Point of View

Good charters have a role to play in NC, but so did cap

May 22, 2014 

The controversy that surrounds the General Assembly’s failure to fairly increase teacher salaries, the drastic cuts to primary grade teacher assistant positions and the lifting of the charter school cap has put at great risk the principle that all children who attend public schools will have access to a great education. Some state legislators are advocating decreased state funding for public schools by requesting that more funds come from local sources.

These changes are especially devastating for low-wealth rural and inner-city school districts and communities. Education is a key foundation of our state’s success, and to the extent that we fail to support our public schools in providing a great education for all of our children, we tarnish their lives and North Carolina’s future.

Charter schools play a helpful and complimentary role to public schools by providing creative and effective educational options for our students. The charter school Kipp Gaston College Prep has demonstrated that great schools can make a difference in the lives of students and parents who live in rural Northampton and its surrounding counties.

But proponents of lifting the cap did not make their case that charter schools had achieved or were making tremendous progress toward their stated goals. In fact, in 2011 the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked our state’s charter schools law 32 out of 41 states, with poor marks for accountability and equity of funding.

Our state should show improvement in accountability by helping charter schools meet high standards before approving large numbers of new applications, which will dilute critically limited state and local resources for public education.

Kipp Gaston College Prep Public Schools’ success became evident in 2009 when all of the high school graduates successfully entered colleges, and again in 2013 when these students successfully completed requirements for their degrees. Several members of this cohort are pursuing graduate degrees while others have successfully secured employment.

This number includes four graduates who are returning to teach at Kipp in Gaston. Equally telling are their families’ aspirations for continued higher education among siblings. Multiple children within the same family, some from single-parent homes, have successfully completed college, and others are preparing to enter. The synergy of this educational experience has great potential for these young people, their parents and their communities.

I had the privilege and honor to greet many of these students and their parents in 2001 as Kipp began its educational venture when they were fifth-graders in what had been a Gaston tobacco field. In 2009, I spoke at their high school graduation. In 2014, I had a conversation with a Kipp/Duke University graduate who was a staff associate for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

Kipp plans to open a primary school in Halifax County this fall. This is excellent news for students, their parents and the communities in our local rural area where great schools are very much needed and desired.

Great schools should be accessible to all of North Carolina’s students, and this is a commitment that was reaffirmed by the N.C. Board of Education in 2012. Great public schools are essential to North Carolina’s future, the survival of our students, the survival and development of rural parts of our state and a driver of economic growth for our state.

Eva M. Clayton represented an Eastern North Carolina district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1992 to 2003.

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