The State Board of Education (SBE) on Thursday gave final approval to two controversial charter schools opposed by the state’s largest school district.
Despite opposition by the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), the SBE approved 2020 openings for Wake County Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy on separate 7-3 votes.
The Wake Prep charter was approved with the provision that the school only enroll 915 students the first year instead of the planned 1,605. In the second year, the enrollment is projected at 1,420 the second year and 1,620 the third.
The school will operate as a K-10 school the first year before expanding to a k-12 school the second year.
Meanwhile, North Raleigh will operate as a K-6 and add grades 7-9 over the next two years. The school will project an enrollment of 615 students but can accommodate 765.
Both schools will conduct a weighted lottery as a strategy to increase diversity. One big criticism of charters schools is that they lead to school segregation.
SBE Chairman Eric Davis and board members JB Buxton and Jill Camnitz cast the three votes against approving the school’s charter applications.
Before the vote, Buxton asked if the schools plan to offer “quality” programs not offered by existing schools in the area.
He said the schools’ program offerings don’t appear to be innovative.
“That feels like something I’d find in schools, not only in that community but across the state,” Buxton said. “This is why I grappling with these two. It doesn’t feel like they’re adding quality seats to the community. I believe they’re adding options, but relative to the education being offered, they don’t seem to be bringing anything different.”
Dave Machado, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, disagreed, pointing out that Wake Prep’s management firm Charter One has a long record of success in Arizona bring innovation to school settings.
He noted that Charter One requires service projects, participation in learning communities and an entrepreneurial course that high school students must take.
“I think they’re very innovative in the things they’re doing outside of the regular curriculum North Carolina requires,” Machado said.
Turning to North Raleigh, Machado noted the school’s Board of Directors also oversee Cardinal Charter Academy, which carries a perennial “B” state performance grade.
Last month, in what amounted to an impact statement, leaders of the WCPSS urged the SBE to not approve the schools’ charters.
“In all these applications, it is not difficult to see how the proposed charters would increase de facto segregation, decrease efficient utilization of public facilities and add no significant variety or innovative instructional programs in a county where parents already understand and strongly support traditional schools,” Wake County Board of Education Chairman Jim Martin and Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore wrote in a June 3 letter to the SBE. “Charter saturation is an appropriate way to describe this situation.”
Martin and Moore noted that there are 10 schools within five miles of the sites in northeastern Wake County that are proposed for Wake Prep. And five of the 10 schools are charters, which enroll a combined 4,000 pupils.
Wake Prep officials make a case for the school on its website.
They contend WCPSS has more than 20 schools with capped enrollments, more than 19,000 students in trailers, 9,000 students on charter school waitlists and more than 3,000 students on Wake Prep’s interest list.
Last month, members of the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) pushed back against WCPSS officials, contending their concerns reflect “philosophical” differences about the value of charters, rather than fear of school re-segregation or charter saturation.
The CSAB recommended the SBE approve the two schools.
Steven Walker, vice chairman of the CSAB, said at the time Wake officials have taken the position that if “parents aren’t making the choice we like, maybe we shouldn’t let them have the choice.”
The impact of charter schools is being felt throughout the state. The number of charters in North Carolina has swelled to nearly 200 since state lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011.