Officials Defend Charter School Cap
Special Report - September 10, 2009
North Carolina’s education leaders have asked the Obama Administration to rethink its emphasis on charter schools in making determinations for the distribution of federal funds for innovations and accountability in education. In a letter dated August 27, State School Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson and State Board of Education Chairman Dr. Bill Harrison joined representatives from the NC Association of Educators, NC Parent Teach Association, NC School Boards Association, and NC Association of School Administrators to ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan to reconsider putting North Carolina at a disadvantage to receive a portion of $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grant funds because of the state’s cap on charter schools.
The letter was prompted by the U.S. Department of Education’s release of guidelines for applications and distribution of the funds to meet four specific goals. Those goals are to increase the quality of education standards and assessments, improve the quality of teaching, improve struggling schools, and improve the effective use of data. Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have made clear that states without charter school laws and states that artificially limit charter schools will be placed at a clear “competitive disadvantage” to receive the funds.
The letter from N.C.’s education leaders urged “broader flexibility and latitude” for states to determine classroom innovations to meet the four goals of the Administration’s Race to the Top project. Atkinson, Harrison, and the others accused the administration of preventing states from developing other effective models of innovation by focusing on charter schools caps, which they argue is “a very narrow way to look at innovative options for successful schools.” They see charter schools as one of many innovations and argue that North Carolina’s emphasis on small school redesign, Early Colleges, NC Virtual Public School, and magnet schools are better suited to the educational needs of the state than are charter schools. Their letter contends that holding charter schools as a barometer for innovation “will limit NC’s ability to move forward aggressively pursuing these and other opportunities for local schools that work for every child.” According to the letter, North Carolina’s cap is important because it holds “charters to high standards and accountability so those not reaching improved student achievement are closed so that others may open.” The letter went on to contend that, “Capping or not capping is not the issue; the issue is whether or not the charters and other schools are making progress to improve learning for all students.”
This letter was made public at the State Board of Education meeting September 2-3. At that same meeting, Dr. Harrison announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to evaluate the state’s charter school law, regulations, oversight, as well as individual schools.
“President Obama and Secretary Duncan are wise to emphasize the important role of charter schools in providing quality education nationwide,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “North Carolina’s education establishment, however, cannot conceal its disdain for both the success of charter schools in the state, and the demand for more charter schools among parents. The artificial cap has severely limited the number of charters every year for over a decade and this should be reason enough for the legislature to have eliminated the cap years ago. Maybe the lure of tens of millions of federal dollars will finally motivate government and education leaders in North Carolina to support such a common sense change.”
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