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On Jan. 27, 2020, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its annual report Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws, Eleventh Edition. For over a decade, this commentary has analyzed the effectiveness of each state’s charter school laws measured against the “gold standard” model law.

The report was released in conjunction with National School Choice Week, highlighting the progress and continued contributions that charter schools have made to communities that are traditionally underserved. And while the outcomes for North Carolina were promising, we still have a stern reminder that our fiscal transparency and accountability practices must match the best practices and policies reflected in other states.

Each year, states are assessed and ranked with a comprehensive score, measured by their success to meet the 21 benchmarks of core characteristics and practices including accountability, authorization, flexibility, performance-based contracts, and funding equity. While charter schools are not restricted to the same limitations and bureaucracies of traditional public schools, it is imperative that we recognize the impact that local and state laws have on our ability to produce high-academically achieving students through rigorous curriculum standards, innovative professional development for educators, and equitable funding for school improvements and growth. The National Alliance’s report is a critical tool used to engage policymakers and advocates as they develop laws and policies that will strengthen their state’s charter school laws and improve the quality of the sector.

This year, North Carolina ranked 14 out of 45 with a composite score of 160.  And, North Carolina received the highest rating for eight components of the 21 essential components. Across the 21 categories, North Carolina was rated highest in No Caps; A Variety of Charter Schools Allowed; Non-district Authorizers Available; Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability System Required; Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions; Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Charter School Boards; Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption; and Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems. All areas of which to be proud.

Although the state’s status and composite score has not changed over the past year, the Alliance produced salient and proactive recommendations to ensure our continued success and growth. Prospective areas of improvement include guaranteeing equitable operational funding and access to capital funding and facilities, providing adequate authorizer funding, ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools. 

These measures are all reflective of areas of concern that we have witnessed across the state, especially in light of WestEd’s controversial report “Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina.” WestEd released their report to divided and contentious reviews, emphasizing their recommendations for more equitable and inclusive statewide policies and funding distribution in response to the 1994 Leandro lawsuit. 

Both the Alliance and WestEd reports have generated a strong call to action regarding funding authorization, transparency, and equity. In response to both of these testaments, I recommend that the State Board of Education deliberate the expert testimony of educators, administrators, and policymakers with the resolve to incorporate their recommendations and best practices into legislation to ensure that North Carolina provide the best educational options and opportunities to our students. 

Rhonda Dillingham

Rhonda Dillingham is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools.