Charter school reform: Fightin' words

Posted February 23, 2011
Updated February 24, 2011

Wednesday's Senate debate over Senate Bill 8, the Charter School Reform bill, got pretty heated when the topic turned to access for lower-income kids.

Republicans said removing the 100-school cap and allowing charters to proliferate would be in the best interest of all students, high- and low-income alike. But Democrats argued that new charters should be required to offer transportation and subsidized food programs some low-income students depend on. Otherwise, they said, families who depend on those services won’t truly have equal access to charter schools.

Read more about Wednesday's Senate debate here.

Senate Education co-chair Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, replied that no student is forced to go to a charter school. He said parents should look into charters before they apply. If charters don’t provide the services their low-income students might need, “They can go to the public school and get the free lunch and the free transportation,” he said, adding that the “marketplace” of education would sort things out.

As I’ve noted before, the Senate tends to be a pretty collegial body, even across party lines, and even on sensitive topics like race and education. But Tillman’s comment elicited this blunt response from freshman Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford:

"I’m saddened by the fact that I don’t think we really care about education for everybody, but we care about education for those of us who can make sure our kids get it. And about the others, who will end up in poor public schools, that will have to share their funds since we’re not giving any extra money, then we don’t care about those children, wherever they end up on the streets or wherever. It does not appear – regardless of what you’re saying, I don’t think you care."

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, visibly angry, jumped to his feet to object.  “I get so frustrated when I hear comments made like I just heard. It’s as if we don’t care. And I’m gonna tell you something: Everybody in this room cares.”

Apodaca talked about a proposed charter for at-risk students in his district, a school that was stalled by the charter cap the bill would remove. “We care very deeply. I get offended by that. I think with the hearts and the minds of the people of North Carolina, we want all our children to succeed, not just a select few… To sit here and say that we don’t care about education is just wrong.”

After session, I asked Robinson about her comments during the debate. She walked it back a little, but not much. Sen. Robinson on Charters Sen. Robinson on charter schools  

Bill sponsor Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, seemed as offended as Apodaca was by Robinson’s comments.

Stevens has argued for some time that schools like Raleigh Charter High School and Raleigh’s Hope Elementary School prove that charters are diverse schools, and that their private governing boards have the best interests of all kids at heart. Sen. Stevens on Charters Sen. Stevens on charter schools reform

The final Senate vote on S8 is set for Thursday. It’s expected to surface in House committees next week.


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  • pinehorse Mar 2, 2011

    Itatum7 is entirely correct. Charter schools are the only good thing, in many areas, that our public schools offer today for concerned parents. If we turn it into just another public school by bringing everyone, you'll get kids who don't care and parents that never cared to begin with. As soon as everyone thinks you've got something better than they have, they want what you've got without having to work for it. Those who strive, in any endeavor, will always separate themselves from the rest of the pack. And they can't legislate that.

  • law Feb 25, 2011

    Only in a district with the demographics of Guilford County could someone like Gladys Robinson get elected. Too bad she doesn't appear to have learned anything about law, sociology, or common sense from her "Ph.D in Leadership Studies" furnished by NC A&T.

  • saltnsanddefenderofdamiddleclass Feb 24, 2011

    when exactly are people going to be expected to pay their own way without the race card being played?

  • backthepack Feb 24, 2011

    Gladys needs some perspective. She needs to go to Neuse Charter School and see two things. One is that this school is situated on an abandoned parking lot with pods for all of the classrooms. The second thing is that there is no playground equipment and yet that doesn't stop the growth of this school. In fact there is a waiting list. Here's the real deal. Parents want to be a part of their kids education and they want to be with other parents who are like-minded. Charter schools DO NOT get a lot of the BIG money coming from the state & federal governments, yet parents and communities are sacrificing to open a charter for kids. Sacrifices must be made meaning parents have to provide transportation and meals for their kids if they are lucky enough to get in. This sacrifice is what makes for a unique school culture. Gladys get some perspective, poor public schools, my foot. Drive up to Neuse and you will see "poor."........BTW, Neuse Charter School is a great school.