NC School Choice Boom: 29 New Charters School Apps

Parents Want Choice. Full Stop.

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NC School Choice is seeing another boom.

Last month, 29 new charter school applications were received and are under review to open in the 2019-2020 school year. View the new Applications.

In the prior year there were 40 such applications and 12 were recommended to the State Board.

In 2014, 46 applications were reviewed with 26 receiving final approval. 23 charter schools were approved in 2013.  View the history of charter school applications in NC.

Of the 31 total applications put forth for 2018, Mecklenburg county had the most entries with 7. Wake county came in second with 4.

173 charter schools are currently in operation with 20 more charter schools already approved and slated to open in 2018-19.  Once open, there will be a total of 193 charter schools operating in the state.

According to the Office of Charter Schools, the number of students in charter schools has doubled over the last five years. There are roughly 89,000 students in NC Public Charter schools. That’s around 5.8% of the total number of students who attend public schools in the state, which was around 1.5 million last year and includes charter attendance.

NC School Choice – Charter Process

The NC Office of Charter Schools will ensure the applications are complete before sending them on to the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB).

A detailed review of each application will be made by the CSAB before making recommendations to the State Board of Education.

All charter school applicants are required to provide a detailed description of the school’s mission and how they expect to accomplish that mission.

The cost of each charter school application is a non-refundable $1,000. Each group applying must run a criminal background check on their board members.

NC School Choice – Facts vs Media Spin

Why NC charter schools are richer and whiter.

That is the title of the News and Observer’s recent article on the NC charter system, which amounts to a thinly veiled attempt to smear charter school families as segregationist – i.e, racist.

The News and Observer put three reporters on this story.  Let’s cut through the spin.

Charter schools in the state of North Carolina are public schools.  Contrary to the continued attempt to paint NC charter schools attendees and their families as being pro-segregation, it is important to understand that anyone can apply and enroll in one. In short, the families pick the school.

If demand exceeds available open slots at a charter, which happens in many cases, a lottery system is then employed. There is no barrier to entry other than demand exceeding available openings.

The media often forget to look at the poverty make-up of the state and the placement of the charter schools.  Charters operate in only roughly 59 of the state’s 100 counties.  Most charters are close to urban areas or in suburbs just outside of one. Demand is higher there, so that’s where charters end up opening. There are virtually no charter schools in poorer, rural areas of the state.

The N&O’s neatly presented data graphs really don’t make their case very well. I particularly liked the one on ‘racial demographics’ which showed a constant decline in white attendees and an increase in minorities over the last four years. Also not taken into account are the rise in the level of minority students statewide.

Also hindering the ‘white and rich’ theme, the article runs only images of minority kids in charter schools and relies on a five year old study that came out before NC’s charter school boom.

In addition, the article’s statistics do not offer any evidence that the ‘majority of white students’ attending charter schools are wealthy. The writers simply state that 1 in 3 children in charter schools are from low-income backgrounds. The writers therefore make the assumption that the other 2 children must be rich.

NC School Choice – Money, Money, Money

What the N&O article does get right, yet fails to really explore, is that Charter schools are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to funding. There is a big funding gap. The average charter school in North Carolina receives close to $1,100 less per student than their traditional counterparts.

Despite that funding gap, Charters have outperformed their traditional counterparts on state tests pretty consistently. For those truly interested, look at the most recent drill down and state testing data and the historical data provided by the Department of Public Instruction.

Charter schools have consistently had a greater percentage of A and B ranked schools. Date recently released shows that 43.5% of charters ranked A or B and traditional public schools had only 35.2%.  Charters a slightly higher percentage of D and F schools (25.2%) than their traditional counterparts (22.5%).

Charters are leaner, have more teaching flexibility and are run more efficiently with a focus on education instead of administrative bloat. At last check, around 54% of traditional public schools staff were actually educators. Compare that to 65% at charter schools.

The tired and hackneyed excuse that either meals or transportation is a barrier to entry needs to be examined.

The majority of Charter schools do not receive capital outlay funds for transportation nor do they receive county-funded debt service payments like traditional public schools do. Charter parents are responsible for transporting their children to and from the school. Irregardless of race, for many families who want to attend, transportation could be a factor but there’s never been any evidence that supports that.

