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Bill Authorizing Towns To Open And Run Charter Schools Moving Quickly Through Senate; House Contacts Needed

House Bill 514, which would allow four towns in Mecklenburg County to create their own charter schools, quickly passed through three Senate committees this week and then cleared a second-reading Senate floor vote early today. It will have its final Senate hearing and vote early next week, and then is expected to be sent to the House for a vote of concurrence on Senate changes to the original bill.

Bill sponsor Rep. William Brawley (R-Mecklenburg), in presenting the bill this week, said that the towns of Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius all requested that the state give them this new authority to open and operate their own charter schools, in which town residents would have priority for enrolling their children.

The bill as amended this week eliminates the previous finance component of the bill, since a special provision in Senate Bill 99 (the state budget legislation) now provides authority for towns to provide funding to either traditional public schools and/or charter schools. It also added a change requested by the State Treasurer’s office to allow charter schools potentially operated by these towns to opt into the Teachers and State Employees’ Retirement System and the State Health Plan, at the discretion of those system’s board of directors.

Several Senators and members of the public spoke against the bill during the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“We are opening Pandora’s Box,” said Sen. Dan Barrett (R-Davie), stating that this will begin a precedent for other towns to seek to open charter schools and pull enrollment out of their home school districts.

Several Democratic Senators raised concerns that the bill will lead to a return to segregated schools in wealthy communities seeking to open their own charter schools.

Charles Jeter, Government Relations Coordinator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, raised questions about whether all four towns in the bill had taken official votes to request inclusion and says the bill lacks real majority support within the impacted communities in the bill.

The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) also had a spokesman raise concerns with the committee.

“We come at this today without the perspective of being against charter schools,” said NCASA Contract Lobbyist Bryan Holloway. “The big issue and concern that we have is who is going to be starting them. This is new territory for cities, and we are concerned that they are not ideally suited to be running schools.”

Earlier today, NCASA Executive Director Katherine Joyce sent a letter to members of the House of Representatives urging them to reject the bill when it comes back to the House floor for a concurrence vote.

The NCASA advocacy team is talking with House lawmakers now to urge their opposition to this bill because of the concerning statewide precedent it would set in having other towns seeking to run and operate charter schools, which they are ill-equipped to do.

NCASA urges superintendents, finance officers and other school leaders to contact your own local House of Representatives member or members and discuss with them the concerns surrounding this bill. Please share your outreach to and feedback from your representatives with NCASA by emailing Executive Director Katherine Joyce at kjoyce@ncasa.net.

NCASA