RALEIGH — The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday creating a separate regulatory board for charter schools by a vote of 32-17.
The state charter school board would be responsible for handing out new charters and shutting down inadequate schools. The bill would dilute the State Board of Education’s powers. State Board Chairman Bill Cobey opposes the bill and has questioned its constitutionality. Cobey is one of Gov. Pat McCrory’s appointees.
The State Board currently has an advisory committee that recommends actions on charter applications. The new bill abolishes the advisory committee and allows the State Board to reject a charter board action only by a vote of at least three-fourths of its members.
Separating the oversight of public charter schools from traditional public schools is one of several changes under consideration by a Republican legislature seeking to remake education. Other legislative proposals would provide vouchers for students to attend private schools, phase-out teacher tenure, and drop restrictions that limit class sizes.
Some of the debate Tuesday repeated Senate discussion of two years ago, when the legislature eliminated the 100-school cap on charters.
Democrats on Tuesday wanted to require charters to offer students transportation and school lunches after five years of operation. Republicans rejected that amendment, along with amendments to require licensed teachers in middle and high schools, to protect against conflict-of-interest among members of the new board, and to have charters meet standards for student achievement and compliance with state laws.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said market forces would sink the bad charter schools while parents seek out quality.
“When you have a choice, the free market works,” he said.
Democrats said Republicans were going too far to release charters from common-sense rules.
“Keep this up, and you’re going to destroy the very thing you’re trying to promote,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat.
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.