New federal grant expected to boost diversity in North Carolina’s ‘high-quality’ charter schools

The State Office of Charter Schools (OCS) has received a $10 million federal grant to help “high-quality” charter schools serve more economically disadvantaged students.

The award is the second such grant the OCS has gotten from the U.S. Department of Education in as many years.

The OCS was awarded a $26.6 million federal grant last year, which means $36.6 million is now available to expand charter school opportunities for thousands of North Carolina students who are economically disadvantaged, homeless, non-native English speakers, disabled, immigrant students, migrant students and unaccompanied youth.

The students will be served through expansion of the Advancing Charter Collaboration and Excellence for Student Success (ACCESS). Under the five-year program, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) will award subgrants to charter schools that want to serve more students who are deemed “educationally disadvantaged.”

“This award indicates, in my opinion, an expression of confidence from the U.S. Department of Education in the work the Office of Charter Schools has undertaken through the development and launch of the ACCESS Program,” Alex Quigley, chairman of the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, said in a statement.

Here’s how the OCS breaks down how the money will used:

  • Award 60 competitive subgrants to new and existing charter schools to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students attending high-quality charter schools and expand the number of high-quality charter schools available to educationally disadvantaged students.
  • Develop a cohort of 160 charter school leaders who can develop and demonstrate best practices in serving educationally disadvantaged students.
  • Broadly disseminate best practices in serving educationally disadvantaged students and foster collaboration in the charter school community and between charter schools and traditional public schools.

“This supplemental funding will give more charter schools the opportunity to receive subgrants and participate in the highly successful ACCESS Fellowship,” said Dave Machado, head of the state Office of Charter Schools. “It will also enhance our goals of increasing diversity in our charter schools and increasing the opportunity for educationally disadvantaged students to attend high quality charter schools.”

To be eligible for subgrants, schools must have at least a “B” school performance grade and met or exceeded growth for at least two of the past three years.

Earlier this year, the OCS awarded nine schools with five-year subgrants ranging from $250,000 to $600,000.
The additional grants could help charter schools combat criticism that charters in North Carolina promote segregation.  Many of the state’s charters are either predominately white or majority black.

Finding ways to improve diversity among charters is a frequent topic of conversation among charter supporters and critics alike.

Some schools — the Exploris School in downtown Raleigh is one example — are taking action to improve  diversity. Exploris has been granted permission to amend its charter to create a priority lottery to bring in more children of color and those from diverse economic backgrounds.

The 198 charter schools operating in North Carolina serve more than 100,000 students of which roughly 55 percent are white. Black students make up 26.1 percent of students attending state charters and Hispanic students are 9 percent of students enrolled in charters.

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