House give key approval to charter school reforms

Posted April 7, 2011 9:21 a.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT

— A bill to expand the number of charter schools in North Carolina passed a critical vote in the state House on Thursday after Republicans used a procedural move to cut off a fierce debate.

After the House Finance Committee passed Senate Bill 8 Thursday morning, the measure was put on the calendar for a full vote in the afternoon.

The bill, which faces a final vote in the House next Monday, would remove the cap of 100 charter schools statewide. The limit was set 15 years ago when charter schools were first allowed in North Carolina.

The bill would also do the following:

  • Require schools to offer transportation to low-income students living within 3 miles of the charter and  to have a plan for food services for students who would qualify for free or reduced-price meals at traditional schools
  • Put the new commission governing charter schools under the State Board of Education's authority
  • Let charter schools be eligible for more local funding, including lottery construction money
  • Allow the establishment of "virtual charters" - online schools - as long as they have a "physical presence" in the state
  • Raise enrollment growth caps for existing schools from 10 percent per year to 20 percent

Democrats argued that the bill be limited to removing the cap, expressing concerns about charter governance and standards, transportation and lunches for low-income students and money problems for local boards who could find themselves facing a dozen or more new charters seeking to share education funds.

North Carolina's 99 current charter schools instruct more than 41,000 of the state's nearly 1.5 million public school students. They operate with about $200 million in state funds, plus supplemental local taxes and federal funds mostly used for poor or disabled children.

Since the first charter school took in students in 1996, 132 have opened, and 33 closed for low enrollment or academic or financial failings.