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The good folks at Public Schools First NC have issued a scathing review of the budget deal:

Public Schools First NC urges reconsideration of brutal cuts to public education
Proposed budget fails students and families while undermining North Carolina’s economic foundation

Raleigh, NC—July 22, 2013—Public Schools First NC is disappointed by the General Assembly’s aggressive attack against public education in its proposed biennial budget. By syphoning public dollars away for private school vouchers, slashing funds for teaching assistants, eliminating teacher professionalism and increasing class size, the budget strikes at the heart of proven strategies that lead to strong schools; adequate funding, small class sizes, and experienced educators. Read More

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.

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The Senate bill that would have created an independent charter school board separate from the NC State Board of Education goes for a third reading tonight in the House. In its current form, the legislation no longer creates a separate charter school board and requires that at least 50 percent of charter school teachers be licensed, an improvement from the proposed provision that would not require charters to hire any licensed teachers at all.

SB 337 changed dramatically from when it was first filed after tremendous pressure from state education leaders.

State Board of Ed Chairman Bill Cobey told NC Policy Watch he thought the bill was unconstitutional. Moving the charter school advisory council away from the State Board of Education’s direction could be in violation of its constitutional mandate to supervise and administer all publicly funded schools, including public charter schools.

NC State Superintendent June Atkinson told NC Policy Watch, “it’s not in the best interest of the state to have two separate boards.”

Changes to the bill also included preserving the requirement that charter schools reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the district which in they are located; however, that language was weakened in another charter school bill passed last week.

While no other changes to SB 337 are expected at this time, it’s possible the bill could be amended with some last-minute surprises. Stay tuned.

The House bill that was modified at the last minute to allow charter schools to expand without having to gain State Board of Education approval passed the Senate floor yesterday, 34-11.

HB 250, which would have allowed charter schools to expand several grades at a time wihtout having to make a request to the State Board of Education, was amended before passage.

Sen. Norman Sanderson from Pamlico County put forth an amendment that would allow charters to expand at only one grade at a time. Sanderson’s amendment seemed to respond to considerable pressure from his constituents at home, who are concerned that the passage of the bill would spell disaster for their lone public high school.

This NC Policy Watch story reported that Arapahoe Charter School’s request to expand to a K-12 school was recently denied by the State Board of Education. The school’s director told NC Policy Watch that he decided to circumvent the appeal process by asking local lawmakers to find a legislative fix to allow the school to expand without State Board of Ed approval.

While Sanderson’s amendment appears to be a concession, it would in fact still allow Arapahoe Charter School to expand, one grade at a time, over the next three years. The public charter school currently offers grades K-9.

As outlined last week, the public high school in Pamlico County could be devastated by Arapahoe’s expansion.

Sen. Jerry Tillman also ran an amendment that effectively weakened the current requirement that public charter schools’ student populations must reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of their local district. The language in his amendment would instead allow charters to simply make efforts toward diversity.

The bill must be reconciled with the House before going to Gov. McCrory’s desk for his signature.

The bill that would allow charter schools to expand the grades they offer without prior approval from the State Board of Education will be on the Senate floor this afternoon. The bill has already passed the House.

HB 250, Charter School Enrollment and Charter Revisions, was originally intended to address only charter school enrollment procedures. Last week, NC Policy Watch reported that the director of Arapahoe Charter School, Tom McCarthy, decided to work with his local lawmakers, Sen. Norman Sanderson (R-Carteret, Craven, Pamlico) and Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Beaufort, Craven, Pamlico) to craft legislation that would allow his school to get around a State Board of Education decision to deny Arapahoe’s request to expand to a K-12 school. The resulting bill would allow all public charter schools to expand their offerings, within certain limits, without State Board of Ed approval.

At a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, lawmakers briefly debated the new language – language that the House never even saw – and offered a favorable report for the bill, even as Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association, explained to the committee the devastating effect it would have on rural school districts.

“We already know that passing this provision would immediately threaten the very existence of Pamlico County’s lone public high school,” Winner told NC Policy Watch.

The law currently requires public charter schools to gain State Board of Education approval in order to expand their offerings. The requirement is in place to mitigate any potential adverse impacts on local school districts resulting from public charter school expansion.

Click here for more background on the Arapahoe Charter School and the bill that hits the Senate floor today.