Lindsay Marchello reports for Carolina Journal:

GREENSBORO — Community leaders, school choice advocates, and religious leaders gathered at Next Generation Academy on Monday, April 15, in support of a bill to help charter schools cover the cost of getting students to their classrooms.

The Frederick Douglass Foundation of North Carolina and Douglass Leadership Institute — nonprofits pushing for education reform — organized the event. Speakers talked about why they support a bill to make the Charter School Transportation Grant program permanent.

House Bill 199 would create a grant program giving certain charter schools money to help pay transportation costs. Charter schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged students could apply for grants. The state would reimburse 65% of student transportation costs up to $100,000.

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, a primary sponsor, said the bill was inspired in part by former Democratic Rep. Marcus Brandon, who helped Hardister craft a pilot program in 2017 to provide grant funding for charter school transportation.

Hardister said the pilot program was successful.

“How do we know?” Hardister asked the audience. “Every dollar was spent.”

Now Hardister, along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, is trying to transition the program from pilot to permanent.

“If there is a school that has a high number of low-income students, then they can sometimes have trouble getting those students to schools. That’s a problem.” Hardister said. “How can students learn if they can’t get to school?”

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools get no money for transportation. While some charter schools can afford to contract with transportation companies or buy their own buses, many in low-income areas are unable to provide that transportation.

H.B. 199 would appropriate $2.5 million in recurring funds to the Department of Public Instruction to administer the charter school transportation grant program. Charter schools in which at least 50% of students are economically disadvantaged could apply for a grant.

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