18 new charter schools apply to open in Charlotte region

Eighteen new charter schools have applied to open in the Charlotte region for the fall 2016 school year, continuing to make the area the epicenter of the state’s growing charter school landscape.

That represents nearly half of the 40 charter school applications statewide. Ten are in Mecklenburg County, three in Iredell County, two in Gaston County, two in Union County and one in Cabarrus County.

The state has 148 charter schools, a number that has grown each year after the General Assembly in 2011 lifted a longtime cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in North Carolina.

But the 40 new applications also marks a slowdown in the pace of new schools hoping to open.

Last year, 71 schools applied to open in the 2015-16 school year, including 31 in the Charlotte region. Eleven schools across the state have been granted approval to open on time so far.

For the 2014-15 school year, the state received 70 applications and 29 in the Charlotte region. The state board of education ultimately approved 11 in the Charlotte area. Two later asked to delay their opening by a year. A third, Concrete Roses STEM Academy, suddenly shut down earlier this month.

Charter schools are public schools funded primarily with tax dollars. Mecklenburg County has 22 charters, the most of any county in the state. Total enrollment in charter schools for this year has not been made available. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has projected that about 13,500 students would attend local charters this year.

The rapid growth of charter schools in the state has raised questions about the state’s oversight of new applicants. Besides Concrete Roses, Charlotte’s StudentFirst Academy closed this year amid accusations of financial and academic mismanagement.

The state Board of Education, meeting in Charlotte this week, is scheduled to discuss the closure of Concrete Roses and a new policy that would allow some charter schools to be fast-tracked to approval.

Projected enrollment

The 18 new Charlotte-area schools, should they all be approved, project to have nearly 9,000 students in their first year. Enrollment would grow to more than 14,000 by year five, according to the projections released by the state.

Of course, it is unlikely that all applications will be approved. Some new charter schools have also struggled to hit projected enrollment numbers.

Last week, CMS said it has thousands more students than the district expected this year. Superintendent Heath Morrison told the school board the discrepancy is likely because of inflated enrollment expectations from local charter schools. That means CMS is receiving funding for fewer teachers than it should based on the number of students it has.

The actual applications of the proposed charter schools, which describe their themes, were not immediately released.

The names of three of the Mecklenburg applications indicate that they’ll be “classical” schools. The classical education movement traces its roots to the ancient world and typically focuses on grammar, history and language.

“The summary I’ve heard is ‘back to basics,’ ” said Fred Grosse, who submitted an application to open Francis Classical School in 2016. Grosse is president of the nonprofit Elon Homes and Schools for Children, which also operates the Kennedy Charter School, which moved this year to the campus of Johnson C. Smith University.

He said he is working with the Barney Charter School Initiative at Hillsdale College in Michigan. That program is seeking to open dozens of new classical charter schools across the country.

This year’s applications also include several Charlotte-area schools that have previously been rejected.

Mint Hill Mayor Ted Biggers, the school board president at Queens Grant Community School, is again applying to separate the high school portion into a separate charter. His application was rejected last year for incomplete information.

The Matthews-Mint Hill Charter Academy is also making another run at approval. The school is affiliated with the National Heritage Academies, applicant Eddie Sieber said. The group is a for-profit charter school management company that operates schools in nine states.