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N.C. Senate committee approves charter school bill

By T. Keung Hui
khui@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH The state Senate Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday changing the way charter schools are governed, including dropping the requirement that those schools have licensed teachers.

The bill would create a new governing board filled with charter school supporters who would be in charge of approving charters and monitoring existing schools. It would limit the power of the state Board of Education, which now approves and monitors charter schools, to only being able to reject new charters with a three-fourths vote.

“You’ll get people who have a real heart for charter schools,” said Republican state Sen. Jerry Tillman, the sponsor and committee co-chairman from Archdale.

Tillman said he hopes “100 percent bleeding-heart advocates for charter schools” will be on the board. He spoke in response to Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, who said she was concerned people with business interests in charter schools would serve on the new board.

The bill also deletes a current law requiring at least 50 percent of charter instructors to hold teaching certificates.

The legislation now goes to the Senate floor, where it’s expected to win approval in the Republican-led body.

A charter school is a publicly funded facility with more flexibility in operation than traditional public schools. Some are run by private management companies. The state board approved 24 new charters earlier this month, with 23 expected to open in the fall. About 50,000 students now attend 107 charters in the state.

Charter schools have been increasing since the General Assembly dropped the 100-school cap in 2011.

Tillman said the bill is needed because the traditional public schools only have a “begrudging relationship” with charter schools.

“What we want is a very good harmonious public relationship we haven’t had that in the past,” he said.

The committee rejected two amendments proposed Wednesday.

Sen. Austin Allran, a Hickory Republican, unsuccessfully proposed an amendment requiring charter schools to run background checks to see if their employees are on the sex-offender registry.

Tillman argued the requirement would be unfair to charter schools because traditional public schools aren’t required to do universal background checks, although most do.

The committee also rejected an amendment from Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Concord Republican, that would let new charters seek approval from local school boards, universities, community colleges and the State Board of Education in addition to the new charter board. Hartsell said he was simply trying to keep that current provision in the charter law.

Hartsell is an attorney who represents N.C. Learns, which had gotten approval from the Cabarrus County school board to open an online charter school. A Superior Court judge blocked the school from opening in August.

The committee vote occurred as critics from the public unsuccessfully tried to speak against the proposal. A small group was escorted out of the room after they put scarves over their faces in a protest of not being allowed to speak.

The public was allowed to speak at last week’s committee meeting. Tillman also said he’s spoken with multiple groups around the state about the bill, which he said is now in its 18th version.

“Everyone who has wanted to be heard has been heard,” he said.

Hui: 919-829-4534
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