Complaint Filed Over Charter Rules
Special Report - April 29, 2010
On April 16th, administrators from predominantly African-American charter schools in North Carolina filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). The North Carolina Association of African American Charter School Administrators alleges that the State Board of Education’s December 2009 approval of new accountability requirements will disproportionately affect predominantly minority charters, as well charters that have more disabled students and speak English as a second language. The new accountability requirements were part of policies approved by the Board late last year.
The policy requires that the North Carolina State Board of Education revoke the charter of any school that for two of three years “does not meet or exceed expected growth and has fewer than 60 percent of its students scoring at or above grade level.” The John Locke Foundation reported in February that if this same policy were applied to traditional North Carolina district or district alternative schools, 158 of those schools would have to be closed. About 6.2 percent of charters, and 6.5 percent of public schools in North Carolina would be subject to closing if the regulations were applied to both types of schools.
Another revision requires charter schools to meet the same accountability standards as other public schools that have been in existence for many years, though the previous policy allowed more flexible accountability measures for the first year of operation. Charter school experts say that it usually takes a charter school at least three years of operation to be prepared for evaluation because these schools, like start-up small businesses, face financial and structural obstacles that public schools never confront. They argue that data gathered in these early years may prove an unreliable predictor of the school’s future success.
African American charter school administrators expressed concern that particularly the first of these regulations would have a disproportionately negative effect on the state’s mostly black charter schools. They worried that predominantly white schools would take their place in the competition to receive one of the coveted 100 charters that are allowed by North Carolina’s cap on charter schools, thus making access to school choice less equitably distributed.
While some school reformers agree that it is important to shut down low-performing schools, it remains unclear whether demographically comparable traditional public schools within geographic proximity to the low-performing charters would do any better.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the complaint asserts that the 60 percent figure in the policy is “arbitrary,” and they have requested that USDE send a representative from the agency’s civil rights office to investigate.
"Governments are inherently bureaucratic, and most bureaucrats like restrictions," commented Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. "But when it comes to charter schools, the inherent bias against charters from North Carolina's education establishment has resulted in a continuing barrage of unproductive and unnecessarily restrictive rules and regulations. It's time for the bureaucrats to adopt a minimalist approach to regulation and way past time for the General Assembly to remove the cap on the number of charter schools in North Carolina."
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