Charter school bill aims for fairer application process

Exploris Middle, a charter school in Raleigh.
Exploris Middle, a charter school in Raleigh.

Exploris Middle, a charter school in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — A bill that passed the state Senate Thursday would move authority for regulating public charter schools from the Department of Public Instruction to the State Board of Education. House Bill 334 passed 32-14, with two Democrats joining all voting Republicans to pass it.

“We believe this bill will enhance the accountability of charters and the tax dollars they spend to educate our children,” said Lee Teague, public relations director for the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that receive less per-pupil tax dollars than district schools and are governed by a board elected by the school itself, rather than a publicly elected school board. They are subject to some of the same student testing and other requirements as district schools, but have more freedom when it comes to teachers, curriculum and teaching methods.

Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph)

Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph)

Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said that too many application decisions were made on the basis of “outside information,” and proposed a successful amendment on the floor that provided charters with what he called a fairer application process.

“We’ve had too many cases where suspect ones were approved and good ones were denied. I’m trying to make sure we stop doing that,” Tillman said.

Some charter school advocates say they felt like “redheaded stepchildren” under current law. A particular complaint was that Rebecca Taylor, a member of the State Board of Education who was also a member of the Charter School Advisory Board, was an opponent of charter schools. The bill effectively pushes Taylor off the Advisory Board and re-designates that slot for a member who would be “a charter school advocate” and, while appointed by the State Board of Education, cannot be a member of that board.

Since it was amended in the Senate, the bill will need to be approved by the House or go to conference before being presented to the governor. It passed the House 112-2 in April.