Local News

Are Charter Schools An Answer To Wake's Growth Crisis?

Posted July 13, 2006

— Some say charter schools could help ease overcrowding in the Wake County Public School System, but there is one major concern: is there enough interest?

"I would estimate that charters would eliminate the need immediately for five to 10 new schools," said state Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake County.

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    Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations. They receive state, local and federal funding for students, but no state money to buy or build facilities. There are currently 14 charter schools in Wake County.

    Not only would charter schools save the school system space, Stam said, they also save millions in construction costs.

    But when five open slots for new charter schools became available this year, only one of the 17 applicants was from Wake County. The applicant was not selected.

    "I don't think you can expect a flood of applicants when there's very little chance of approval," said Bob Luddy, board chairman of Franklin Academy, a charter school in Wake Forest.

    Luddy said he blames the state's current system for lack of applications.

    According to North Carolina law, only 100 charter schools are allowed statewide. People like Luddy are pushing to lift the cap, but the General Assembly is not interested in the issue.

    "It's not a priority right now," said Sen. Janet Cowell, D-Wake.

    The focus now, she said, is on other education programs and managing the charter schools the state already has.

    "Until you can ensure a standard of quality, it's hard for me to justify lifting the cap," Cowell said.

    Still, Luddy said he sees demand and believes that schools will follow if more charters are allowed.

    Franklin Academy, like the Wake County school system, is out of space. The waiting list currently has more than 1,000 students.

    "Wake County should have 25 new charter schools, and we would have them if the opportunity existed," Luddy said.

    Some charter school supporters have said they feel the Wake County Board of Education does not support them.

    Former school Superintendent Bill McNeal, however, approved prospective charters in Wake County for the last several years.

    The new charter schools selected to open next year are in Columbus, Durham, Iredell, Johnston and Mecklenburg counties.

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