Under the Dome

NC moves up vote on letting 19 schools operate more like charters

Fifth-grade students David Ruiz (left) and Rasquim Antxane (right) build pyramids using sugar cubes at Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh on Oct. 20, 2016. Barwell was given the same flexibility that charter schools now get to set their school calendars and to spend state money.
Fifth-grade students David Ruiz (left) and Rasquim Antxane (right) build pyramids using sugar cubes at Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh on Oct. 20, 2016. Barwell was given the same flexibility that charter schools now get to set their school calendars and to spend state money. khui@newsobserver.com

State education leaders have pushed up the timetable for deciding whether to allow 19 low-performing traditional public schools, including 10 in Wake County, to operate more like charter schools.

The State Board of Education was scheduled to discuss Thursday and then vote in January on giving those schools the same flexibility that charter schools now get to set their school calendars and to spend state money. But board members agreed Wednesday to move the vote up a month to Thursday.

Board members cited Wednesday how the Wake County school system is successfully using this flexibility, called the “restart model,” at two schools. Board members also said it would give those schools more time to get ready for changes that could come such as longer school years, longer school days and new programs to reduce class sizes and provide more training and other resources.

“For the school districts that were proactive in getting these applications in, it would be due diligence on our part, I think, to give them an opportunity to go ahead and get started on making the changes,” said State Board member Amy White, a former Wake County school board member. .

Charter schools receive exemptions because they are taxpayer-funded public schools that are meant to be laboratories for innovation. Traditional public schools have long clamored for the same flexibility as charter schools, but state lawmakers have only been willing to offer it to struggling schools.

A state policy, based on a 2010 state law, lets school districts ask for permission from the State Board to give charter-like flexibility to schools that have been low-performing for two of the past three years.

Last year, the State Board approved requests from 10 schools to use the restart model, including Barwell Road and Walnut Creek elementary schools in Raleigh. It’s led to changes at Barwell and Walnut Creek such as an extra 10 days of classes and a longer school day on Thursdays for extra-curricular clubs..

Wake is now requesting the extra flexibility for Bugg, Fox Road, Millbrook and Poe elementary schools and Carroll and East Millbrook middle schools in Raleigh; East Garner Elementary and East Garner Middle in Garner; East Wake Middle near Knightdale and Wendell Middle School.

Cabarrus County and Warren County also submitted requests to use the restart model.

If the requests are approved Thursday, it will include language saying that the state Department of Public Instruction still needs to review the financial components of the applications. The review could impact the applications.

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