NC OKs 2 more charter schools in Wake. County leaders warn of ‘de facto segregation.’

Updated on July 12

Two new charter schools were approved Thursday over the objections of the Wake County school system and some PTA groups, who say the area is oversaturated with charter schools.

The State Board of Education voted 7-3 to approve North Raleigh Charter Academy and Wake Preparatory Academy, whose supporters pointed to the long waiting lists from families trying to get into existing charter schools in northern Wake County.

In a concession to critics, the state board is requiring Wake Prep to open with 915 students next year instead of the 1,605 students it had originally proposed. Wake Prep, which will become a K-12 school in Wake Forest, had offered to reduce its enrollment.

“(This will) reduce the imprint of students and impact on Wake County,” state board member Amy White said of the enrollment reduction.

State board member JB Buxton argued that neither school met the legislative purpose of providing innovative options.

“These two don’t feel like they’re adding quality seats to the community,” Buxton said. “I believe they’re adding options but relative to education that is being offered they don’t seem to be bringing something different.”

But White said charters only have to meet one of the six legislative purposes under state law.

Todd Chasteen, Alan Duncan, state Treasurer Dale Folwell, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Reginald Keenan, Olivia Oxendine and White voted for the two schools. Buxton, Jill Camnitz and Eric Davis voted no.

Last month, the state board approved 10 new charter schools to open in 2020, while delaying a decision on North Raleigh Charter and Wake Prep. Thursday’s vote means six new charter schools have been approved to open in Wake County in 2020, at a time when charter growth far exceeds the school district’s growth.

The state board approved three new Wake charter schools in June for a 2020 opening. A charter school that was approved to open in Morrisville in 2019 is now scheduled for a 2020 opening.

The new schools were cheered Thursday by charter school supporters and groups who are critical of the Wake County school system.

“Charter schools are desperately needed in Wake County,” Take Back WCPSS Math tweeted on Thursday. “With the MVP math disaster, charter school wait lists will be much greater. Charter schools do not use MVP.”

North Raleigh Charter Academy is a K-8 charter school that would be managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company that operates several schools in the state, including Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary.

Wake Prep would be the first charter school in North Carolina for Glenn Way, a charter school operator who made millions of dollars building, selling and leasing properties to the schools he runs in Arizona. Wake Prep will give selection priority to low-income families to try to get 35 percent of its enrollment as being economically disadvantaged.

“The Board of Directors of Wake Preparatory Academy is very grateful for the approval of its charter application by the State Board of Education today,” Hilda Parler, president of Wake Prep’s board, said in a written statement. “We look forward to welcoming 915 founding scholars in the fall of 2020.

“We are committed to providing additional high-quality public-charter school seats in our diverse student population community.”

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow. For instance, they’re not required to provide school bus service or to serve school meals. They also have more flexibility in how they spend their money, don’t have to follow the school calendar law and don’t need all their teachers to be licensed.

The number of charter schools has shot up statewide since the Republican-led state legislature voted in 2011 to lift a previous cap of 100 charters. Between the new charters opening this fall and those scheduled to open in 2020, the state will have more than 200 charter schools by next year.

After the N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board recommended earlier this year the five new charter schools for Wake County, some PTA groups and school district leaders lobbied the state board not to approve them. Due to the concerns, the state board asked the advisory board to take another look at North Raleigh Charter and Wake Prep.

The advisory board stood by its earlier recommendations, saying that the state shouldn’t “cave in” to “anti-charter folks.

In a letter to the state board, Wake school board chairman Jim Martin and Superintendent Cathy Moore argued that charter schools are having a destabilizing impact on traditional public schools.

“In all of these applications, it is not difficult to see how the proposed charters would increase de facto segregation, decrease efficient utilization of public facilities and add no significant variety or innovative instructional programs in a county where parents already understand and strongly support traditional public schools,” Martin and Moore wrote. “Charter saturation is an appropriate way to describe the situation.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.