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Bill removes public scrutiny for NC charter schools

The future of public access to information about charter schools became murkier this week with a Senate education committee proposal.

The committee is considering stripping a bill of requirements that the schools comply with open meeting and public records laws.

Charter schools are run by private nonprofit boards that are authorized by the state to receive public education money. They received $304.7 million from the state this year, a number that will grow as more charter schools open in August.

School districts, which have no control over charters, are required to pass along a share of county education money based on the number of students enrolled. Mecklenburg County taxpayers contributed $23 million to charter schools this year.

As part of their contract to receive public money, charter boards agree to abide by state laws that require their board meetings to be open to the public and require disclosure of records on spending and other matters.

Questions about those requirements arose in March, when the Observer requested that area charter schools provide the same salary information that has long been released by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other public bodies. A state spokeswoman initially said charter schools did not have to release salaries; top education officials later said she was wrong and that information is a public record.

The Observer published salary information for CMS and 22 charter schools Sunday, along with articles analyzing teacher and administrator pay. Sugar Creek and Lincoln charter schools, represented by former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, withheld names of most employees.

A bill introduced last month, which focuses mainly on an appeals process for applicants rejected by a screening panel, specified that charter schools face the same disclosure requirements and privacy protections as traditional public schools. It was sponsored by Sens. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

However, a substitute version was introduced Wednesday in the Senate education committee, which Tillman chairs. The substitute would “remove the provision that the charter school and its board of directors are subject to the public records and open meetings laws,” according to a document distributed at the meeting.

Tillman did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday.

The N.C. Press Association is monitoring the situation and will oppose any efforts to restrict public access, said attorney Amanda Martin.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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