Education

NC charter schools chief: Need to increase diversity, open more rural schools

Posted January 4

Dave Machado, director for the state Office of Charter Schools

— North Carolina charter schools need to have more diversity among their students and open more schools in rural parts of the state, the state's charter school chief said Wednesday.

Dave Machado made the comments while presenting the annual charter schools report to the State Board of Education. Machado said he is "very proud of the many things our charter schools are doing" but said there are several areas where they can improve.

The report found that charters and traditional schools have about the same proportion of students who are American Indian, Asian, black and Pacific Islander. However, charters tend to have more white students and fewer Hispanic students than traditional schools.

The report also found that charter schools tend to serve fewer poor students than traditional schools. But Machado cautioned board members that some of that data may not be accurate. Schools may have under-reported how many low-income students they serve, he explained, because they must rely on parents to report income information.

Not all parents want to share that information.

"Parents would get mad when we sent those surveys out," Machado said, referencing his time as chief administrator of Lincoln Charter School in Lincoln County.

North Carolina has 167 charter schools in 60 of the state's 100 counties. Machado said he would like to see more charter schools open in rural areas. Even though a charter may be located in a specific school district, it is not bound to serve students only from that district.

Charter schools were created in North Carolina two decades ago and now enroll more than 81,000 students. The state funding has grown from about $16.5 million in 1997, when there were 33 schools, to more than $444 million this school year.

According to the latest survey of the state's charter schools, more than 37,000 students were on wait lists to get into the schools. However, it's difficult to verify the accuracy of those numbers because some students may be on wait lists at multiple schools. Also, only 103 of the state's charter schools reported their wait-list numbers.

Other key findings from the annual report include:

  • Charter schools had higher percentages than traditional public schools of both A and B ratings and D and F ratings.
  • In 2015-16, there were 30 charter schools designated as low-performing. That does not include the two charter schools that closed at the conclusion of 2015-16 due to non-renewal. There were 24 charter schools designated as continually low-performing.
  • Between 1997 and 2016, 59 charter schools closed. The number includes schools that were not able to open, schools that relinquished their charters and schools that had their charters revoked or not renewed by the State Board of Education. The majority of charter school closures have been the result of financial or financially related issues – low enrollment, fiscal noncompliance, excessive debt, etc.
  • Since the cap on charter schools was lifted in 2011, 15 schools have closed, including three that were not able to open. Those 15 account for 25 percent of all school closures since 1997. Since 2014, 11 charter schools have closed. Two of them relinquished the charter prior to opening, and five were in the first year of operation. One of those schools was revoked due to non-compliance with requirements for services for Exceptional Children. Since 2012, three schools closed due to inadequate academics.
  • In 2015-16, 120 of 156 charter schools, or 76.9 percent, met or exceeded all financial and operational goals. That does not include two charter schools that closed at the conclusion of the school year.
  • In 2016, one charter high school was in the top 100 high schools nationally, according to U.S. News and World Reports. Five charter high schools were recognized in the top 100 charter high schools nationally. Eleven charter high schools were designated in the top 50 schools in North Carolina.
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