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The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction received 40 applications this month to open up new charter schools in 2016, down from last year’s applicant pool of 71.

N.C. Office of Charter Schools director Joel Medley acknowledged the applicant numbers are down this year.

“It may be the application fee was raised from $500 to $1000. It may be that the timeline was moved forward a couple of months. It may be that some groups are waiting to submit using the new Fast Track Replication process,” Medley told N.C. Policy Watch, adding that he couldn’t give an accurate reason for why the numbers are fewer this time around.

Fourteen of this year’s applicants (click here for a spreadsheet listing the applicants) have indicated they plan to contract with education management organizations (EMO). For-profit EMOs were thrust into the spotlight during last summer’s legislative session, when the General Assembly approved legislation that allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

At least ten of the forty applicants are re-submissions from prior years, Medley told N.C. Policy Watch.

According to the Office of Charter Schools, there are currently 148 charter schools in North Carolina—a figure that expanded quickly when lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on how many charter schools could operate in the state back in 2011.

But last year, the pace of charter school approvals slowed down considerably. While the State Board of Education approved 23 charter schools to open in 2013 and 27 schools to open in 2014, only 11 out of 71 applicants were green-lighted to open in 2015, a figure that prompted a heated debate between Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) members tasked with reviewing the applications.

According to the Charlotte Observer, CSAB board member Alan Hawkes of Greensboro emailed his fellow members to chastise them for being “judgmental and punitive” in rejecting plans that would have expanded charter school enrollment.

“The plan was to have operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity,” said Hawkes, a founding board member of two Guilford County charter schools run by the for-profit National Heritage Academies. Hawkes also indicated that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Reviewers of charter school applications may prove to be more cautious now, in light of the fact that a few charter schools have abruptly closed thanks to poor financial management and other governance problems.

Most recently, Concrete Roses STEM Academy in Charlotte shut down 20 days into the school year. The school had its funding frozen by the state after the school failed to submit required financial forms. The school’s sudden closure left families of the school’s 126 students scrambling to find new schools, while taxpayers likely lost the $285,170 the school already withdrew from the state’s coffers.

For some who wish to open a charter school in North Carolina, there’s still another option for submitting applications for 2016. Thanks to legislation passed last summer, a fast-track process has been put in place for successful charter schools wishing to replicate themselves and for charter chains wishing to expand their presence in the state. The State Board of Education must adopt rules for the fast-track replication process no later than December 15, 2014.

News

Less than three weeks into the school year, a new Charlotte charter school has shut down.

The sudden closure of Concrete Roses STEM Academy leaves familiies for the school’s 126 students scrambling to find new schools, while taxpayers may have lost the $285,170 in funding sent to the school that went belly-up this week.

Logo for Concrete Roses STEM Academy

Logo for Concrete Roses STEM Academy

The school had its funding frozen by the state after the school failed to submit required financial forms.

The school’s website hasn’t been changed to reflect the closing at the end of the week. On Friday morning, it still had up forms accepting applications for attendance.

Here’s more from the Charlotte Observer:

The state charter school office sent a letter to Concrete Roses STEM dated Sept. 17 that said its funding was being frozen.

It stated that the school did not report its expenditures for the months of July and August, in violation of state law. The letter also said the school had already spent $285,170 of its allotment from the state.

The letter said the school would not be allowed to spend any more money until its enrollment was resubmitted and funding recalculated. Based on its current attendance, the school would have been eligible for significantly less money.

[CEO Cedric] Stone was to receive a salary of $95,000, according to a budget presented to the state. It is unclear how much he received before the school closed.

Medley said there is no indication that Concrete Roses STEM did anything improper.

“Whenever you start something brand new, it’s a difficult enterprise. Sometimes things happen where schools close. Closing 17, 18 days into the school year is not ideal, but if you see that there are potential financial issues down the road, it is better to deal with that early,” Medley said

To read the entire article, click here.

It appears education officials expressed some concerns about Concrete STEM Academy’s ability to budget when it was going through the application process.

A evaluation rubric conducted by the state’s Charter School Advisory Committee raised questions about the viability of the school’s budget, including a $95,000 salary paid out to the school’s administrator, Cedric Stone, who was also listed as the school board’s chairman.

“Salaries are high–therefore if trying to make significant impact then lower the salaries of administrators and pay higher salaries for high value teachers,” wrote Robert Landry, one of the members of the state charter school committee.

 

Dpi Concrete by NC Policy Watch

 

Commentary

slowdownThis morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the state Board of Education’s plan to approve two new “virtual” charter schools. The central message: “Not so fast!”

Charters were seen initially as a chance to be “laboratories” for public education, as places to cultivate innovations that could be used in conventional schools. But too many charter advocates have viewed them as “alternative” schools, almost private schools funded by the public. Now that there’s no limit on the number of charter schools North Carolina can have, Republicans seem inclined to invite an almost unlimited number to open without knowing whether they’re succeeding.

The state needs to more closely oversee and evaluate the charters that exist before going in to the Brave New World of online-only charters.

The N&O’s conclusion is pretty self-evident — especially if you’ve read any of NC Policy Watch’s reporting on the scoundrels at the for-profit virtual charter company, K12, Inc. But if you have any doubts, check out this in-depth report from earlier this year by a team of experts at the National Education Policy Center. According to the authors:

“Despite considerable enthusiasm for virtual education in some quarters, there is little credible research to support virtual schools’ practices or to justify ongoing calls for ever-greater expansion.”

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News

Just weeks after passage of a bill that allows publicly-funded charter schools to hide the salaries of their for-profit education management companies’ employees, State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey requested all charter school boards to disclose the salaries of their for-profit operators by September 30, or face the possibility of being shut down.

In a letter requested by Cobey to all charter school boards dated August 13, N.C. DPI’s CFO Philip Price explains that the new legislation, SB 793 or “Charter School Modifications,” does not change the fact that charter schools must abide by North Carolina’s Public Records Act as well as requirements set forth in their charters that demand them to disclose all employees’ salaries associated with the operation of their schools – whether they be employed by for-profit companies or not.

“After we looked at the law with lawyers, they ensured me it was our [the State Board of Education] authority to ask all charter schools, even for-profit education management organizations, to send all the salary info to us,” said Cobey.

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Uncategorized

Governor McCrory approved a controversial charter schools bill today that some had speculated might be the only veto of the 2014 session. As NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner reported last week in a story entitled “Less transparency, fewer protections hallmarks of latest charter school legislation,” the bill provides a means for supposedly public charter schools to keep compensation paid to employees secret and opens the door to discrimination against LGBT students.

In his signing message, McCrory said that the salary secrecy issue had been adequately addressed  in the bill.

“I am pleased the Legislature responded to my concerns and required full transparency for the names and salaries of all charter school teachers and employees. I have also asked Chairman Bill Cobey and members of our State Board of Education to ensure that contracts with private entities also provide transparency on salaries and other personnel information. Consistent with the State Board of Education’s authority to oversee the successful operations of public charter schools, Chairman Cobey has assured me that he will direct agency staff to collect information from charter schools, including all financial and personnel records, necessary to achieve that goal.”

As Wagner’s story noted, however, the Governor may be missing an important point:

“The bill, SB 793 Charter School Modifications, stipulates that the salaries of charter school teachers and those who sit on charter schools’ non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure.

But many charter schools in North Carolina contract with for-profit companies that manage them—and the salaries of the employees of those private organizations would not be required to be made public.”

Not surprisingly, the Governor left the issue of discrimination against LGBT children completely unaddressed in his signing statement.

Read the rest of Wagner’s story – including critiques of the bill by various experts – by clicking here.