On Wednesday, members of the N.C. House of Representatives were prepared to cast a vote on town-run charter schools with major ramifications for the future of public education, but Rep. Kelly Alexander’s mind was on the past.
In the late 1950s, as Alexander explained, some North Carolinians were urging state lawmakers to pursue predominantly white sub-districts, an attempt to assuage the budding uproar over the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 order to desegregate public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.
Wednesday’s 64-53 vote in favor of House Bill 514—which aimed to possibly clear municipal charters in four affluent, predominantly white Charlotte suburbs—is an “uncomfortable” reminder, Alexander said.
“I do think that what we are on the precipice of doing is to increase segregation in our school systems,” Alexander added. “Either we are doing it on purpose, and that may be the intent of some folk, or we’re going to do it by accident, by changing the law and allowing segregation to creep back into our education system.”
Rep. Amos Quick, a Guilford County Democrat, pointed out that Charlotte was the site of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, a benchmark 1971 Supreme Court ruling that mandated school leaders redraw their attendance lines to combat school segregation.
“This proves what the old folks say,” said Quick. “Everything old is new again.”
Moments later, feisty Republicans who supported the measure hit back. “I think we’re skirting the line of questioning the integrity of some of the members of this body,” said Rep. Scott Stone, a Mecklenburg County Republican.
Wednesday’s vote finalized a testy back-and-forth between House and Senate lawmakers in recent days as the legislation, sponsored by Matthews Republican Bill Brawley, made its way through both chambers. Because it’s considered a local bill, it becomes law without Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetting.
House legislators approved a version of the bill last year, but the Senate-approved version that rolled through the House Wednesday added two new Mecklenburg County municipalities. The new law will open up the chance for town-run charters in Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Huntersville.