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.