Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina would turn over five low performing public schools to charter operators under a plan that tentatively passed in the state Senate Monday night.
Senators voted 34-15 in favor of the plan, but they must confirm their vote on Tuesday. The bill would then return to the House for final legislative approval.
"This bill is an attempt by this General Assembly to address the problem of chronic low-performing schools in our state," Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, said.
The measure drew sometime intense debate from Democrats, who said they objected to provisions that would force school districts to relinquish control of their schools.
"I have heard from our school systems that they disapprove of outside entities, private entities, coming in and using state funding," Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said of the bill.
She was one of a number of Democrats who tried to exempt certain counties from participating in the bill. Those amendments were all rebuffed by the Republican majority.
One Democrat, Sen. Ben Clark of Cumberland County, did vote for the bill.
The measure would take five of the lowest performing schools in the state and roll them into a single statewide school district. That district would then hire outside companies to run the schools in a bid to turn around their performance.
Opponents of the measure said the state already has turnaround programs in place and that counties should be allowed to fix their own problems.
Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, pointed out that his county has two schools that were part of the existing turnaround program.
"I have no doubt that Wake County could go a lot further down the road toward fixing its problems, certainly a lot further than this achievement school district," Blue said.
Other critics pointed out a similar system in Tennessee had not produced better academic results. But Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said the Tennessee plan tried to do too much, too quickly.
"These models have worked and will work if you don't go too big," Tillman said. "These schools will do a great job for these kids. It's something we need to try."