the website of GO BIG, an all-girls charter school originally approved to open in Charlotte in 2023. The school now says it needs another year to get ready.

North Carolina’s decade-plus charter school boom has hit a slowdown, with nine of 12 schools approved to open this August saying they can’t be ready in time.

Most recently, the state on Monday granted a second delay to two schools that were initially approved to open in August 2023. Their organizers say they’re still trying to find buildings. One is trying to open in Mecklenburg County, the other in Wake.

“They’ve reviewed and visited approximately 15 properties in the Raleigh area — Apex, Cary, Morrisville and Holly Springs,” Nicky Niewinski of the state Office of Charter Schools told the Charter Schools Review Board, referring to the struggles of Nalanda Charter Academy.

Ashley Baquero, the state’s charter school director, says finding a building has also been the biggest problem for the other schools that have delayed their opening date.

The state provides operating money for charter schools based on the number of students, but there's no public money for facilities. After applications are approved the boards have to raise money or get loans to buy or lease a building.

“In the current market, this compounds with scarcity of appropriate properties and high interest rates to make it very difficult to both find and finance buildings,” Baquero said. And without a building, she said, it’s hard to get parents to sign up, creating an enrollment challenge as well. Thus, this spring has brought a stream of boards asking for another year.

The board of GO BIG told the charter review board that they’re negotiating on two sites in west Charlotte to house an all-girls K-8 school focused on STEM programs. But they said neither will be ready by August.

“The reason why we are requesting this additional delay year is so that we can lock down our location and be able to ramp up those recruitment efforts for the following year,” board member Michelle White said.

Demand remains strong

Baquero opened the review board meeting with a report on the overall state of charter schools in North Carolina. She outlined how the number of schools exploded after the General Assembly lifted the 100-school cap in 2011, with 10 to 20 new schools opening each year in the beginning. The number of schools is leveling off, as fewer applications are approved and some schools are forced to close.

N.C. Office of Charter Schools

But Baquero said demand remains strong. The state now has 210 charter schools with more than 145,000 students, and she said many of them report long waiting lists.

“We continue to increase enrollment. We continue to increase the number of schools operating in the state. And wait-list data is showing an increase as well,” Baquero told the board.

Strong annual enrollment growth has been fueled partly by expansion of established schools. It’s common for charter schools to open small — say, with grades K-2 only — and add grade levels in subsequent years.

N.C. Office of Charter Schools

But start-ups often struggle. Here’s what charter officials reported about the three still on track to open this August:

  • ALA Monroe, a K-8 school in Union County, will take possession of a building in June. Its projected first-year enrollment is 450. Public funding is based on the number of students, and ALA Monroe needs 300 students to cover costs. So far just 127 are enrolled.
  • Agape Achievement Academy in Cumberland County hopes to open with 168 K-4 students; so far it has 133. That’s more than enough to break even, state officials said.  Construction on a permanent facility has been delayed but the board has begun work on a contingency building.
  • Riverside Leadership Academy in Craven County is installing modular classrooms, with hopes of having them ready by July. The school has 378 K-7 students enrolled, out of a projected 480. That’s more than enough to break even.

The charter board will review all three later this spring and decide whether to give them clearance to open.

Delays pose questions

Meanwhile, the delayed schools will start the cycle again in 2025, when a total of 16 charter schools are now slated to open. The delayed schools don’t face any penalties from the state.

Board member Rita Haire voiced concerns that delayed openings could leave charter school boards and state officials working with outdated financial information. By the time a school moves through application and opening procedures and then gets one or more delays, she said, the proposed budget may be four or five years old.

“You know, just with inflation and with rising costs and workforce and materials and other things, it seems that it’s putting us in a situation of unknown numbers,” Haire told GO BIG officials. “How would you know your numbers unless you reconstruct the budget based on today’s values and today’s pay scale?”

Board Chair Bruce Friend echoed those concerns for Nolanda. “I’m going to approve this to give them more time, but I think that you’ve got your work cut out for you here to get a site location up and running, getting the interest to have the enrollment,” he said.

The board approved both delays unanimously.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at or 704-926-3859.
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