Democrat Linda Coleman, who is running for lieutenant governor, Friday appeared to back off a suggestion for drastic cuts in the number of North Carolina’s charter schools.
In a September interview, Coleman said she favored reducing the number of charters to 100, the original number allowed. There are now 167, although that’s scheduled to grow to 180 next year.
Coleman faces Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a strong advocate of school choice including charters, which are publicly funded.
The lieutenant governor has a big voice on educational issues, with a seat on the State Board of Education and an appointment to the charter school advisory board.
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Coleman’s original comments drew concern from charter advocates. Lee Teague, executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association, called the idea of closing dozens of schools “extreme.”
“Parents are clamoring for educational choices that fit the individual needs of their children,” he said in a letter to Coleman. “Charter schools in our state offer a wide variety of quality learning opportunities for all children, and the diversity of charter choices is matched only by the diversity of the students they serve.”
Asked about the criticism Friday, Coleman said she wouldn’t favor closing charters unless they’re low-performing.
“I would tell you that I am never in favor of people losing their jobs, never,” she said. “So if the 167 schools are performing well we could keep those ….. If you have low-performing schools, to continue to put money into those schools doesn’t serve the taxpayers.”
Teague says charters are already held to performance standards. Two – both in Charlotte – failed to have their charters renewed this year.
He also said he would not want to see the number of charters once again capped at 100. “It’d be a major change of policy to put a cap back on even if its at the current level,” he said.
Forest supports the expansion of charter schools and tax-funded vouchers to private schools, or “opportunity scholarships.” He also supports “achievement school districts,” in which the state will turn over five under-performing public schools to a for-profit charter operator.
Coleman says traditional charters, vouchers, achievement districts and “virtual” charters all drain money from traditional public schools.
“I am not an enemy of the charter schools,” she said. “I’m just saying we cannot have five different public school systems and expect to have good performance from our students.”