Further Concerns on Charter Schools
The explosive proliferation of charter schools in North Carolina raises too many red flags to ignore.
Moore County has two charters. Though both have had issues in the past, both seem to be progressing now, and both are clearly run by dedicated, imaginative people. One of them, STARS, is now making a fresh start after coming off probation.
Elsewhere, more serious questions have raised their heads. Charter schools, a kind of hybrid that exists in a nether realm somewhere between public and private, have the admirable advantage of operating mostly outside the control of local public school systems while at the same time siphoning funding away from them — though they are answerable to state standards.
North Carolina originally limited charters’ statewide number to a total of 100, or an average of one per county. But the newly dominant Republican majority in the N.C. General Assembly harbors such affection for the concept of privatization and such underlying animosity toward all things governmental that it has now removed the cap on them and thrown the doors open to applications.
‘Virtual’ Schools Questioned As a result, charters — and proposals for others — are multiplying too fast to keep up with. Some of them will, no doubt, provide innovative and nurturing learning environments that more traditional public schools can learn from and emulate. But others generate enough doubts and concerns that the whole movement needs a careful re-examination before the floodgates are opened any wider. Consider one proposal that recently received approval from the new N.C. Charter School Advisory Commission. It would turn operation of a charter school in Cabarrus County over to K-12 Inc., a national for-profit company. Rather than brick-and-mortar schools, K-12 operates “virtual charter schools” for home-schooled kids via the Internet, financed by taxpayer money. Whatever you may think about that idea, K-12’s actual record elsewhere has raised plenty of eyebrows. In Colorado, the company ran into controversy when it was revealed that K-12 scarfed up nearly a million dollars in public funds for students that were never enrolled in the program or even lived in other states.
Controversy in the Triangle
In North Carolina, the latest controversy to erupt surrounds two charter schools that appear on the fast track toward state approval in the Triangle area. Research Triangle High School seeks to open in Durham, and the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School is planned for Chapel Hill.
In both cases, the doubts that have been expressed focus on the effect the new schools would have on racial and economic diversity and what is seen as unfair draining of students and money from already-struggling public systems. Opponents of the Chapel Hill school complain that it would divert $4.5 million from the public system and lure away some of its most promising minority students, leaving its classes less diverse.
Competition is a good thing, and the advent of charter schools probably does sometimes have the effect of helping keep public schools on their toes.
But in the end, public schools are there not just to serve parents and students, but society at large. And there has simply not been enough public debate about whether the charter trend is really in the long-term best interest of our state’s population.
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