As a county commissioner Matthew Ridenhour oversees spending for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
As of this week, he’s also one of three applicants seeking state approval to open a charter school in the booming Steele Creek area of southwest Charlotte where his family has lived for generations. Ridenhour said Thursday there’s no conflict between the two roles, and no condemnation of CMS implicit in his bid to get a slice of the state and local money for education.
“It’s just that it offers a choice to parents who for whatever reason don’t want to put their kids in CMS,” said Ridenhour, a product of Christian schools whose two children are preschool age. “Having an interest in charter schools and choice doesn’t mean I don’t want to see CMS succeed.”
Ridenhour’s Steele Creek Prep Academy, which would be run by the Charter Schools USA chain, is one of 29 applications to open new North Carolina charter schools in 2019. Seven are in Mecklenburg County, as many as in Wake and Guilford counties combined.
The Charlotte-area applications span the range from schools targeting Spanish-speaking and disadvantaged students to Ballantyne Charter High School, which would compete with some of the district’s most successful schools in one of the most affluent areas.
If all seven Mecklenburg applications are approved, they’d offer seats to almost 2,600 students the first year, growing to 4,500 by the fifth year. They’d require more than $23 million in public money for startup, according to the budgets submitted.
The state’s Charter School Advisory Board will review the applications in the coming months and make recommendations to the state Board of Education, which decides whether to approve public funding for nonprofit boards that want to run schools. Some of those boards contract with for-profit chains to run the schools.
Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charter schools in 2011 charter school enrollment has surged, especially in Mecklenburg County. With 173 charter schools operating statewide this year and 20 more approved for 2018, the state should reach more than 200 charter schools by 2019-20.
Here’s what’s proposed for Mecklenburg. Charter schools can take students across county lines.
▪ Ballantyne Charter High School would offer “flipped learning,” a classroom technique in which lectures are delivered online and students do “homework” in class. It would open with 250 ninth- and 10th-graders, pulling from southeastern Mecklenburg and western Union counties, and grow to 600 in grades 9 to 12.
▪ Clara Science Academy, a K-6 school with a science and technology theme, would target southwestern Mecklenburg County, one of the region’s fastest-growing areas. It would open with 250 K-2 students and expand to 650.
▪ Mountain Island Day School wants to convert from a K-12 Christian school to a public charter, allowing it to grow. The school now has 245 students; it proposes opening with about 400 and growing to 600, serving Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.
▪ Movement School East would be the second spin-off from Sugar Creek Charter School, following the opening of Movement School in west Charlotte in August. It would start with 300 K-2 students and grow to 700 in K-6, with an emphasis on serving disadvantaged students with limited English proficiency in east Charlotte.
▪ Starmount Charter Academy would be run by Global Education Resources, a North Carolina-based charter management chain. Located in the Starmount neighborhood of south Charlotte, it would cater to students from Spanish-speaking homes. The school would open with 200 K-3 students and expand to about 400, including middle schoolers.
▪ Ridenhour’s Steele Creek Prep Academy would be a K-8 school, opening with just over 600 students and growing to 765. Charter Schools USA already runs Langtree Charter Academy in Mecklenburg County, as well as schools in Cabarrus, Iredell and Union counties.
▪ Steele Creek STEM Academy, targeting the same area, would offer a science-technology focus for K-8 students, starting with 550 in K-6 and growing to 800.