North Carolina’s proposed budget includes a provision that not only makes it easier for Mecklenburg County towns to create their own charter schools but allows cities across the state to use tax money for public schools.
The provision is an effort to fix what was described as a flaw in a bill that would allow Matthews and Mint Hill to create their own charter schools. But it could have far-reaching effects, since generally only the state and counties currently fund schools.
“This is a monumental policy change in North Carolina that is receiving very little vetting,” said Scott Mooneyham, director of public affairs for the N.C. League of Municipalities. “Constitutionally the state has a duty to operate and fund schools. … Sometime down the road does this result in a statutory shift of some of that responsibility?”
The provision is in a bill being fast-tracked through the General Assembly in a process that does not allow for changes. The budget is expected to be approved this week.
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The budget bill opens the door for districts and charter schools to ask municipal governments to pony up for anything from school resource officers to custodians to teacher pay supplements, said Charles Jeter, a former state legislator who now works as government relations coordinator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Jeter, who plans to meet with CMS board leaders and Superintendent Clayton Wilcox Tuesday afternoon to discuss the ramifications.
The flaw in House Bill 514, a local bill that would allow the south suburban towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to create their own charter schools, was uncovered in a study done this month for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which opposes the charter bill.
Among other things, the study found that towns can’t raise property taxes for a school without a public referendum. Nor can towns incur debt for “capital construction or land purchase for a municipal charter school.” That meant a town would have to pay upfront.
But the budget, which is being fast-tracked through the Republican-controlled General Assembly, authorizes cities to use property taxes for public education. It also specifies that city taxpayers should not be liable for any school-related debt.
Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, said Tuesday the provision clears the way for passage of HB 514, the Matthews charter bill.
“It addresses the questions on funding but more than that it opens up the possibility for every city in the state to fund public education if they need to,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of cities that talk about it. A lot of mayors that talk about it. Now they can do something about it.”
Gerry Cohen, a former longtime legislative official who did the CMS study, said the budget appears to address many of the problems he found in the original charter bill. It also hearkens back a century, when it was common for N.C. municipalities to fund schools.
“Maybe it’s back to the future,” Cohen said.
In most of the state that changed in the 1930s when the state and counties took over school funding. Now, Cohen said, only about 15 school systems, including one in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, are funded with municipal taxes.
Brawley said HB 514 will pass during this year’s session. Officials in Huntersville and Cornelius have signaled their support for the charter bill.
CMS officials have said creating municipal charters would be costly for the towns, bad for teachers and have implications for local governments across the state.
Mooneyham, of the League, said not all the consequences of the legislation are even known.
“This type of policy change raises tremendous questions going forward,” he said.
Jim Morrill, 704-358-05059; @jimmorrill