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State Board takes on charters, budget

The State Board of Education took up a number of issues this month, including 12 charter schools seeking to open in 2020. The board ultimately approved the following 10 charter schools.

  • Wilmington School of the Arts (New Hanover County)
  • MINA Charter School of Lee County (Lee County)
  • Revolution Academy (Guilford County) 
  • Elaine Riddick Charter (Perquimans County) 
  • Robert J. Brown Leadership Academy (Guilford County) 
  • Achievement Charter Academy (Harnett County)
  • Doral Academy of North Carolina (Wake County) 
  • Wendell Falls Charter Academy (Wake County) 
  • CE Academy (Wake County)
  • Alamance Community School (Alamance County) 

Board member JB Buxton expressed concern during the board’s meeting on Wednesday that seven out of 12 of the proposed charters did not meet what he considered the legislative purpose of charters, but five of those received unanimous recommendations from the Charter School Advisory Board. He said he gives weight to an unanimous recommendation, but he still had concerns about the two that did not receive that unanimous endorsement: Wake Preparatory Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy.

Those two were sent back to the Charter School Advisory Board on Thursday for further consideration. State Board member Amy White suggested doing this because she said information had been sent by the Wake County Public School System that amounted to an impact statement, which is a statement that explains how the opening of a charter school could affect the existing school district. White said that kind of information is supposed to be sent to the Charter School Advisory Board during their review process, not to the State Board — a point she clarified emphatically. Because of this, she suggested the State Board send the schools back to the advisory board for consideration. She made clear that, in the future, the point must be clear to applicants and affected stakeholders that any information they have for the state needs to be sent to the Charter School Advisory Board during their earlier review of the application.

The board also took up the request of the virtual charter school NC Virtual Academy to increase enrollment by up to 20% for the 2019-20 school year.

The legislation that created the school caps enrollment at 2,592 students, but the State Board can waive that cap starting in the school’s fourth year, which would be the 2019-20 school year. The law also allows a low-performing charter school to increase enrollment by up to 20% without State Board approval. Virtual Academy is a low-performing school, with a D school performance grade. The school has never met academic growth.

Board member James Ford asked why the Charter School Advisory Board unanimously recommended the 20% increase. Dave Machado, director of the Office of Charter Schools, said Wednesday that the recommendation was unanimous because the advisory board wants to treat Virtual Academy the way every other charter school is treated. He also pointed out that the school is a pilot and new, and so that could explain some of the low performance. He said charters in their first five years don’t typically perform well. 

Ford pushed back, saying that because the school is an experimental pilot it is not like any other charter school, and he said they don’t have a proven track record. 

This subject was only open for discussion this month. No vote was taken. 

Budget talk

The State Board of Education heard an update on the recently passed Senate budget proposal. The House and the Senate are now in negotiations over a final budget document. 

Among the topics discussed was the issue of school support personnel. Cecilia Holden, director of legislative and community affairs for the Department of Public Instruction, pointed out that both the House and the Senate included money for additional school support personnel, but she said that the money is coming in the form of grants rather than full-time equivalent position funding. 

She said DPI is asking lawmakers to reconsider the form in which that funding is provided. Additionally, she said the Senate budget includes dedicated funding for 100 new school psychologists, but DPI is asking for a tweak on that as well. 

The intent behind tying that money specifically to school psychologists is to ensure that every district in the state has at least one. DPI is asking lawmakers to put that money into the fund for school support personnel generally and then include a provision that makes sure every district in the state has at least one school psychologist. This would free up some of that school psychologist money to be used for other school support personnel. 

“That way we aren’t locking up all of those funds just for school psychologists,” Holden said. 

Board Vice Chair Alan Duncan raised the issue of salary increases for non-certified personnel at schools — people like school custodians. He praised the General Assembly for legislating a living wage (at least $15 an hour) for government workers, but wondered why that doesn’t also apply to all school personnel. 

He said that school custodians have just as difficult a job as the custodians who clean government buildings. Furthermore, he pointed out the State Board’s focus on equity when it comes to school children. He said advocating for a living wage for personnel in schools aligns with that.

“Many of those children are the children of our own non-certified employees. So we’re not ultimately doing our part to change the dynamic of those families … if we don’t advocate for this,” he said. 

Departing advisors

Lisa Godwin, 2017 Teacher of the Year and advisor to the State Board, received recognition for her service at the Board meeting this week as she prepares to vacate the role. 

“This work gave me renewed purpose, and it helped me reflect on the values and the morals and just the kind of person that my parents raised me to be. And it made me kind of rededicate myself to those ideals,” she said. 

She called the State Board the “bedrock” of the state and said its work is vitally important, before saying how “honored” and “privileged” she felt serving.

She also apologized for being what she described as “politically incorrect” from the perspective of lawmakers. Godwin has been vocal when she disagrees with certain policies coming out of the General Assembly, like a bill that would have shifted money from school districts to teachers for school supplies.

“It was what was just and what was right,” she said.

Watered-down versions of that bill ultimately made it into both the House and Senate versions of the budget.

Editor’s Note: The NC Center for Public Policy Research has a contract with James Ford’s consulting company, Filling the Gap Education Consultants, LLC,  to conduct a three-year study of inequity in education across North Carolina

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.