Neuse Charter School rolled out the red carpet last week for a visit by U.S. Rep. David Rouzer.
It was the congressman’s first visit to a charter school, and the students welcomed him with a big banner and surprise performance by the band. As an entourage of school leaders led Rouzer on a tour of the school’s growing campus, students dressed in their Sunday best and held each door open with a smile.
The visit began with a quick sit-down in the school’s board room, where Executive Director Dr. Julie Jailall and board member Chris Johnson briefed Rouzer on some of the issues faced by Neuse Charter and charter schools in general. Money is the biggest concern, Jailall said, particularly the fact that Neuse Charter receives 73 cents per student for every per-pupil dollar that goes to traditional public schools in Johnston County.
That funding gap makes it hard for Neuse Charter to afford the latest books and technology, Jailall said.
Neuse Charter also needs more funding so that its buildings can keep pace with demand, Johnson said. The school has more than 860 students in grades K-12, he said, and those children come from all over Johnston and from seven surrounding counties. Because of space constraints, 280 young people are on the school’s waiting list, he said.
Most of those funding decisions are made at the state and local levels, Rouzer said. However, officials at those levels could give charter schools more money if they had more control over their budgets, he said. That’s one of the reasons Rouzer introduced a bill to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and return its annual funding of $65.7 billion to the states.
“Charter schools are increasingly an even more important part of education as a whole,” Rouzer said. “I think one of the reasons why you see the results that you do is because you have so much involvement of parents, and that’s what a lot of our public schools are missing these days.”
Over the next year, Neuse Charter will conduct a capital campaign in hopes of raising $500,000, Johnson said. Rouzer has helped Neuse Charter secure low-interest federal loans to finance its land and building purchases in the past, he said. With continued support from the congressman, Johnson said, the school could leverage that $500,000 up to $4 million or $5 million in loans to build more classrooms.
On his tour of Neuse Charter, Rouzer said he was particularly impressed by the high school building, which opened to students last year.
Along the way, Rouzer popped into a chemistry class where goggle-clad students had fired up several Bunsen burners to conduct a lab experiment.
In the elementary area, the congressman joined a fourth-grade social studies class whose teacher was using technology to test her students’ knowledge of precolonial American Indian societies.
At the front of the classroom, the teacher projected questions on a variety of topics, such as whether the Paleo-Indians ate vegetables and lived in villages or hunted mastodon and followed their game. Each child then used his or her iPad to select a multiple-choice answer, and the teacher’s screen updated in real time to show how many students had selected each option.
Neuse Charter arranged to have an extra iPad available for Rouzer to join in on the quiz, and the congressman took a seat alongside several students to take part in the exercise. Rouzer struggled with some of the more specific questions, and he leaned on some of his neighboring fourth-graders for help with the answers.
Rouzer wound up his tour with an address to the senior class, in which he touched on a number of current events, including the Barack Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. Rouzer told the students that he had to fly back to Washington later that day to prepare for Pope Francis’ visit to the capital.
The congressman also fielded questions from the class, and the seniors threw him a couple of hard balls regarding his plan to disband the education department and about access to charter schools around the country.
Student body president Marika Samuelsson, a 15-year-old junior, got to follow Rouzer around on his tour and ask his thoughts on a few topics. Samuelsson said she gravitates more toward medicine and biomedical engineering topics in school, but as a budding young politician, she appreciated the chance to meet Rouzer.
“I’m always intrigued to interact with congressmen on a personal level to see how they feel about certain issues that are aside from the parties and the hustle and bustle of being in session,” she said.