RALEIGH — More than 60 new charter schools are still in the running to open in 2015 – 50 percent more than were considered for this coming fall – under a new board that’s more friendly to the nontraditional public schools.
The new Charter School Advisory Board – appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and the General Assembly – agreed Monday that only nine of 71 schools that want to open in 2015 have incomplete applications that would bar them from further review.
At the same stage last year, 28 of the 70 schools that wanted to open in 2014 had been deemed incomplete based on suggestions developed by the Public Charter School Advisory Council, the forerunner to the current board.
“We’ve gone from having 40 percent of the applications being deemed incomplete to 13 percent,” said Eddie Goodall, executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association. “I applaud the Office of Charter Schools and the Charter School Advisory Board for recognizing that the content of the applications is more important than the form.”
The board will spend the next several months determining which of the 62 remaining applications should be recommended for approval by the State Board of Education. It could lead to a record-number of charters opening in North Carolina in 2015.
The remaining applications include six from Wake County, six from Durham and 28 in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, more than any other part of the state. Moving forward for review are 17 Mecklenburg-based applications, two from Gaston County and three each from Cabarrus, Iredell and Union counties.
The state could have more than 200 charter schools operating in 2015 – double the number that existed until a state limit was lifted in 2011.
Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. There are 127 charter schools in operation this school year, compared with more than 2,000 traditional public schools.
Last week, the State Board of Education gave final approval to 26 charter schools to open this fall. But the process used to determine those schools came with some controversy.
Charter-school groups charged that good applications had been rejected by state staff for immaterial reasons because of suggestions from the former Public Charter School Advisory Council.
Amid the outcry, the General Assembly passed legislation last year that replaced the council with the new advisory board.
The new board consists of members who, according to last year’s state law, “shall have demonstrated an understanding of and a commitment to charter schools as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
This year, the Office of Charter Schools in the state Department of Public Instruction only found 13 of the 71 applications to be incomplete. The advisory board reversed the state staff’s recommendations on four of the schools, saying applicants shouldn’t be dropped if their only problem is failing to include resumes of some proposed board members.
The board also agreed to consider nine schools that exceeded page limits set in the applications. The Office of Charter Schools had warned applicants during the training sessions that they’d be considered incomplete if they exceeded the page limits.
“I don’t know if it means they’re incomplete,” said Steven Walker, an advisory board member and attorney. “It means they’re not following directions.”
Helen Nance, chairwoman of the advisory board and a charter-school administrator, warned they have to be careful as they consider the applications.
“I tend to be a little hard-school on things,” she said. “These are the directions. You need to follow them.”
Charlotte Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms contributed.