by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
As Carolina Journal reported last week, the N.C. State Board of Education has delayed approval of two charter school applicants, North Raleigh Charter Academy and Wake Preparatory Academy, because of concerns expressed by the Wake County Board of Education and members of the PTA.
The nonprofit boards of both schools submitted applications well before the October 1, 2018 deadline and have had the applications vetted by the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB). The review process includes an extensive examination of the application, interviews with the applicants, and deliberation by the board. On February 12th, the CSAB voted 6 – 4 to approve North Raleigh Charter, and on April 8th, the board approved Wake Preparatory in a 7 – 2 vote.
At their June meeting, members of the State Board of Education approved 10 charter schools but declined to vote on North Raleigh Charter and Wake Preparatory over concerns about the split votes and objections by Wake County school officials and activist parents. Members of the PTA have lobbied lawmakers and board members for months. Wake County school officials only recently joined the fight, despite knowing that the schools had submitted applications last year and had been approved by the CSAB earlier this year.
Opponents of these charter schools argue that Wake County already has too many charters. They contend that families should be content with the options provided by existing charters and the Wake County Schools. And by taking students and the dollars that come with them, they claim that new and existing charter schools harm the $1.5 billion school district financially. Finally, they question the track record of the two management organizations hired to operate the schools, Charter Schools USA (North Raleigh Charter) and Charter One (Wake Preparatory). Their grievances prompted the State Board to ask the CSAB to reconsider its recommendations.
During their discussion of the issue, members of the Charter School Advisory Board pulled no punches. As Keung Hui from the News & Observer reported, CSAB board advisor Joe Maimone declared that they would not “cave in to that kind of last-minute pressure.” Vice chairman Steven Walker questioned the claim that the district has too many charter schools. The board reaffirmed its recommendations and called on the State Board to vote on the proposed charters.
The CSAB put its stamp of approval on both schools, so the State Board of Education would be wise to defer to its judgment, which is based on hours of review by experienced charter school operators. Moreover, the State Board should decide the fate of these schools based on the diverse needs and preferences of Wake County families, rather than the complaints of those aligned with the status quo. A number of families have already signaled their desire to attend North Raleigh Charter Academy and Wake Preparatory Academy. In fact, representatives from Wake Preparatory report that the school has over 3,000 students on its interest list.
An even more compelling argument in favor of the proposed charters is the fact that there are sizable waitlists for charter school seats in the area of northern Wake County where the new charters would be located. Envision Science Academy has a waitlist of 956 children this year. Endeavor Charter School and Rolesville Charter Academy each have around 1,500 children on waitlists. The immensely popular Franklin Academy Charter School routinely has over 1,000 children on its waitlist. And these figures do not account for wait-listed students in charter schools residing in neighboring counties, which is important because public school students may cross county and school district lines to attend charter schools.
The Wake County Schools is a massive 160,000-student enterprise that places the preservation of its market share above the needs of children and the desires of families. Bellyaching by district officials and a few outspoken PTA members is not a compelling reason to deny charters to North Raleigh Charter Academy or Wake Preparatory Academy.
Note: I am a co-founder of Carolina Charter Academy, a Wake County charter school that will open in August 2019.