Report: Federal grants to NC charter schools found to promote racial and economic segregation

A June report from the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on strengthening public schools, uncovers how North Carolina is using the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to finance schools that have historically served as schools of white flight.

North Carolina’s charters contribute to the racial and economic segregation of our public school system. North Carolina charter schools – on average – tend to attract students who are whiter and wealthier than the surrounding community. CSP looks to counter these trends by providing certain charter schools grants to help support services for students from families with lower incomes. According to the Network for Public Education, however, North Carolina officials have directed much of this funding to schools with a history of serving as white flight charter schools and enrolling substantially fewer students from families with low incomes than nearby inclusive public schools.

The history of certain CSP-funded charters brings into question their commitment to serving a diverse student body and whether or not they deserve large supplemental funding grants. While North Carolina law requires charters to “make efforts for the population of the school to reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the” district in which the charter is located, many of the CSP recipient charters have been ignoring this law for years.

According to their analysis, at least 11 of the schools (several charter recipients do not provide information on student demographics) are racially segregated as compared to the district in which they’re located. These schools include:

  • Hobgood Academy, formerly a private school that served as a haven for white families “willing to pay tuition rather than send their children to integrated public schools” in Halifax County. Hobgood is now 76 percent white, compared to Halifax County, where just 3 percent of students are white.
  • The Community Public Charter where “During 2019, the year in which the school was awarded its Charter School Program grant of $250,000, 95 percent of the school’s students were white, compared with its integrated public school district, Gaston, where only 53 percent of the students are white.”
  • “The Community School of Davidson, like Hobgood, was formerly a secular private school run in a Baptist church. Now a charter school, it received a $700,000 CSP grant to expand. The year it received its grant, 84 percent of its students were White compared with 27 percent of the students in its public school district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg.”
  • The Arts Based School in Forsyth County “requires parents to send lunch, provide transportation and volunteer one hour a week for the school. The school is 71 percent white compared to Forsyth County where white students comprise just 35 percent of enrollment.

CSP awardees also enroll fewer economically disadvantaged students compared to their larger community:

Of the 29 CSP awardees for which the percentage of economically disadvantaged students was reported on the North Carolina’s Department of Education report card website, 90 percent (26) had at least a 10-point gap between their economically disadvantaged students (students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) and those of the district. In all but three (23), that gap exceeded 20 points. In fact, 45 percent of the awardees (13 of the 29) had gaps between the economically disadvantaged students served by the charter schools and their public school districts exceeding 40 points.

The report notes the deliberate policy practices many charter schools employ to effectively choose their students including:

  • Implementing harsh no-excuses discipline codes
  • Eschewing participation in the National School Lunch Program for expensive, catered lunches
  • Failing to provide transportation
  • Requiring parental donations of money or labor

As the report concludes, “It is likely that some of North Carolina’s grantees are sincere in their desire to expand enrollment to include more disadvantaged students. But the evidence is clear from applications and school websites that many of the awardees are engaged in practices known to keep minority and disadvantaged students out.”

The question remains whether the Biden administration will modify the program, or whether the CSP will continue to provide outsized rewards to schools with exclusionary policies and practices.

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