The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

March 29, 2013

Bill proposes major changes to charter school laws


TARBORO — The Education Committee of the North Carolina Senate is considering a bill that proposes major changes to charter school laws.

SB 337 calls for the creation of an independent public charter schools board. The State Board of Education currently governs charter schools.

“We don’t see that that (change) could be anything detrimental to us,” said Taro Knight, director of communications/ community outreach for North East Carolina Prep School (NECP), Edgecombe County’s first-year charter school. One of the criteria for the proposed 12-member board is that they have “a commitment to charter schools as a strategy for strengthening public education,” which Knight believes is a positive. Appointed members would serve four-year terms. The independent board would replace the current charter school advisory board.

Knight said NECP plans to have a conversation with Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe) and Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) and ask for their support of the bill. Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) is a primary sponsor of SB 337, which the Senate Education Committee discussed today and plans to discuss again next week before voting on the measure. The committee will consider possible changes to make charter schools more available to low-income students.

SB 337 encourages the charter board to give preference to charter school applications that demonstrate the ability to provide “comprehensive learning experiences” to students identified as “at risk of academic failure.”

Knight said making charter school education only available to an elite group is “not our mission” at NECP, which has a diverse student population. Recently approved legislation, House Bill 250, mandates that a charter school’s population “reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition” of the community in which the school is located within a year of the school’s opening.

SB 337 also removes requirements for 75 percent of charter school teachers in elementary grades and 50 percent of charter school teachers at the middle and high school level to have their teacher licensure.

“We are going to make sure all of our teachers are certified, regardless of the law,” Knight said. “I think the certification is needed.”

The bill would also give charter schools’ board of directors the authority to determine whether to run criminal background checks on job applicants.

“We do background checks, we do drug tests for every single employee,” Knight said.

SB 337 additionally requires the transfer of the “per pupil share” of the local current expense fund to the charter school within 30 days of receipt of the funds.

“That will help us out tremendously,” Knight said.

The bill also would mandate that charter schools develop a “transportation plan so that transportation is not a barrier to any student who resides in the local school administrative unit in which the school is located.” A local board may charge the charter school a “reasonable charge” sufficient to cover the cost of transportation. Knight said NECP already has plans to implement a transportation program for students, but as a public charter school, he does not understand why NECP does not receive any “per people transportation dollars.”

“We need access to all the public dollars that traditional public schools have,” Knight said. “We see no reason that charter schools cannot enjoy the privileges that public schools enjoy.”

Ultimately, Knight said he would like to see a bill that would allow charter schools to use taxpayer dollars to finance building expansion/ construction projects, just as the traditional public schools do.