Why I support Senate Bill 8 that will lift the cap on charter schools in North Carolina
by Representative D. Craig Horn
I am writing in support of Senate Bill 8 that lifts the cap on charter schools and restores the original funding mechanisms for charter schools in North Carolina. I have heard many arguments both in favor of and against elimination of the cap on charter schools. The rub is, as it always is, the money!
When charter schools were created in North Carolina in 1995, the funding statute required that local school systems pay an amount equal per pupil of its local current expense fund to all charter schools serving students from their school district. In 1998 the NC Attorney General under Governor Jim Hunt issued an opinion that “All Funds” contained in the local school systems’ local current expense fund must be included in these calculations. This decision has been upheld in the courts on three separate occasions. Unfortunately, school systems across North Carolina ignored the law and have excluded the charter schools from some of their rightful share of the required per pupil amounts.
In 2009, the NC Supreme Court declined review of the earlier court decisions thereby acknowledging their legitimacy. However, the local schools systems subsequently persuaded the General Assembly to change the existing law in order to avoid the requirements of the original statutes. A new bill allowed the local school systems to move funds out of their local current expense fund and not have them count in the share going to charter schools. These monies include sales tax revenue, federal monies (including those that are unrestricted), monies carried over from year to year in local budgets and monies for any other project that that the school systems deem to be a “special program.”
Senate Bill 8 not only lifts the cap on the total number of charter schools in North Carolina but also restores the monies removed by the General Assembly in the dying days of a majority that has now changed. I see this as both ironic and significant.
Last year a suit was filed on behalf of Union Academy against Union County Public Schools (UCPS) alleging that they “jumped the gun” and moved money out of their local current expense fund a year earlier than permitted. In 2009-10, the UCPS per pupil amount for students, including current expense and capital funds, was $2,844 per student. Under the modification passed in 2009, Union Academy would receive $2,026 per student (71% of the UCPS per pupil amount). Under Senate Bill 8, the amount would be $2,210 per pupil (78% of the UCPS amount).
Opposition to Senate Bill 8 appears to be based on the fact that charter schools do not provide either transportation or meals and therefore do not deserve to share in the money allocated to public schools for those purposes. There are also a number of special programs offered in the public schools that are not available to the charters. There does not appear to be evidence that charter schools have access to any or all of these special programs. It is also not clear that this was intended to be considered in the first place.
The original charter school funding formula was in effect until last year. NC public schools chose to ignore the 1995 funding provision and have time and again sought to overturn the law in the courts. The original statute entitled charter schools to an “amount equal” per pupil of the current local expense funds but NOT to any amount of capital funds. Senate Bill 8 simply restores the original intent of the legislation. It is my hope that the new General Assembly will pass Senate Bill 8, thereby not only eliminating an arbitrary cap on the number of charter schools but also restoring the funding statutes to their original intent.
I believe that school choice is a right and a responsibility. A quality education is not only an entitlement, it is a privilege. Although it is the constitutional responsibility of this state to make available a free public education, it is critical that we also move from entitlement to earning. Competition drives down costs and raises quality. Responsible public charter schools provide opportunity for students and teachers and encourage earning by fostering creative educational methods. I believe that there are significant opportunities for traditional public schools and charter schools in their districts to work more closely together to improve efficiency and provide a quality education. Funding challenges in education persist, but the withholding of fair legal funding from responsible charter schools will not solve the dilemma faced by public education in North Carolina.
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