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National charter group blasts bill limiting state oversight of struggling charter schools

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, is backing the major rewrites to charter law.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, is backing the major rewrites to charter law.

This month, we wrote about a Senate rewrite of a white collar crime bill, House Bill 242, which would place new limits on the state’s power to shutter low-performing charter schools.

This week, a national, nonpartisan charter group is warning North Carolina lawmakers that the provision, backed by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, Randolph, could weaken quality control in the state’s growing charter school sector.

As we reported, Tillman’s legislation will strip the N.C. State Board of Education of the power to close chronically low-performing charters if the charter has met its expected student growth goals or is making progress on a state-approved strategic improvement plan.

The legislation also removes the state’s five-year review requirement for charters, instead calling for the schools to be examined just once during their 10-year charter term.

Earlier this month, Tillman, a frequent critic of the state’s public schools, lashed out at the idea of public school leaders directing closure at struggling charters.

“We know how far their plans have gotten us with low performing schools already,” said Tillman.

But, according to a letter from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a Chicago-based group that advises education leaders on quality charter programs, the bill could be a major problem for North Carolina in that it would weaken charter schools and imperil millions in federal grants geared toward “high-quality” charters. 

“Since their inception 25 years ago, charter schools have promised families a quality choice in public education based on their flexibility to innovate while being held accountable for high standards of performance,” wrote NACSA Vice President of Policy & Advocacy John Hedstrom. “This bill—together with last year’s enactment of H 334—removes key levers of enforceable accountability from the hands of the State Board of Education.”

The letter was sent to state House Speaker Tim Moore and House Democratic Leader Larry Hall.

From the letter:

At NACSA, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to attend an excellent school and that high-quality public charter schools can help realize this ideal. But in order to fulfill that promise, policy, practice, and people must be mutually reinforcing. We must set high performance expectations and enforce consequences when charter schools do not live up to their promises to students and families.

H 242 undermines the policy component of a healthy charter sector. It removes statutory levers meant to hold schools accountable, weakens oversight requirements, and creates a loophole that allows failing schools to remain open longer than they should be. The proposed bill would create a charter school system that bears a striking resemblance to states with old, broken systems; states that are struggling to turn around their troubled charter sectors plagued by poor performance.

The group goes on to argue that the bill’s removal of five-year charter reviews “makes it possible for low-performing schools to escape or delay accountability for years.”

And, according to Hedstrom, the bill speeds a “loophole that allows failing schools to avoid any consequences for dismal achievement simply by offering a ‘plan’ for improvement.”

“Essentially, this provision merely kicks the tough closure decision down the road, because every such school will be able to come up with an improvement plan, though research shows that few chronically failing schools are able to fulfill them,” Hedstrom added.

NACSA also criticized the legislature’s approval of a bill last year granting automatic approval of charter renewals if there is no sign of “substantial, egregious failing.”

The legislation is expected to be on the House calendar next week.

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