Under the Dome

National organization opposes charter bill

A national association concerned with charter school policy wrote legislators opposing key sections of a broad bill changing charter laws, saying they will gut school oversight and leave the State Board of Education with little authority to close failing schools.

The National Association of Charter Authorizers said in a letter to House leaders dated Tuesday that HB 242 would prevent the State Board of Education from closing low-performing charters that don’t have a realistic chance to improve.

The state House was set to vote on the bill today, but delayed consideration until Monday after Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, protested the way the Senate handled the bill.

When the House unanimously passed HB 242 in March 2015 it was about white collar crime investigations. The Senate held on to it until this year, took out the original content, filled it with charter school law changes, pass it and sent it back to the House.

The usual process is that the House would vote yes or no on the changes. But Luebke said the process didn’t give House Democrats the chance to ask questions of legislative staff. He wanted to send the bill to committee, but he and Rep. Paul Stam of Apex, the Republican shepherding the bill through the House, agreed to put off a vote to Monday. That’s supposed to give the House Democratic caucus time to review the bill with legislative staff.

The extra days will give legislators time to ponder a letter from the charter authorizers. Under the bill, charters would not longer be reviewed at least once every five years. Instead, a school would be reviewed once before its charter expires, unless there are indications it’s in trouble.

Stam said the change would give the state charter school office time to focus on schools in need of the most help. But the association of charter authorizers objected. “This makes it possible for low-performing schools to escape or delay accountability for years,” the letter said.

Additionally, the change would make the state ineligible for a federal charter school grants program that helps expand high-quality charters. The program requires reviews at least once every five years, the letter said.

The association also objected to proposed restrictions on closing low performing charter schools. Low-performing charters could not be closed if they meet growth or implement an improvement plan. The change would prohibit the State Board of Education from closing charters it thinks have deteriorated to the point they cannot improve, the letter says.

“Essentially, this provision merely kicks the tough closure decision down the road, because every such school will be able to come up with an improvement plan, though research shows few chronically failing schools are able to fulfill them,” the letter said.