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Charter schools and pre-K: A good match for North Carolina?

A new report says everyone would benefit if public prekindergarten (shown here at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Ashley Park) were extended to charter schools.
A new report says everyone would benefit if public prekindergarten (shown here at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Ashley Park) were extended to charter schools. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

North Carolina makes it hard for charter schools to serve prekindergarteners, according to a new report by two groups who contend the merger would make sense.

Providing high-quality prekindergarten for low-income children is an idea that should unite the right and left, according to the report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

“What could be a more ideal solution, both politically and substantively, than high-quality charter schools?” the introduction to the report asks.

But “Pre-K and Charter Schools: Where State Policies Create Barriers to Collaboration” rates North Carolina as one of the nation’s least hospitable states for charter pre-K (read an executive summary here and the full report here).

Who wouldn’t want the KIPPs or Achievement Firsts or Uncommon Schools of the world to be able to get started with three-year-olds and work their edu-charm as early as possible?

Report on pre-K and charter schools

North Carolina has a flourishing K-12 charter school movement and a publicly funded pre-K program. State law doesn’t say whether charters can include pre-K, but the N.C. Department of Public Instruction only issues K-12 charters. Low pre-K funding is also a barrier, the report says: North Carolina provides $5,067 per pupil for N.C. Pre-K and $8,277 for K-12 charter students.

The tally notes that “at least five” N.C. charter schools offer pre-K through affiliated organizations.

The report urges N.C. lawmakers to clarify charter law to allow pre-K classes and to expand funding “to cover the cost of delivering a high-quality education.” It notes that Republicans tend to support charter expansion while Democrats are more enthusiastic about public preschool.

“This horse trade – more support for charter schools in exchange for more support for preschool – might represent a bipartisan way forward,” the report says. “Why not charter preschools? Why not charter elementary schools that start at age three? Policymakers, this is low-hanging fruit. Why not pick it?”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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