State Politics

NC Senate votes to shift funds from traditional public schools to charters

Durham’s Reaching All Minds Academy charter school third graders in biotech teacher Valerie Chambers' class spend time reading about ecosystems in December. Charter schools could receive a larger share of public school funding under Senate legislation approved Monday.
Durham’s Reaching All Minds Academy charter school third graders in biotech teacher Valerie Chambers' class spend time reading about ecosystems in December. Charter schools could receive a larger share of public school funding under Senate legislation approved Monday. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The N.C. Senate voted 25-19 Monday night to divert some funding for traditional public schools to charter schools.

The proposal first became public at a Senate Finance Committee meeting last week where it was approved minutes later. The legislation replaced language in a House bill that originally addressed the use of school playgrounds. The “gut and amend” approach allows legislators to introduce new proposals in the final days of the General Assembly’s session.

Traditional public schools share funding with charter schools based on enrollment numbers. But some public school funding is kept separate from the money that’s split with charters. Under the new Senate bill, public schools would have to share additional federal funding, gifts and grants, sales tax revenues and other funding.

Also, supplemental school district taxes would have to be shared with charters – even if a child from the supplemental tax district is attending a charter outside that tax district. That change would likely affect the additional property tax paid in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district, which is used to boost school funding beyond what Orange County provides.

“There’s been a large inequity in the amount of funds that go to charter schools,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican and sponsor of the bill. “It’s about a 35 percent diffence in the amount of money charters get.”

The N.C. Association of School Administrators opposes the bill and says it would have a “significant negative impact” on public school budgets.

“The friction between our traditional schools and the charters continues to increase, and we don’t want that friction,” said Sen. Joyce Waddell, a Mecklenburg County Democrat who opposed the bill. “We want things to be fair, just and honest.”

Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, unsuccessfully sought to eliminate child nutrition funding from the change because charters aren’t required to provide meals. “We’re taking the public schools’ lunch money, and we’re not feeding the kids,” he said. “It’s the wrong thing to do.”

Tillman said some charter schools offer meals and others want to add them. “If you’re going to have these programs, you’ve got to have some seed money,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, said the bill could lead to legal battles over funding. “We should know better than to rush this last minute,” he said. “This bill will only function as a starting gun for a new round of lawsuits.”

The bill now heads to the House.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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