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State Board’s power over charters amps up

A new policy, discussed by the Charter School Advisory Board last week, gives the State Board of Education authority to revoke charters from low-performing schools sooner than before.

Under the old policy, the State Board couldn’t revoke a charter until after five years of the school “inadequately performing” — which meant the school did not meet or exceed growth and had below 60 percent proficiency.

Now the Board can “terminate, not renew, or seek applicants to assume the charter,” if the school is classified as “continually low-performing,” which means the school has been designated low performing by the State Board for two of the last three years.

The State Board’s definition of low performing is this: the school has received a D or F and has not exceeded expected growth.

The updated policy adds that the State Board can’t revoke the charter if the school has met growth in each of the three years prior to being continually low performing or if the school has implemented a strategic improvement plan approved by the Board “and is making measurable progress toward student performance goals.”

Charter School Advisory Board chair Alex Quigley said he supports more accountability for all low-performing schools.

“I think the bottom line is we want to preserve, to the extent we can, maximum flexibility for this board and the State Board of Education to hold consistently low-performing schools accountable,” Quigley said.

“We’ll see how it shakes out at the State Board level, but I think it’s imperative that we address the issues of persistent low-performance in the charter sector aggressively and assertively and encourage the State Board to do the same. But I would encourage that for traditional schools too.”

The change in the low-performing definition and timeline comes in the midst of an ongoing conversation on school choice and accountability. Since charter schools are considered public schools and funded with taxpayer dollars, there’s an expectation that there should be high standards for how that money is spent — while still allowing flexibility to creatively serve students’ needs.

That tension was felt in the Advisory Board meeting Thursday. The board reviewed six applications for new charters and decided if each school should be granted an interview. Except for one school, representatives, like school board members or future administrators, came to answer clarifying questions about their applications.

While reviewing and discussing applications, it was clear that some Advisory Board members were stricter than others. Some wanted to base their decisions specifically on what was on the schools’ applications, and others were more interested in how school representatives answered questions or how passionate they seemed.

For example, Advisory Board member Eric Sanchez said multiple times throughout the day — at times during heated debates — that he was sticking to what potential charter schools provided in their applications.

“In a very charismatic way, they can come over and articulate things that weren’t in writing, but I want to take it on the merit of the writing itself,” Sanchez said.

Meanwhile, Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes felt the board was being too hard on applicants and accused his fellow board members of having negative attitudes. Hawkes voted to move every application forward for an interview except one — Young Inspiration Steam Academy, the school that didn’t have representatives show up.

Quigley, while the board was reviewing a repeat application from Kaleidoscope Charter Academy, reminded members of the weight of their duties. He estimated that the plan for the charter school would cost around $15.9 million.

“Every step, you’re getting closer to …, saying to the state, ‘We think you should invest $15.9 million in this plan,'” Quigley said.

That particular plan was not approved for the interview stage. Anson Charter Academy, Apprentice Academy of NC, and Ascend Leadership Academy: Lee County were approved to return for full interviews. Kaleidoscope Charter Academy, Young Inspiration STEAM Academy, and Ascend Leadership Academy: Durham were not invited back.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, the Advisory Board recommended that Kestrel Heights School in Durham close its high school starting on July 1. That would leave the school with only a K-8 program.

There has been quite a bit of controversy about the school and its graduation rate. Last week, the school reported that 40 percent of its graduates, which amounts to about 160 students, received diplomas without earning the right amount of credits. This has been going on for about eight years, according to the school.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.