A troubling charter school approved for Harnett County

January 21, 2014 

Golf, swimming, walking trails, security and, yes, for your educational pleasure and convenience, a charter school!

That’s pretty close to the description that a Harnett County developer can offer for the Anderson Creek Club, 45 miles south of Raleigh. On completion, the gated community will include more than 4,000 homes priced from $140,000 to $1 million. It sounds like a nice place.

And it’s likely going to sound nicer to some potential residents with the addition of a charter school in the neighborhood. The plan was to have the school inside the gates, but that made officials edgy, so the proposal was revised to have the elementary school serving about 180 children outside the gates.

The school is part of an expanding number of charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but can operate outside some rules for conventional schools in terms of curricula. And the schools don’t have to provide transportation or subsidized lunches. That has brought criticism from supporters of conventional public schools who say charters can exclude lower-income students whether they intend to or not.

In this case, with this school to receive over $1 million in public money, developers and school supporters promise they’ll provide subsidized lunches and work with parents on transportation. And if more families apply than there are seats, a lottery will be held.

All of these accommodations were designed to get the school approved. Other developers will doubtless do the same all over North Carolina.

That’s not the purpose of charter schools. As they were being brought into the public system in the mid 1990s, the idea was that they would be laboratories, experimenting with curricula and teaching methods in ways that perhaps could help conventional schools. Unfortunately, charters now are seen by too many as private schools that get public money.

They’re not. But more are starting to look that way even if they’re not yet behind private gates.

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