Politics & Government

New for-profit charter schools could be coming to Wake. Board recommends 3 more.

Three new charter schools in Wake County that would be managed by for-profit companies have been recommended for state approval to open in 2020.

The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board gave its support Tuesday to Wendell Falls Charter Academy and North Raleigh Charter Academy, which would both be managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA. The vote was split 6-4 on North Raleigh Charter amid concerns that Charter Schools USA has had problems in the past opening schools that have won state approval.

On Monday, the advisory board unanimously recommended Doral Academy of North Carolina, which plans to open in the Garner area. If approved, it would mark the first charter school in North Carolina for Florida-based Doral Academy.

“Doral Academy would join a rapidly growing list of out-of-state for-profit charters setting up shop here,” the Public School Forum tweeted Monday. “Today 1/5 of North Carolina’s charter schools are operated by for-profit charter management organizations, 80% of which are headquartered outside of the state.”

Doral is registered as a non-profit, but its schools are managed by Academica, a for-profit company. Academica helped with the North Carolina application and will be paid to help run the new school.

But CSAB member Alan Hawkes pointed to the benefits of these companies working with local non-profit boards to open charter schools. One of the largest is Charter Schools USA, which manages several schools in North Carolina.

“North Carolina would be a lot less without these partnerships and these schools that Charter Schools USA have the deep pockets to be able to provide our kids and the relief from our taxpayer pockets,” Hawkes said.

It’s up to the State Board of Education to decide on whether to allow these new charter schools to open.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules traditional public schools must follow.

There are 184 charter schools open statewide this school year and 15 more schools have been approved to open this fall.

The number of charter schools has nearly doubled since state lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011. Public Schools First NC is calling on state leaders to put a new cap on charter schools.

There are 24 charter schools currently open in Wake, with two approved to open this fall. As many as eight more charter schools could open in Wake in 2020.

This school year, the Wake County school system grew by only 42 students compared to 1,500 more Wake students attending charter schools.

Unlike with Doral and Wendell Falls, the advisory board was divided over North Raleigh Charter, which is looking to open in Wake Forest.

Several advisory board members pointed to how Charter Schools USA had gotten approval to open a charter school in Knightdale and one on the Cary/Chatham County border before giving up on both schools due to land issues.

“If I vote for this this time, you guys better open a school,” said CSAB member Cheryl Turner.

Allen Taylor, president of the Triangle Charter Education Association, the local nonprofit that works with Charter Schools USA, said he was sorry that the two charters fell through. But he said the difference with Wendell Falls Charter and North Raleigh Charter is they have the land for both sites and the zoning already permits schools there.

Next month, the advisory board will interview at least four of the applicants who want to open in Wake in 2020.

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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.