RALEIGH — The State Board of Education is expected to give preliminary approval to 25 new charter schools Thursday, putting them on track to accept students in fall 2013.
The board will vote on all 25 proposed schools together, approving or denying their applications as one.
It would be the largest group of charter schools to get the boards stamp since the legislature lifted the 100-school cap on charters last year. Earlier this year, the board approved nine new charter schools under a fast-track program; seven of those are now in operation.
Charter schools are public schools that receive tax money, but they operate without some of the constraints of regular public schools.
Proponents of charter schools say they give parents another option for their childrens education. Critics say they siphon money out of regular public schools, tend to have less racial diversity, and get less oversight because the state cant afford the staff to monitor them.
Sixty-three groups had applied to start new charter schools, and the states Charter School Advisory Council evaluated each application based on a range of criteria, including each schools mission statement, education programs, special education, staff, business plan, transportation, health and safety, and facilities. The 25 being voted on Thursday had the best rankings of those that applied.
Because the council takes such care in evaluating each proposal, Matthew Ellinwood, a policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center, said he was surprised that the Board of Education would vote on the applications as a block.
Theyre all being treated the same, said Ellinwood, though the proposals are different and each school would have a different effect on existing schools in the districts where they would be located.
The 25 up for consideration include schools that received the councils ratings of excellent on several measures, as well as some that were considered inadequate on many measures.
Why open a charter school thats not excellent? said Ellinwood, who was at the meeting Wednesday where the school board discussed the charter school applications. The point is to fill a need. The idea is to open them because theyre excellent. I think everybody can agree on that.
Board chairman Bill Harrison said he wasnt concerned that some of the schools did not yet have buildings. It makes more sense, he said, to make that investment after they get state approval to launch the school.
Final decision in March
The schools still have several months to improve on their plans. The school board will make final decisions next March on which schools can open in the fall. If a school has major problems then, its approval can be revoked.
The 25 schools being considered Thursday include a school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math in Orange County; a school focused on closing racial achievement gaps in Chapel Hill; a leadership development school in Durham County; an arts high school in Raleigh and a Montessori school in Chatham County.
The Durham school board had asked the board not to allow any more charter schools to open there, as school officials are worried about the migration of any more students away from regular public schools. Joel Medley, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, told the board that he would need to expand his staff of four to help the new schools get started and monitor the ones already operating.
Without some help, Medley told the group, Its going to be difficult.