Last week I attended a school choice conference in Washington, D.C. called Amplify Choice. That conference focused mainly on Charter schools. Earlier this week, I took a look at the similarities and differences in two D.C. schools; Archbishop Carroll High and Achievement Prep Charter.
Today, I’ll be covering some more from the Amplify Choice event as it relates to North Carolina, including an interview with Dr. Terry Stoops, Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation.
Discussions on the roadblocks put up in front of Charter schools led to questions about cost and accountability. One of the best questions in that vein asked during the conference was possibly this one, from Maggie Thurber:
150-200 charter schools close each year due to poor performance. How many traditional public schools close for same reason? #AmplifyChoice
— Maggie Thurber (@maggie82) January 30, 2015
Participants at the conference heard from a number of speakers including Gregory Reed, an attorney at Institute for Justice. Reed’s presentation picked up on a recurring theme:
“The freedom for parents to decide what is the best educational environment and program for their children.”
Reed also raised a good point when the topic of accountability was raised:
We also heard about the economic case for school choice. Educational choice can and often does include cost savings using vehicles as tax credit scholarships, vouchers, opportunity scholarships and charter schools from Ben Scafaldi. Mr. Scafaldi brought up the level of administrative bloat going on in our public schools – it was astounding to see the numbers, particularly in Ohio.
On a related note, Mr. Scafaldi has been involved in the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship lawsuit, which I have written about as well.
Charters in North Carolina
In general, Charter schools are defined as public schools that are operated independently. In North Carolina, the structure and definition are generally the same and can be viewed in the state’s statutes in section Chapter 115C -14A.
In an effort to bring the conversations on Charter schools in D.C. to the audience in my home state of North Carolina, I reached out to Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation.
The following is the interview I had with Dr. Stoops on the topic of Charters in North Carolina and his take on the Obama administration’s budget leaving out new funding for the popular Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) available to parents in Washington, D.C.
North Carolina has seen Charter school enrollment steadily increasing over the last decade; jumping in the last five or so years from around 38,500 to around 67,000 students in 2014. In the late 90’s NC had 62 charter schools and in 2014 we see the number has grown to 148. Despite the continual growth of the charter system in NC and the increased demand for school choice, last year CSAB only approved 11 applications out of 71 that were submitted.
What do you think the reasons for that decrease in approvals were and what are the top roadblocks you see being put in front of more charters being approved?
The Charter School Advisory Board, who evaluate charter school applications and recommend their approval to the N.C. State Board of Education, are directly responsible for the decrease in approvals. Only a change in the structure or membership of the advisory board will change that.
Their reasons for recommending or rejecting charter school applications are not always clear or consistent. And that is the problem. They have rejected a number of excellent applications in recent years, while much weaker plans have been recommended for approval. Some have suggested that their criteria for approval has more to do with favoring charter schools that provide certain services or target specific populations, rather than advancing schools that have sound academic and financial plans. If that is the case, then taxpayers should be very concerned that the charter school approval process has become one based on ideology, rather than quality.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is my understanding that funding for Charter Schools is based on the average per pupil allocation in the local education agency (LEA) from which the student came from.
Can you explain a little bit about the basic funding formula for charters in NC?
Charter schools are supposed to receive per pupil funding that is comparable to the assigned district school for each student, that is, “equal to the per pupil share of local current expense fund of the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year.”
The problem is that, in recent years, districts have found ways to move money into accounts that are outside of the “current expense fund,” which are statutorily off limits to charter schools. Moreover, in past years former Democratic majorities in the N.C. General Assembly approved changes to the charter school funding law that have restricted access to certain local revenue streams. For example, charter schools cannot receive revenue from supplemental taxes levied by municipalities for the benefit of city school systems. In addition, any new supplemental taxes approved by voters may also be off limits to charter schools. Thanks to the efforts of Charlotte attorney Richard Vinroot, Representative Paul “Skip” Stam of Wake County, and a number of other charter school advocates, these punitive funding measures may soon be coming to an end.
In sum, Democrats have spent years working to systematically prevent charter schools from receiving funds that they were meant to receive under the original charter school law passed in 1996. Despite these efforts, North Carolina’s charter schools are thriving.
Follow Up To Question Two:
In other states, there is a disparity in how much funding charter schools receive versus their public school counterparts. How much funding do Charters in NC receive versus their public school counterparts?
Statewide average per pupil expenditure (PPE), 2013-14
Charter school PPE: $7,883.89 (operating) + $0.00 (capital) = $7,883.89
District school PPE: $8,477.00 (operating) + $455.86 (capital) = $8,932.86
Charter schools are at a significant disadvantage compared to their district counterparts. Whereas districts receive capital funding from various sources, including the N.C. Education Lottery, charter schools must use their operating dollars to cover the capital expenses. When including capital funding, the average district school receives over $1,000 more per student than the average charter.
But even when capital funding is excluded, districts still have a nearly $600 per student advantage over the average charter school. Considering that most charter schools perform as well or better than district schools, one could conclude that our districts are not using taxpayer money in the most efficient or effective way possible.
The issue of transparency for charter schools has been raised on a few different fronts such as the idea charters should have to make available all financial documents, personnel records and other related materials tied to any outsourcing items the school might do.
Can you speak to the topic of transparency as it relates to North Carolina? Do you see a double standard with the lack of transparency in some areas by the public school system?
In order for a representative government to function properly, it must be accountable to its citizens. Transparency is an essential form of accountability. As such, we should encourage all entities that receive public dollars to be as transparent as possible. Unfortunately, bureaucracies are designed to suppress transparency and thereby muddle accountability. So, it is ironic that those who call for greater transparency are those who maintain a bureaucracy designed to be anything but transparent. It is both laughable and entirely predictable.
Can you speak to President Obama’s budget leaving out new funding for DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program?
It is certainly not surprising. Like most Democrats with ties to teacher unions, President Obama has never been a fan of private school choice.
Barack and Michelle Obama have the means to send their daughters to an elite private school in Washington, D.C., but they refuse to give more low-income parents the means to provide a better education for their children. This is not just hypocritical; it is immoral. In America, economic mobility often cannot occur without a quality education. By condemning low-income children to failing schools, he is perpetuating the cycle of poverty simply to appease one of his largest campaign donors.