Commentary

Western NC advocates weigh in against charter school funding bill

With lawmakers on the verge of passing controversial legislation to expand funding for charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools, yet another voice is speaking out against the proposal.

Proposed charter school bill masks true budget issues

By Amy Wamsley and Lynn Michie

There are few things that stir a dust-up among education advocates like the issue of charter schools. Even among our own board of directors and members of Western North Carolina for Public Education (WNC4PE), we don’t agree on the value and role of charter schools in our communities and our region. But one thing we all can and do agree on is that making our state’s public education budget a scrap heap for different viewpoints to fight over is not just bad public policy – it’s very bad for our children.

That’s exactly what HB539 does. It once again pits traditional public schools and charter schools against one another for funds that are hard-earned and precious. In a nutshell, HB539 would redirect a portion of funds used by traditional public schools to public charter schools during a time when all of North Carolina’s public schools are inadequately funded to meet the diverse needs of all our students.

There is no doubt that there will be vehement argument and outcry on both sides of the debate about HB539, and that debate will mask the true issue at hand: public schools, traditional or charter, in North Carolina are still woefully underfunded.

Yes, the budget just passed included some tiny gains, such as the promised raise for first-time teachers and a stay of execution for thousands of teacher assistant jobs. But the fact remains that North Carolina’s leadership have yet to step up and fulfill their obligations to the taxpayers of the state to provide “a sound basic education.” Not making additional cuts is not the same as making investments.

Let’s put it in perspective. During the 1980s, approximately 43-46% of the state budget was invested in education. As a result, North Carolina led the South as a beacon for quality public education and a place for economic investment. Today, that percentage is only 37%. In real dollars, adjusted for inflation, our total spending on education is hundreds of millions less than it was in 2008, while enrollment continues to grow by the tens of thousands. North Carolina’s rankings in terms of teacher pay and per-pupil investment have plummeted and now hover near the bottom when compared to other states.

Our reduced investment in public schools affects all schools. It makes it harder for teachers across the board to do their jobs effectively. It makes it more difficult for students to get the adult help they need to succeed. That means it will be harder for businesses to find qualified employees, families to earn enough to support themselves, and communities to thrive.

We can do better. We must do better. We need to stop pitting schools against one another and invest more in them across the board. Period. Let’s stop making our schools fight for scraps and invest in our state’s future together.

Amy Wamsley and Lynn Michie are the Co-Chairs of WNC for Public Education — a nonpartisan coalition of concerned citizens, parents and educators across WNC that advocates for public education to ensure all public schools have the financial, instructional, and human resources they need to provide an excellent education for every student.

3 Comments


  1. Anna Johnson

    September 29, 2015 at 11:18 am

    The Progressive Pulse is the #1 way that I get my news about what is happening in the NC Legislature, and I am so grateful for the information that you provide on so many issues. So first, let me say thank you!

    That said, in reading this coverage of the important topic of charter school funding in the state, I’m concerned that there are important facts being left out of this article that blur the facts. Please correct me if I’m wrong (truly, please do! I want to understand this properly), but charter schools do not receive funding for school lunch, transportation, or facilities. You are correct that they do not have to provide school lunch (unless they have students that request it under the free and reduced lunch program, in which case they do)…. and they do not have to provide transportation. However, they certainly do have to provide facilities, and they currently receive $0 for this. Currently, charter schools receive $0.73 to the $1.00 as traditional public schools, so the traditional public schools keep that $0.27 for students they do not teach (or transport, or feed or house). The increase in funding for charter schools will NOT fund them 100% (which I think is appropriate, since they don’t have to provide transportation), but it will help to cover the cost of facilities (which I DO think is appropriate).

    Also, saying that charter schools are not subject to the same oversight is a bit misleading… although they are now governed by a different body than other traditional public schools (which I agree was a bad decision…) unlike private schools, public charters still have the same Read-to-Achieve standards and EOG testing and rules… just more freedom to spend $ differently. Also misleading is the statement about the % of teachers that have credentials… you are correct the rule is 50%, but it would be less misleading if you were also to state the actual %, which is far greater than 50%.

    Let me say again how grateful I am for all of the outstanding journalism you provide, and how much I appreciate your work. My husband and I are long-standing supporters of the Progressive Pulse and will continue to be! Thank you for any additional clarity you can provide on this important issue.

    Sincerely,
    Anna Johnson

  2. Pertains!

    September 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    I do not understand how they can use taxpayers money for private schools. I am angry my money is going for this when public schools are struggling.

  3. Anna Johnson

    September 30, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Charter schools are *not* private schools (though this is a common misconception). They are public schools that currently receive $0.73 to the $1.00 to educate NC children in exchange for more flexibility in how they use those funds. Thus, non-charter public schools are currently receiving $0.27 per charter school child that they do not teach, transport, feed or provide facilities for. My understanding is that this bill would raise the charter school funding to $0.84 to the $1.00 that traditional public schools receive. Charter schools currently do not receive funding for facilities, transportation or food like non-charter schools do.

    I am so grateful for the Progressive Pulse’s coverage of this important issue in our state, and I hope you can provide additional clarity on these issues.

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