Two bills that would significantly alter charter school policy in North Carolina were sent to conference committees in the House and Senate this week.
Senate Bill 337, which originally would have created an independent charter school board separate from the State Board of Education, failed a concurrence vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jerry Tillman, called for non-concurrence, citing changes the House made that needed some work.
After considerable opposition to SB 337 from education leaders that include State Superintendent June Atkinson and McCrory’s new chair of the State Board of Education, Bill Cobey, Sen. Tillman introduced a new version of the bill to House colleagues that nixed the idea of an independent board overseeing charter schools.
The new version of the bill called for a North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory council that doesn’t look all that different from the advisory council that is currently in place. It also requires that at least 50 percent of charter school teachers be licensed, an switch from the proposed Senate-backed provision that would not require charters to hire any licensed teachers at all.
Most notably, SB 337’s new NC Charter Schools Advisory Council would remain under the purview of the State Board of Education.
Members of the House, however, did not make significant changes to SB 337.
Coincidentally, perhaps, the Washington-based Center for Education Reform issued a press release from its founder and CEO, Jeanne Allen, hours before SB 337 came to the Senate floor. The press release decried the bill, saying it was “at risk of becoming a step backward for the national charter school movement.”
In particular, Allen called out the provision of the bill that would end the UNC system’s ability to be a charter school authorizer. Public charter schools can seek authorization from the UNC system under state law, although those schools do still need to seek final approval from the State Board of Education.
CER has an analysis of SB 337 here, in which they advocate for charter school authorizers other than the State Board of Education, among other provisions.
Tillman did not return a call seeking an explanation for why he encouraged his colleagues not to concur the bill.
HB 250, the bill that contains a new provision allowing public charter schools (and, notably, the Arapahoe Charter School in Pamlico County) to expand without State Board of Education approval, was also sent to a conference committee on Tuesday.
Rep. Jon Hardister, chair of HB 250’s conference committee, told NC Policy Watch that he plans to seek a change to the provision that would allow charter schools to expand, by one grade at a time, without Board approval.
Rep. Hardister’s language would clarify that charter schools would not be allowed to expand if the State Board of Education has informed the school that they are not performing to academic standards.
In the case of Arapahoe Charter School, this language would not prevent them from expanding as long as they have performed to academic standards. The language, as Rep. Hardister described, would also not provide an opportunity for local school districts to bring to the State Board of Education’s attention the impact that charter school expansion would have on traditional public schools.
Lawmakers will work behind closed doors to make changes to SB 337 and HB 250 and issue conference reports to be voted on by both chambers, likely next week.