There is one issue that every elected official – whether Democrat or Republican – every policymaker, every educator, every business leader and every parent agrees on: We must provide a quality education to all of our children. Our economic future, even our democratic system, depends on it.
More and more we are seeing that children learn in different ways and that one educational method does not fit all. Charter schools provide more options for parents to find the best fit for their child. And, with the economy listless, local officials are having trouble finding money to build more schools and renovate existing ones.
This year, 127 charter schools are educating over 60,000 students in North Carolina, with waiting lists likely to be near 40,000 students. They will be joined by 26 additional charter schools in 2014. Despite there being no cap on the number of charters allowed, that is adding capacity for only 10,000 children a year, actually a slow pace since we have 1.5 million K-12 age students in the state.
These new charters, which receive no public financial assistance for facilities, can squeeze their operating funds and adapt existing facilities and, in some cases, build new facilities, in areas where school construction cannot keep up with growth and in areas where older schools are in disrepair.
Charter schools clearly are part of the solution to improving our children’s education and provide construction savings for taxpayers. North Carolina needs to allow charter school operators with proven track records to open more schools based on the same school model.
In just makes sense, that if something is working, let it work elsewhere. For at least the last 60 years, American companies have been seeking to develop successful business models then replicate and improve them. We should allow charter schools to do the same.
Our state’s process for approving new charter schools is necessarily arduous. After all, they will be receiving taxpayer dollars to perform one of our state’s most important tasks. But a strong network of schools or a proven stand-alone school should not have to go through the same process as a new, untested charter school.
North Carolina should develop a new process for current schools wishing to open new charter schools based on the same model. The first step would be to see that the current school has already met a clearly defined standard of success of educating our children. While our state does have some criteria for assessing charter performance, North Carolina could increase access to great charter schools by establishing clear performance standards for expansion and replication, then by implementing a stream-lined process that still maintains proper due diligence as an incentive for our best charter schools to expand.
North Carolina can have the best of both worlds: unique, one-of-a-kind “community inspired” charters and public charters that come from a proven mold but still are driven by local supporters. Education policymakers and legislators should heed Jim Collins’ argument that highly visionary companies do not allow themselves to be oppressed by the tyranny of the “or” but rather they embrace the power of the “and.”
Lee Teague is director of public relations for the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association.