Under the Dome

NC Senate OKs state takeover of 5 struggling schools

Senate Democrats failed Monday to get their local school districts exempted from a proposed law that would have the state give five low performing schools to charter companies to operate.

The Senate gave preliminary approval with a 31-15 vote to a bill that would create an Achievement School District made up of five schools from around the state and overseen by a superintendent the State Board of Education hires. The superintendent would choose charter operators to run the schools for up to eight years.

A version of the bill has already passed the House. The Senate eliminated a provision in the House version that would have allowed school districts to keep schools chosen for the district under local control by hiring new principals for them. Under the Senate version, the only alternative to having a school taken for the new district would be for the district to close it.

Democratic senators from Wake, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Nash tried to exempt their school districts, but their amendments were either defeated or not debated.

Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot of Wake Forest said the Achievement School District is a strategy the state should try to rescue students from chronically failing schools. Barefoot said Democrats’ attempts to exempt some districts amounted to allowing schools to continue failing.

Unlike existing charters, the Achievement School District schools would be neighborhood schools and not schools of choice.

Democrats speaking in opposition said it is wrong to force local districts into an experiment that has failed in Tennessee.

A study of the first three years of achievement district schools in Tennessee found almost no difference in student proficiency.

Forcing districts to give their schools to charter companies is a “failing strategy,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat.

Charter companies will be the main beneficiaries, she said. The move is “basically lining the pockets of your supporters who make up these management companies or private operators.”

Wake County has approval from the State Board of Education to give two of its elementary schools charter-like flexibility with the goal of improving student performance.

“Why would we get in the middle of that?” asked Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner