After $500 million in budget cuts, the North Carolina public school system has started to sound a lot like your granddaddy’s one-room schoolhouse: crowded classes, dated textbooks, and a lack of one-on-one instruction. Charter school proponents believe they can help. Last week, 170 new charter schools submitted letters of intent to open by the year 2015, including 39 in the Triangle and 43 in Mecklenburg County. This means– depending on how many of the proposed schools meet a December 6 application deadline– the number of charter schools in our state could more than double in the next two years.
So what exactly distinguishes a charter school from a traditional school? Like traditional public schools, charter schools subsist on tax-payer dollars. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools exist independent of the school districts in which they are located, and they do not follow traditional school regulations. As a result, charter schools have the opportunity to experiment with new teaching methods. The proposed charter schools for 2015 offer programs for at-risk students, developmentally disabled students, college prep, and the performing arts.
“We welcome the growth of high quality charter schools in North Carolina as they offer a valuable option to help meet the academic needs of our 1.5 million public school students,” says State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. June Atkinson. Our state’s 127 existing charter schools will serve as many as 65,000 students this year. “Our public charter schools have helped to increase our graduation rate to the highest in state history and we look forward to working with these applicants as they formalize their plans to open new schools in 2015.”
Between teacher’s assistant lay-offs and underpaid teachers, the North Carolina school system needs help. But many parents wonder: are charter schools the answer? Charter schools often increase educational achievement among racial minorities and low-income students—but they get a bad rep for taking funds and attracting the highest performing students away from traditional schools. They have also been accused of having no accountability to taxpayers.
Building more charter schools sure beats squeezing more kids into our existing traditional public schools—but let’s not forget to solve the problems that plague our traditional schools and created the need for charter schools in the first place.