Former Wake County Schools Chair, Tom Benton, is quoted by the N&O.  Benton stops just sort of calling parents who want to choose the best educational experience for their child a bunch of racists.

“Charters have opened the doors to us resegregating our schools,” he said. “At some point, I think we need to have a serious public policy debate about how do we weigh this thing of parental choice, when parental choice allows us to resegregate our schools.” (Source: News and Observer)

Benton’s remarks are the same type of lazy, political and ideological driven rhetoric that was displayed in a Duke University report on the Opportunity Scholarship program. A report that was thoroughly debunked.

This all begs the question, if official like Benton are so worried about ‘resegregation’, then where are his cries for closing the funding gap? How about capital outlay for transportation? The same questions can be posed to the three writers at the News and Observer.

What’s interesting is that the News and Observer article does not really pursue the transportation angle, yet their past reporting by the outlet had a ‘pro-busing for diversity’ flavor.

More NC School Choice Stats

Homeschooling is continuing to boom as well. In 2016-17, there were 127,847 students and the total number of registered homeschools was 80,973.

The year prior, homeschooling students totaled 118,268 in a total of 74,653 registered homeschools.

In 2016-17, Wake county continued to have the largest number of homeschools (7,401) and homeschool students (11,972) of any district in the state.

NC School choice also includes a number of private schools. Total enrollment in 2016-17 was 100,585. Almost 70% of private schools in the state are religious based. Attendees based by sex are nearly evenly split.

This time, Mecklenburg county leads, with 18,506 private school students. Wake county is not far behind with 17,557. No other district even comes close to Mecklenburg or Wake’s private school enrollment.

Private school attendance in 2015-16 totaled 97,721.  Both Mecklenburg county (18,524) and Wake county (17,240) vastly outstripped other districts in private school enrollment that year as well .

Many of those attending private schools in North Carolina do so because of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).   The OSP grants students a scholarship of up to $4,200 to use at the school of their choice.

[Related: African-American NCGA Democrats Support School Choice]

Students and their families must meet certain income restrictions and other requirements to be eligible for the program. Students need to meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Be a resident of North Carolina
  2. Live in a household that meets the Income Eligibility Guidelines established by the
    Opportunity Scholarship Program;
  3. Enroll in a participating nonpublic school in North Carolina;
  4. Not have a high school diploma;
  5. Be 5 on or before August 31 of the Scholarship year;
  6. Be younger than 22 as of the date of the beginning of the Semester.

Students also have to meet at least one of the following additional requirements:

  1. Have received Opportunity Scholarship funds during the previous school year;
  2. Be assigned to and attend a North Carolina public school or a Department of Defense school
    located in North Carolina for the full prior spring semester;
  3. Have a parent or guardian on full-time active military duty;
  4. Will be entering kindergarten or the first grade; or
  5. Is a foster child; or
  6. 6. Has been adopted within the last year.

The program has endured and it’s popularity has increased since its inception. In 2014, there were 5,558 applicants. In 2017, that number almost doubled to 10,577 applicants. The number of new applicants has grown each year as well.

Continued attempts to kill the OSP program have failed. Everything from lawsuits to false claims such as the program ‘steals money’ from public schools. No suit to date has yet been successful in halting the program.

[Related: PEFNC Corrects Duke Scholarship Program Report]

As a point of fact, the OSP has its own set of funding administered by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA). The OPS does not take a dime away from the public education budget.

The bottom line is that parents want choice. And they want more of it. This is not just true of North Carolina – this is nationwide.  For now, our state is answering the call and NC School Choice is definitely thriving.

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A.P. Dillon
A.P. Dillon is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of American Lens and is the founder the popular North Carolina based blog, ​A.P. Dillon has been a contributor at Breitbart, IJ Review, DaTechGuy Blog, Civitas Institute and The Heartland Institute. Her writing has been cited by Conservative Review, The Gateway Pundit, The Daily Caller, PJ Media, The Blaze, Michelle Malkin, Twitchy, Truth In American Education, Breitbart and FOX news. She has been a leading voice of Common Core opposition in North Carolina since 2011.