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State Board adopts charter school funding policy ahead of first meeting of newly-enacted Charter School Review Board

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This article was updated Sept. 7 following the State Board of Education’s vote.

The State Board of Education voted to enact a policy on Thursday that, according to Board Chair Eric Davis, would allow it to exercise its constitutional responsibility of financial accountability over charter schools.

The policy comes in response to a law enacted last month that removes certain charter school powers from the State Board and gives them to a newly established Charter School Review Board.

The former Charter School Advisory Board no longer exists.

Prior to the passage of the law, the State Board of Education had the final say on charter school oversight in the state. The law now gives the review board authority to approve charter applications, renewals, and material changes. The State Board policy would require the review board to present approvals to the board before any state or federal funds are to be disbursed.

Under the state’s constitution and the recent charter school law, the State Board retains authority over funding allocation of charter schools, said Allison Schafer, the State Board’s general counsel.

“We take our funding responsibilities seriously,” Davis said. “We aim to work in a collaborative way with the Charter Review Board.”

The policy’s preamble states the board still has the constitutional authority to “ensure accountability from charter schools for school finances and student performance.”

Highlights from the policy include:

  • “The Review Board shall present all approved applications to the State Board for allocation of funding before State or federal funds are disbursed for this purpose.”
  • “The Review Board shall present to the State Board any approved material changes to a charter that may result in a change in funding to a charter school before State or federal funds are disbursed for this purpose.”
  • “Consistent with its constitutional and statutory duty to supervise and administer the free public schools; consistent with its obligations to oversee the operations of public school entities; and consistent with the State Board’s duty to hold public schools accountable for student performance, the State Board may request and shall receive regular reports on charter school finance, legal compliance, and student performance from the Review Board, the Office of Charter Schools, the Office of Financial and Business Services, the Office of Testing, and Accountability, the Office of Exceptional Children, the Office of Federal Programs, and other NCDPI divisions as appropriate.”

Shortly after Davis called the meeting to order on Wednesday morning, State Treasurer Dale Folwell made a motion to have consideration of the policy removed from the agenda. As state treasurer, Folwell has a seat on the State Board. State Board member Olivia Oxendine seconded the motion, but the two were the only votes in favor and the motion was defeated, 7-2.

When discussion of the policy began a few hours later, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt objected to consideration of the policy because the process, she said, had been rushed. Typically, the State Board hears and discusses an agenda item one month before returning the item to the agenda for a vote the following month. 

The charter policy appeared for the first time on the agenda on Wednesday and will be voted on on Thursday. Truitt said she saw the policy for the first time last Thursday. 

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is also on the State Board of Education, arrived 10 minutes before discussion on the policy began. He echoed Truitt’s remarks about the quick turnaround for the policy.

Folwell, Truitt, and Robinson are all elected Republicans. Davis, who defended the timing and need for the policy, was appointed to the State Board of Education by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015.

Davis said considering the policy for action on first read is necessary given the short timeline between when the Republican-majority General Assembly established the new review board and the review board’s first meeting.

The law creating the review board was enacted on Aug. 16, after the last meeting of the State Board of Education. The review board is scheduled to meet next week.

“I would like for us to have a couple of months to discuss this,” Davis said. “We didn’t get a couple months. We got a couple of weeks. And unless we want to tell the review board to pause on considering any applications next week to give us a chance to spend 30 days reviewing this policy, I think we need to act now.”

The review board has been a partisan issue from the start. It was introduced in April by Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenberg, as one of several school choice bills she sponsored after switching parties from Democrat to Republican. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the bill in August.

In June, Davis wrote an open letter explaining the board’s constitutional obligations and expressing some concerns, including the number of charter schools that have closed under questionable financial situations.

Several politicians and associations issued statements about the policy. Here are the ones that were sent to us for your information:

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.