NC Senate committee approves charter school bill

khui@newsobserver.comApril 3, 2013 

— A bill changing the way North Carolina charter schools are governed and operated, including dropping the requirement that those schools have licensed teachers, moved a step closer toward adoption Wednesday.

The state Senate Education Committee approved S337, a bill creating a new governing board filled with charter school supporters who would be in charge of approving charters and monitoring existing schools. It would limit the power of the state Board of Education, which now approves and monitors charter schools, to only being able to reject new charters with a three-fourths vote.

“You’ll get people who have a real heart for charter schools,” said Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman, the sponsor and committee co-chairman from Archdale.

Tillman said he hopes “100 percent bleeding-heart advocates for charter schools” will be on the board when Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, said she was concerned people with business interests in charter schools would serve on the new board.

The bill also deletes a current law requiring at least 50 percent of charter instructors to hold teaching certificates. Bill supporters say charter schools should individually decide how many, if any, certified teachers they should have.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

A charter school is a publicly funded facility with more flexibility in operation than traditional public schools. Some are run by private management companies. The state board approved 24 new charters last month, with 23 expected to open in the fall. About 50,000 students now attend 107 charters in the state.

Charter schools have been increasing since the General Assembly dropped the 100-school cap in 2011.

Tillman said the new board is needed because the traditional public schools only have a “begrudging relationship” with charter schools.

“What we want is a very good harmonious public relationship we haven’t had in the past,” he said.

The committee rejected two amendments proposed Wednesday.

One change would have required charter schools to run background checks to see if their employees are on the sex-offender registry. The other change would have allowed new applicants to seek approval from local school boards, universities, community colleges and the State Board of Education in addition to the new charter board.

Tillman said it would be unfair to only require charter schools and not all public schools to do the background checks. He said that having multiple ways to get charter approval would confuse the process.

The vote occurred as members of Public Schools First NC, which opposes the bill, were ordered to leave after protesting not being allowed to speak Wednesday.

Sen. Dan Soucek, the committee co-chairman and a Watauga County Republican, said there was no need for public comment Wednesday because they had it during last week’s committee meeting. In protest, members of the group tied scarves around their faces.

Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly police, said three adults and two children were escorted out of the complex by his officers. He said the protesters had refused a request to sit down. He said they also refused a request to leave, which the group denies.

Tillman said he’s spoken with multiple groups around the state about the bill, which he said is now in its 18th version.

“Everyone who has wanted to be heard has been heard,” he said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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