Raleigh, N.C. — Public charter schools in North Carolina would be governed by an independent board and not the State Board of Education under a bill that a Senate committee examined Wednesday.
The Senate Education Committee didn't vote on Senate Bill 337 and will consider possible changes to make charter schools more accessible to low-income students before discussing it more next week.
Sponsor Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said that the Board of Education hasn't been fostering a collaborative atmosphere between public school districts and the growing number of charters.
"If you've got good ideas, in theory, you'd be sharing them with one another. In practice, you're not," Tillman said. "We've not had sharing of ideas of what's working in charter schools and public schools. ... We need a new cast of players."
Bill opponents said the new 12-member board, which replaces a charter school advisory board that is being dissolved as part of an overhaul of state boards and commissions, would create a dual system of education in the state and would be a waste of resources.
"It would create a negative climate of competition that would not benefit the children of North Carolina," said Carl Forsyth, managing director of Voyager Academy, a Durham charter school. "Charter schools work best within the overall structure of the school system."
Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Ed Pruden said money would be diverted to charter schools even if they don't provide the technical education avenue to graduation that Gov. Pat McCrory recently signed into law.
"At a time when state and local governments are challenged for resources and are attempting to be frugal with taxpayers' money, it seems unnecessary, redundant and wasteful to create a second board to oversee public schools."
But Doug Hanes, the founder of Rocky Mount Preparatory, said his school and others chafe under state regulations and need the freedom a new board would offer to experiment with new ideas.
"We're really regulated in many ways just like other public schools," Hanes said. "It has become extremely difficult for us to innovate with things like teacher evaluations, certifications and other things to get greater accountability."
Other charter school advocates said the bill goes far enough.
Eddie Goodall, executive director of the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association, said his members want to be able to share in state lottery proceeds and to allow county commissioners to fund charter schools.
In addition to independent governance, the bill calls for school districts to lease available space to charter schools for $1 a year and removes requirements for 75 percent of teachers in elementary grades and 50 percent in middle and high school grades to be licensed teachers.
Tillman said he knows of a pharmacist who wasn't allowed to teach a high school chemistry class and a physician being rejected for a health class because they weren't licensed teachers.
Opponents said, however, that allowing charters to hire people not trained as teachers would lower the standard of education in the schools.
Leigh Bordley, a member of the Durham County Board of Education, said lawmakers will soon consider a proposal by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger that strengthens teaching standards. Charter schools shouldn't have a separate standard, she said.
"Having excellent, highly qualified teachers in front of all of our children is key to the success of our schools," Bordley said. "Charter schools would be disadvantaged by this provision. Children in those schools deserve highly trained teachers, just as we have in the traditional public schools."