N.C. House approves charter school reform

State House lawmakers gave final approval tonight to rewrite North Carolina's charter school laws, a move critics say could resegregate schools and gut the state's educational system.

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Laura Leslie

State House lawmakers gave final approval tonight to rewrite North Carolina’s charter school laws, a move critics say could resegregate schools and gut the state’s educational system.

Senate Bill 8 would allow 50 new charter schools a year, including virtual charters, and would give counties the option of providing construction funds for them. The new schools would be required to provide limited transportation within a three-mile radius and develop a plan for “food services” for low-income students.

Most of those who spoke in favor of the bill were Republicans, including Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake. “Charters have been running for 15 years with two hands tied behind their back,” Stam said. “This bill frees them so they only have one hand tied behind their back.”

Democrats tried to pass an amendment that would raise the current 100-school cap to 150, stripping out the other changes in the bill. In its current form, warned Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, the governor might veto it: “Better to get a piece of the pie than no pie at all.” Despite some Republican support, the amendment failed by a narrow margin.

Minority leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, called the bill “too far, too fast, too virtual.”

“This bill smacks integration and desegregation in the face,” said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, arguing that it doesn’t do enough to ensure access for low-income students or to require diversity in charters. “It supports private education at a public cost.”

“Shame, shame, shame,” echoed Rep. William Wainwright, D-Craven. “You will be sanctioning a return to one-race schools.”

But not all Democrats opposed the measure. In fact, the night’s most compelling speech in support of Senate Bill 8 came from Rep. Marcus Brandon, a freshman Democrat from High Point who campaigned on support for charter expansion.  

Brandon said it was difficult for him to speak against “heroes and friends” in his own caucus, but he felt he had to. “41 percent of African American males don’t graduate from high school in my district,” Brandon said. “That is not okay.”

Brandon, who’s African American, was emotional as he talked about his hopes that charters could turn things around for those students.

“When you tell me it’ll lead to segregation,” Brandon said, “it already happened. When you tell me African-American kids won’t have access to quality education – it already happened.”

“No bill is perfect,” Brandon said. “But if we keep doing the same thing, they’re not gonna make it.” 

To see Brandon's speech, go to 2:15:10 in the video.

The measure passed its final House reading 68 to 51. It goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote. The bill could be on Governor Perdue’s desk by the end of the week.


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