NC could get 170 new charter schools in 2015

khui@newsobserver.comSeptember 10, 2013 

  • View the possible new charter schools

    Go to bit.ly/16hoj06 to see the 170 letters of intent for new charter schools in 2015.

As many as 170 new charter schools could open in North Carolina in 2015, including 39 in the Triangle and 43 in Mecklenburg County.

State education officials said those groups met Friday’s deadline to submit letters of intent to be considered for opening in August 2015. Depending on how many meet a Dec. 6 deadline to submit an application, the state’s lineup of 127 charter schools could be in for a huge expansion.

“We welcome the growth of high quality charter schools in North Carolina as they offer a valuable option to help meet the academic needs of our 1.5 million public school students,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said in a statement Monday. “Our public charter schools have helped to increase our graduation rate to the highest in state history and we look forward to working with these applicants as they formalize their plans to open new schools in 2015.”

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. They are also independent of the school districts in which they’re located.

Charters growing rapidly

The number of charter schools has expanded sharply since legislators eliminated a 100-school cap in 2011. The 127 that are now open could serve as many as 65,000 students this year. The number of schools could grow to 153 next year; the State Board of Education gave preliminary approval last week for 26 charters to open in 2014.

The way the state reviews new applications has been under revision during the past year.

After receiving 156 letters of intent and ultimately 70 applications last year, officials from the now-disbanded Public Charter School Advisory Council told the State Office of Charter Schools to use a rigorous review standard. This resulted in rejection of a number of applications for what charter-school supporters said were minor reasons.

The General Assembly voted this year to form a new advisory board to review charter applications to recommend to the State Board of Education.

This year’s intent letters include 20 new charter schools proposed for Wake County, offering programs such as services for at-risk students, services for developmentally disabled students, college prep, performing arts and a virtual school.

The news comes as opponents of an $810 million Wake school-construction bond issue argue that the growth in charter schools, private schools and home schools reduces the need for the new seats. But supporters of the bond issue on the Oct. 8 ballot contend that those school alternatives won’t make a major dent in the 20,000 new students expected by 2018.

One of the two letters from Orange County was from the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School, which is seeking a new charter after the school’s request to delay opening for a second year was denied in August.

The state also received intent letters for two schools in Franklin, two in Harnett, one in Chatham counties and 12 in Durham County. Leaders of the Durham school system have complained that too many charter schools already are open in the county.

Similar concerns have also been raised by leaders in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, which saw letters of intent filed for 43 new charters.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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