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NC screening for charter schools is evolving

The screening and monitoring process for North Carolina charter schools is evolving with the surge of new applications.

After lifting the 100-school cap in 2010, the state has seen booming interest in opening publicly funded schools, especially in the Charlotte area. Twenty-six, including 11 that will serve Mecklenburg students, have been approved to open in August. The state is starting to screen 71 applications for 2015-16 openings.

At a choice rally in Charlotte Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory noted that the state recently revamped the advisory board that helps oversee proposed and existing charters, naming people who have experience with successful charters.

“I think they are doing their job,” McCrory said.

In past years, the state awarded 10-year charters, though schools could be brought back for review before that if the state learned of problems. This year, the advisory board recommended awarding five-year charters to new applicants, and the Board of Education agreed. Members said that gives schools enough time to get established and show results before coming back for a renewal review.

Last summer, state lawmakers voted to add three positions to the state Office of Charter Schools to help cope with the influx of applications. That office has a director, an administrative assistant, four consultants who oversee schools and an additional temporary staffer paid by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said Joel Medley, the director. The new posts will be filled this spring, he said.

People who want to open a charter school must file lengthy applications that include an education plan, budget and a nonprofit board of directors. State staff, paid consultants, the advisory board and the Board of Education review those plans, looking for applicants who have a viable education strategy, a solid financial plan and board members who are capable of making it all work, Medley said.

This year, for the first time, applicants approved to open in 2014-15 must file a “ready to open” report in spring. Those that seem to have problems will get staff visits; serious problems could lead to a one-year delay or revocation of the charter, Medley said.

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