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Despite criticism, House lawmakers approve corporate perks for charter enrollment

Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg

N.C. House lawmakers signed off Tuesday afternoon on a controversial Republican bill dishing out corporate perks to charter partners, setting aside half of any charter’s total enrollment for private businesses providing infrastructure, land or technology for the publicly-funded schools.

Democrats complained this week that the proposal, House Bill 800, would create “de facto segregated private schools” funded with public dollars, but Republican backers dismissed that criticism as “scare tactics” during committee Monday and on the House floor Tuesday.

“This is a good bill, this is a jobs bill,” said Rep. John Bradford, a Mecklenburg County Republican who led the push on the legislation.

The bill includes a provision that companies providing land, buildings, renovations or technology will be allowed to claim half of the school’s enrollment.

Democrats noted that, with the children of charter board members and full-time employees already allowed to take up 15 percent of a charter’s population, the additional space reserved for corporate charter partners could create charters in which just 35 percent of a school’s total space is open to the general public in the region.

“This really pushes us down the road to privatization that we resisted on charter schools,” said Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Durham, Orange. “This allows you to set up the equivalent of a company store, but it’s a company school.”

Charter schools are publicly-funded institutions given greater leeway over staffing and curriculum. They’ve emerged as a linchpin in the conservative school choice movement in North Carolina over the last decade.

Rep. Amos Quick, D-Guilford

Rep. Amos Quick, a Guilford County Democrat, joined Meyer in objecting to the GOP-sponsored legislation.

“There are enough needs in our schools in North Carolina,” said Quick. “Giving incentives to a corporation, to come to North Carolina for whoever knows how long, is just not good policy.”

House Republicans responded by touting the proposal as one means for assisting charters in upfront capital costs not funded with state coffers.

“The whole reason is to create an economic incentive for these companies to invest in a charter school,” added Bradford.

Tuesday’s floor debate included one GOP-supported amendment setting a minimum $50,000 investment from corporate partners to qualify for the state incentive. However, a Democratic amendment to lower the set-aside for charter partners to 35 percent was easily defeated.

The revised bill will now be sent to the state Senate for consideration.

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