Business Profile: Charter schools get a new voice

Credit: Brad Barth Charter Day School in Leland, NC

Credit: Brad Barth
Charter Day School in Leland, NC

RALEIGH – A new venture designed to market and promote charter schools in North Carolina kicked off today in Raleigh.  A “who’s-who” list of charter school champions gathered at the Capital City club to welcome the Charter School Initiative of North Carolina to the playing field.  CSI-NC is a for-profit marketing firm for charter schools.

“There are a lot of great charters out there who have good stories to tell that don’t get media coverage, their stories never get told, we want to help them.” said Managing Director Chad Adams.  “Over the past twenty years it has been a very arduous task for parents, for those who took the risk to start a charter school, for legislators and folks in the executive branch who have really put a lot into it.  We are now seeing that start to pay off.”

The for-profit educational materials industry has gotten a huge boost in North Carolina, now that more than 100,000 kids in the state are homeschooled and the General Assembly lifted the cap on charter schools. Many see the huge potential in the quickly growing market.   All schools buy books, supplies, furniture, playground equipment and now, potentially, public relations.  Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest has been a long-time advocate for expanding educational choices.

Lt. Governor Dan Forest

Lt. Governor Dan Forest

“Charter schools are the face to the public on the importance of school choice in North Carolina. There are thousands of kids lined up on waiting lists looking for something better,” said Forest. “Not all public schools are broken, some are great. But when admission to charters is a lottery, something is broken.  A lot of parents want alternatives and we have to offer them a choice in their child’s education.”

Critics of charter schools object to part of each student’s state allotment for education traveling with them when they go to a charter school, saying it takes money away from the students’ base public schools.  Supporters say that the money should travel with the students, giving parents freedom to find the best education for their child, regardless of their income.  However, waiting lists at most charter schools are long and admission is often by lottery, leading a lot of families to choose homeschooling. This has spurred an entire industry of homeschool supply companies and extracurricular activities.

“Our kids played homeschool football, homeschool basketball, if they wanted to be in band they could… as more and more people homeschool, the market opens up so parents don’t have to do it all themselves,” said Jeff Hyde, a former homeschool parent who now serves on the board of the Gateway Charter School in Greensboro.  “A free market will meet the needs of homeschooling and charters.  But the problem is that now the government wants to control it.”

R to L: Dana Reason - CSI Marketing Director, Steven Walker, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Chad Adams

R to L: Dana Reason- CSI Marketing Director, Steven Walker, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Chad Adams

CSI says they are not going to lobby for changes to the system, only offer their expertise to charter schools that hire them to help with PR, marketing, and staff retreats.  During today’s kickoff, CSI recognized the work of Steven Walker, General Counsel and Policy Director for Lt. Governor Forest with the “Charter School Champion Award.”  Walker sits on North Carolina’s Charter School Advisory Board which is charged with reviewing charter school applications and making policy recommendations as the state’s charter system evolves.  With the number of charters on the rise and more money flowing into alternative choices in education, CSI hopes they are in the right place at the right time.