Editorials

Cute answers not enough on charters

The Observer editorial board

Charlotte’s StudentFirst Academy charter school closed in 2014, the first of three Charlotte charters that collapsed within their first year after the state lifted its 100-school cap.
Charlotte’s StudentFirst Academy charter school closed in 2014, the first of three Charlotte charters that collapsed within their first year after the state lifted its 100-school cap. Observer file photo

Republican N.C. Sen. Jerry Tillman wants to change who’s in charge of the administration and oversight of charter schools in North Carolina. He says he has his reasons for doing so. For now, he’s going to make you guess what they are.

In a Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday in Raleigh, Tillman was asked about House Bill 334, which would move direct oversight of charter schools from the state Department of Public Instruction to the state Board of Education.

“What has DPI done wrong?” Tillman was asked by Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Wake.

“They’ve never been in love with charter schools,” said Tillman, according to media reports.

When Stein asked Tillman to elaborate, Tillman declined. “I’m not going to give you the details,” he said. “A good lawyer wouldn’t do that.”

We’ll leave it to Sen. Tillman to figure out the difference between a good lawyer and a good legislator. But if he’s not letting the public in on the reasons behind HB 334, which passed the Senate on Thursday, the rest of us will have to speculate.

Here’s one educated guess:

The Office of Charter Schools, which operates under DPI and state Superintendent June Atkinson, has done an admirable and fair job, given its small staff, of making sure charter schools are financially viable and operating in the best interests of students and families.

OCS has launched several investigations into schools that have had issues with money or governance. Some, including Charlotte’s StudentFirst Academy, have either closed in the face of investigations or had their charters revoked or non-renewed.

Meanwhile, Tillman and other charter advocates have regularly expressed displeasure at the pace of new charter openings. That’s the responsibility of the Charter School Advisory Board, which operates administratively within DPI.

So how can Tillman get more charters for North Carolina, plus friendlier oversight once they arrive?

First, his bill moves charter oversight out from under DPI and Atkinson, who is elected, to the Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor and Republican-controlled legislature.

The bill also moves the Charter School Advisory Board from DPI to the Board of Education. Plus, it changes the structure of the Advisory Board by taking away the governor’s power to appoint its chairman, and just to make things as friendly as possible, it replaces the Board of Education’s voting seat on the advisory board with someone “who is a charter school advocate in North Carolina.”

How do you define a “charter school advocate”? Tillman also was asked that Wednesday. His response, according to N.C. Policy Watch: You know one when you see one.

Yes, we sure do.

Certainly, charter schools can serve a valuable role in North Carolina, but any changes to charter oversight should be made to protect N.C. families, not charter school operators. Will HB 334 do so? We hope the public gets straighter answers than it’s received so far before this bill gets a final vote in the House.

  Comments